The 1970’s is the decade that gave birth to the disaster movie genre. In my review of 1970’s Airport, I pointed out how that movie gave birth to disaster movies of that decade which in turn spawned disaster blockbusters of today’s age. These kind of movies are meant to be dumb, silly fun and the makers of these kind of movies embrace what these movies are meant to do: to entertain. You won’t be getting any thespian acting or a serious melodrama. Instead you’ll get an onslaught of special effects and a thin story usually about trying to survive and that is quite okay by me. Another early example of a rather entertaining disaster film is 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure. I enjoyed the film for what it was. It has a big cast of former Oscar winners and big-name movie stars, and they all seemed to have a grand ol’ time. Sure, the dialogue is cheesy sometimes but the action is what we are here to see. And in that regard, the movie clearly succeeds.
The plot remains simple and for good measure. The basic setup for the story is that a disaster strikes and the survivors must reach for safety. In this case, there is this passenger ship called the S.S Poseidon (loosely modeled after The Queen Mary) going on its last cruise before it reaches retirement. Out of nowhere, a large tidal wave hits the ship and turns the boat upside down. Now with everything in reverse, the survivors of the ship led by minister Reverend Scott (Gene Hackman) must climb to the now-uprooted bottom of the boat if they have any chance of escaping. See, this is a simple story but its a fun story regardless.
Ah, let’s talk about our characters. This movie is based off the best-selling novel written by Paul Gallico, and rumor has it that the characters are unlikable in the novel. Some of the characters are unlikeable in the film, but screenwriters Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes and seasoned British director Ronald Neame did a solid job in tweaking some characters as to make them more sympathetic. Now, all the characters do what you expect them to do in this type of movie, so expect no surprises. The character development was rather surprisingly strong for some characters. As for the acting, no one gives a career-defining performance but everyone does a solid job. Gene Hackman as Reverend Scott and Ernest Borgnine as Rogo are arguably the two leads. They had a fun time, but they may have overacted especially in Borgnine’s case. Those facial expressions and the way he delivered the lines were cheesy, but fun. Check out the rest of this cast: Red Buttons, Roddy McDowall, Shelley Winters (who delivers a fantastic performance), Jack Albertson, Arthur O’Connell, Leslie Nielsen, etc. That is one heck of a cast.
We don’t see these movies for the performances, but rather for the special effects. It was amazing what this film was able to do with practical effects. The big tsunami wave that overturned a boat looked mightily impressive for a 1972 movie, but in reality it was just a large wave filmed in slow-motion off the coast of California. The production design was immense and the I love the way we see the capsized boat. Keep in mind the film was release before computers played a role in effects, which makes this movie even more impressive. If there is one thing I absolutely love, it’s the way how the movie looked and sounded and how the visual effects were implemented in the movie.
Another thing I liked very much is the score and the music. This film was composed by the young maestro, John Williams. Williams would eventually become a film legend with all the famous films he would score, but this is the movie that got him his big break. Some people go as far to call this his best score ever. I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s high on my list. The overall tone of the score is dark, but the theme is rather light and there is something about it that makes it special.
When originally released, The Poseidon Adventure received good reviews with lots of praise going for the visual effects-and rightfully so. Of course this film is a blockbuster and not meant for any award recognition, but somehow it received nine Oscar nominations mostly on the technical side though. Although Shelley Winters received an nomination for best supporting actress. The film was very fun, and very entertaining. The story is nothing special, but if you’re looking for a movie with great visual effects, campy acting, and a story about surviving then this film is for you.
My Grade: A-