Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, May 4, 2018

DISASTER MOVIES MONTH: The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

When it comes to producers and filmmakers, there's one name associated with the disaster movie genre, above all others. Irwin Allen got his start producing campy, science fiction TV shows like “Lost in Space,” “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” or “Land of the Giants.” That alone probably would've secured his place in nerd history but Allen wanted to break back into film. Upon reading Paul Gallico's novel, “The Poseidon Adventure,” he immediately knew it would make a great movie. He was right. “The Poseidon Adventure” would be a huge commercial success and birth the next stage of Irwin Allen's career. From now on, he'd be the Master of Disaster.

It's New Year's Eve aboard the S.S. Poseidon, a luxury ocean-liner passing through the Greek sea towards Athens, where it will be decommissioned. Aboard the ship is a colorful collection of characters. Reverend Scott is a fiery young priest. Detective Rogo is there with his new wife, a former prostitute. A pair of kids, teenage Susan and younger Robin, are without their parents. There's an elderly Jewish couple, a young female singer, and a lonely old man. Minutes after the new year begins, a massive tidal wave surges towards the Poseidon. The ship's captain tries to avoid it but the Poseidon is struck anyway. The ship is capsized. Reverend Scott leads the group of survivors on a mission, climbing upwards through the ocean liner to its outside hull.

Comparing “Airport” and “The Poseidon Adventure” is like comparing night and day. None of the characters in the previous film seemed alive or interesting. The cast of “The Poseidon Adventure,” meanwhile, is a lovable bunch. Gene Hackman's Reverend Scott brings out the best in the performer. It allows Hackman to indulge his more intense aspects while also playing up his warmth and likability. He matched by Ernest Bourgine, who is equally hammy as the cop. While both actors happily go over the top, neither become cartoon characters. They are humans, reacting to a tense situation the best way they can. Even the smaller parts, like Roddy McDowell's waiter, have a vulnerability to them that makes them human and relatable.

The relationships between the characters are genuinely touching. You care about Susan, who is terrified, and her little brother, who keeps his composure. Carol Lynley's Nonnie is completely traumatized by the death of her brother and the horrors she faces. Red Button's James, an old man who radiates loneliness and a need for love, becomes her unlikely hero. The scenes where he comforts her are sweet and meaningful. The Rosens, Shelly Winters and Jack Albertson, have a life time of regrets. When Winters dies of a heart attack following a heroic act, Albertson has to be convinced to keep going. Some say “The Poseidon Adventure” is campy and maybe it is. But there's also real heart behind these characters. You want to see them survive and succeed.

By rooting its story in human emotion, “The Poseidon Adventure” makes its spectacle mean something. The capsizing scene is surprisingly intense. Some of the effects, like people flipping over onto their sides, look cheesy. But the scenes of passengers falling to their deaths, their grips on tables loosening, falling through a glass light fixture, remain startling. So does a moment when the ballroom floods, people scrambling to a safety that is just out of reach. As the ship simultaneously floods and starts to burn, the gravity of the situation weighs more and more on the viewer. Because you care about the cast, the action has stakes. The visceral direction only further helps sell the threat level.

“The Poseidon Adventure” is so bold as to actually attached some heavy themes to its story. Scott's role as a reverend isn't by mistake. Supposedly, he's on his way to an African mission because his preaching technique, which has a heavy emphasis on God helping those who help themselves, displeased his perish. After the collision, Scott and the ship's main priest have to go their separate ways, Scott searching for an exit and the other man staying with the doomed crowd. Yet Scott's proactive theology is not without its sacrifices. Salvation has to be worked for and everyone's wills are tested. It's fairly effective and natural addition to the story.

Maybe I'm becoming soft in my old age. This rewatch of “The Poseidon Adventure” actually made me a little misty-eyed, as I found myself truly invested in the characters and their strife. The film would resonate with audiences in the same way, becoming one of the most iconic blockbusters of the seventies. It even spawned a hit song, “The Morning After,” which would also win an Academy Award. The film is surely one of the best of the seventies wave of disaster films, exciting, frightening, touching, and fantastically executed. [9/10]

[X] Awards Bait Ballad
[X] Corrupt or Incompetent Authority Figures
[] Destruction of Famous Landmarks
[X] Grim Predictions
[X] Group In-Fighting
[X] Heroic Sacrifices
[X] Massive Collateral Damage or Explosions
[X] Pets or Kids are Imperiled but Survive
[X] Romantic Couple Resolves Problems
[X] Star-Studded Cast

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