On Sunday after many years of trying I finally got to watch the entire of The Poseidon Adventure from start to finish. Now let’s make something clear before we move forward. I am speaking here about the 1972 movie starring Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, Roddy MacDowall, and (someone no-one under my age will recognise unless they’re hardcore movie buffs) Red Buttons.
I am not speaking to you about the 2005 Adam Baldwin remake of the same name, or the 2006 bowel loosening remake starring Kurt Russell named “Poseidon”. They are both horrifying abortions of a very different caliber, with the latter’s sole redeeming characteristic being the chance to…
…watch Kurt Russell drown.
No here we speak about what I firmly believe to be simply the greatest disaster movie ever made. And here’s why.
They spend time introducing the characters, and making you actually feel for them. That’s right people, this movie comes from that time when CGI, and action set pieces, were not considered character building.
There’s no cutting back and forth between groups of people. Let me explain this one a little. Take the Bruce Willis, Liv Tyler abomination “Armageddon”. The whole movie is composed of quick cuts between ground control, and the heroes. Which makes for a fast paced movie, but also means that I had zero investment in the characters when some of them inevitably died. I just didn’t care that they were dropping like flies because they’d all become “Just Another Guy”.
JAG syndrome is rife in action movies. And to be fair, a lot of action movies rely on lots of JAG’s to keep the story moving along, I’m looking at you Aliens. But a really great disaster movie works by making you feel as if you’ve gone through the same hell as the characters. And “The Poseidon Adventure” does this brilliantly by almost never leaving the main characters. In fact, only two instances really come to mind, one being to show the ship’s captain, Leslie Nielsen playing it brilliantly straight for once, trying to save the Poseidon from a killer wave. The other being to show us dozens of people drowning, though even here it can be viewed as being seen through the eyes of a horrified Gene Hackman.
The third reason for this movies brilliance is the story. It’s simple, but very believable. An earthquake triggers a gigantic wave, we’ve seen that happen in recent history. The wave then goes on to capsize a ship, we’ve seen that too. And a handful of survivors fight their way through the now upside-down, sinking ship to safety, losing people every step of the way. It really is that simple, and that’s what makes it work, because that simplicity allows the actors to take center stage, not the damned special effects.
So those are all the reasons you should go to see this movie.
But for all the greatness that abounds in it, there is one serious “WHAT THE FUCK?!” moment. So our heroes have made their way to the hull of the ship, leaving a trail of corpses in their wake. They’re banging on it with pipes, and someone starts to burn through with cutting torches.
YAY! Everyone’s rescued!
Then they ask if anyone else has been found. The answer is of course “No!” Then they all just climb into a helicopter, and fly off to safety.
First off, seriously they send three dudes in one chopper to rescue hundreds of people from a capsized ship? Seriously, why not just send one blind kid, who has no sense of smell, who’s wearing all nylon clothing, and who happens to be only equipped with a broken Super Soaker to put out a forest fire while you’re at it.
Secondly those three dudes cut just ONE GODDESS DAMNED HOLE! I mean it, they cut ONE HOLE.
No case of, “We must try our hardest damn it men, these people are counting on us!”
No, “No sir we have to cut more holes, I could never look my children in the face again if I left after cutting just one hole.”
Not even a, “Yo dude, (it’s the 70’s after all,and we all know from the movies that every sentence spoken between guys in the 70’s started with those two words.) I get paid by the mother fucking hole. So we’re gonna cut some mother fucking holes, in this mother fucking boat. Sheeeeet!” (He might also be the white pre-incarnation of Samuel L. Jackson.)
No, instead we get to see their asses climbing into what looks very much like the one, and only rescue helicopter sent to the ship, and fly away.
If you haven’t seen this movie you need to. After a lifetime of watching disaster movies I can say that it truly is the very best of the genre. But seriously Hollywood, THAT rescue…WTF?!