Beyond The Poseidon Adventure

Director: Irwin Allen
Michael Caine, Sally Field, Telly Savalas

Though I don't have the exact figure on me - and I am too lazy to do the work to find out the exact figure - I am pretty sure that of all the reviews I have written for this web site, a little over half of them have had me given them a negative opinion. Probably no surprise there - there do seem to be a lot more mediocre to bad movies than there are good to excellent movies. But even though I have given negative opinions to hundreds of movies, that doesn't mean to say that in each and every case I was completely regretful in my choice to watch them. After all, there are very few movies where everything is so incompetently done that the viewing experience is complete torture. In fact, every so often I watch a movie that while I may say that overall it's a bad movie, there is a part of me that is glad that I had watched the movie. Let me give you an example. Years ago, I reviewed the Irwin Allen-produced disaster movie Fire! If you recall that review, you will remember that I didn't think it was a good movie - it had too many characters, it had a low body count, and we never really got to see the characters overcome the disaster, among other flaws. Still, there was something almost comforting about the movie. It may have been seeing all those big name starts make fools of themselves, it could have been the fairly fast pace, and it may have been to a screenplay that while being somewhat brainless, I could see being comforting to an audience who wanted to watch a movie that didn't require them to think very hard during the viewing experience.

Come to think of it, many other disaster movies have a lot of those same attributes I just mentioned. While a lot of them might not be all of that good, at the same time a lot of them can be pleasant viewing on a popcorn level type of movie. I think a lot of people would agree with me about that; there's something about disaster movies that makes so many of them fun. With that in mind, the question comes up as to why the major Hollywood studios no longer make a great deal of them. I think there are several reasons why. One reason is that the cost of making a special effects-filled movie - which disaster movies usually are - has gone up considerably. A second reason is that probably is that it seems that all the possible disasters that could be done have indeed been done. We've had earthquakes, fires, floods, bees, zeppelins, volcanoes, alien invaders, avalanches... the list goes on and on. Those two reasons are probably the main ones as to why we don't get many new disaster movies these days. But I think there's a possible third reason, that being that with these type of movies, it is difficult to make them franchises. As you no doubt know, Hollywood nowadays loves to make movies that can spawn more movies in the same particular vein in the quest to make more money. With disaster movies, this is very hard to do. How can you follow up a movie like Dante's Peak - have the volcano erupt again? What about a movie like Earthquake - have Los Angeles get hit by yet another quake? And what about The Hindenburg - the fact that the title object was burnt up and completely ruined doesn't exactly induce ideas for a follow-up.

As you can see from those three examples, continuing the typical disaster movie after it's been initially dealt with by the characters in a movie is a real tough thing to do. Most disaster movies end at a point where continuing the adventure would really seem contrived. But that's not to say Beyond The Poseidon Adventurethat making a sequel to a disaster movie has never happened. As you no doubt have guessed, the movie I'm reviewing here, Beyond The Poseidon Adventure, is a sequel to the blockbuster hit The Poseidon Adventure. When I researched the movie before watching it, the plot that my research uncovered had me thinking, "Well, maybe this sequel idea could work." And I reasoned that if it didn't, the movie might at least have some of those attributes previously mentioned that often make disaster movies agreeable to a degree. The story starts several hours after the events portrayed in the first movie, with completely new characters. The tugboat Jenny and its three crew members - played by Michael Caine (Surrender), Sally Field (Surrender), and Karl Malden (Wild Rovers) - come across the wreck of The Poseidon still afloat, and they make the decision to board the wreck to salvage it for valuables since they are desperate for money. Around the same time they reach the wreck, another party reaches the sinking ship, a group of rescue medics, with their leader played by Telly Savalas (Backfire!). Both groups quickly agree not to interfere with the other group's intents, and they both board the wreck and get down to business. As Caine's group explores the wreck for valuables, they come across various survivors, mostly passengers - some of them played by Slim Pickens (Mr. Billion), Peter Boyle (Joe), and Jack Warden (The Aviator) - but also two members of The Poseidon's crew, played by Mark Harmon (Tuareg: The Desert Warrior) and Shirley Jones (The Music Man). While Caine and his crew have to figure out what to do with these survivors as they try to loot the ship while it continues to sink and collapse, they don't know that some of the people they have encountered are not being truthful about what they are doing on the ship...

In case you are wondering, yes, I did see the original The Poseidon Adventure in the past. It was quite a few years ago, but my memories of it haven't completely faded away, including what happened at the very end of the movie. So I am pretty confident in my belief that some of what happens in the beginning of Beyond The Poseidon Adventure doesn't make sense. Just before Caine and his two crew members reach the wreck, they see the rescue chopper from the first movie flying away. Uh, why is is immediately flying away? Wouldn't it have made more sense to stick around for a while just in case more survivors crawled out of the wreck? And why had only one rescue chopper arrived? Not counting Savalas and his crew, wouldn't it have made more sense for a lot more rescuers to have come to the wreck either immediately or not that long afterwards? These puzzling questions at the beginning are not the only ones that come up in the movie. (Warning: Possible spoilers ahead, so skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to read them.) Later in the movie, we learn the identity of the characters who are up to no good, and what their scheme is. But even after learning all this, the plan doesn't really make all that much sense. The wreck of The Poseidon happened just a few hours earlier, so how were the bad guys able to prepare their plan so quickly and completely? We never really find this out. Possibly the network television edit of the movie, which ran twenty-two minutes longer than the theatrical edit, had some explanations for these questions. But as it is now, the movie has some gaping plot holes despite running almost two hours in length.

I do realize that for many viewers who sit down to watch a disaster movie, plot holes like the ones that I just mentioned don't really matter that much. Those viewers are instead more interested in eye candy, ranging from production values to onscreen action and suspense. But what Beyond The Poseidon Adventure has to offer in those areas is often very disappointing. Some of the special effects are surprisingly shoddy. In the opening scene aboard the tugboat Jenny during the stormy night, the effect is accomplished by what appears to be cheesy back projection, while water on both sides of the boat sprays up from what appears to be garden hoses just off-screen. Believe me, it looks even worse than what I have described. Once the characters get to the Poseidon, the production values do improve, but not much. The various sets more often than not don't look right. They look too clean and polished, and sometimes resemble what you might expect out of a television production from the same era. There was also many times a soundstage feel to the sets; I could sense the film crew and the overhead spotlights just a few inches away from camera range. This was also a big reason as to why when it comes to action and suspense, the movie isn't particularly successful. I will admit that in the first few minutes when the characters enter the wrecked ship, there was a part of me that was a little thrilled, kind of the feeling associated with finding the tomb of an ancient emperor. But it didn't take long for the thrill to fade away. Even though the movie throws in many different obstacles for the characters to face, all of this has a strange matter-of-fact feeling to it. One reason for this may be that the movie's aforementioned lengthy running time (one hundred and fourteen minutes, to be exact), the movie is much too long for its own good. It seems in a way to be repeating itself over and over, and inevitably that becomes tiresome and will have viewers telling the movie to simply get on with it.

I think that another reason why Beyond The Poseidon Adventure is lacking in thrills is with the characters and the actors who play them. The bad guys, for one thing, are often off-screen for extended periods of time, and as a result they only get a limited time to show enough ruthlessness to make them a serious threat. Not enough time, by the way; their leader comes across as especially bland. But a look at the protagonists doesn't reveal any characters particularly worth caring about. Mark Harmon gets almost nothing to do with his character. The Peter Boyle and Sally Field characters are particularly irritating, each whining about various issues through most of their scenes. Actor Slim Pickens gives a generous serving of ham in his performance that might have been okay for a movie with a lighter touch, but is completely wrong for this kind of movie. As for headline star Michael Caine (who later admitted he did the movie strictly for the money), he tries hard, but he seems befuddled by the fact that his character keeps switching back from being greedy and cold-hearted to showing serious concern for his fellow man. As you can see, there is little about this movie worthy of praise. That was also how I felt about the Irwin Allen production of Fire!, but like that movie, I have to admit there was a part of me that liked Beyond The Poseidon Adventure, warts and all. It may have been seeing all those name actors together seriously embarrassing themselves. It may have been that the movie, while very predictable (you know who will die before it happens, for one thing), was almost comforting in going down familiar paths. It may have been because major studio disaster movies are kind of rare, so you take what you can get. Add a viewing situation akin to a lazy and boring Sunday afternoon, and it becomes more appealing. Don't get me wrong - I am certainly not giving a general recommendation to this movie. However, I do think a few select viewers in select situations might find it agreeable enough. You know who you are.

(Posted October 26, 2021)

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See also: City On Fire, Epicenter, Fire!