Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

The Poseidon Adventure Timed to coincide with the big-screen remake "Poseidon," 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment are releasing 2-disc special editions of two classic star-studded disaster movies, including the 1972 original "The Poseidon Adventure" starring Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters and Roddy McDowell among a crew of 15 Academy Award winners. Produced by the legendary Irwin Allen (who made a career in the 1970s of turning out big-budget disaster movies) the movie, based on a novel of the same name by Paul Gallico, tells the story of the aging liner Poseidon, which is hit by a 90-foot tidal wave that knocks her over on her final voyage from New York to Greece.

Featuring impressive special effects for its time and excellent performances from its cast, the movie manages to rise above a trite script and corny dialogue as they travel through an upside-down world, into the bowels of the ship in the hope of rescue from above.

Perhaps the main attraction of this movie is the sets, which effectively create a world turned on its head that leaves passengers walking on the ceilings of a maze of passageways and falling into what was just seconds before the roof of a giant ballroom. The movie proved to be a smash hit in 1972 and itself garnered nine Oscar nominations.

The movie was previously released on DVD as a relatively bare-bones effort, an oversight which has been corrected here in what is a virtual embarrassment of riches for those of us who love to scour through the special features of those shiny discs. Alongside two audio commentaries, one featuring director Ronald Neame and a second with cast members Pamela Sue Martin, Stella Stevens and Carol Lynley are ten all-new featurettes that include a retrospective by the cast and crew and the AMC Backstory that looked behind the making of the movie. The longest of these short documentaries by far is the Backstory presentation that clocks in just short of a half-hour at 25:08 and details not just the fight by Allen to bring the novel to the screen, but also on-camera interviews with the likes of Roddy McDowell, Sheila Metthews Allen and Stella Stevens.

Fox apparently was reluctant to finance the $5 million picture and tried to kill the movie even after work had started on it. It was up to Allen to raise half of the budget, something he managed when he interrupted two rich friends playing cards at the neighboring country club who said "Yes, but let us get back to the game." The two men subsequently became even more wealthy.

The shortest documentary "Turning over the ship" on the effects shots in the picture is a mere 2:26.

The other documentaries cover such elements as the song "The Morning After," the religious themes of the movie, how some of the scenes were created and a featurette, which this DVD shares with "The Towering Inferno," on writer Stirling Sillipant.

Even given its short length at 6:27 is the featurette "The R.M.S. Queen Mary" which gives a fascinating history of the liner which served not only as a location for exterior shots of the "Poseidon" and the design of the ship, but also in the genesis of the idea for the novel. Apparently Gallico had taken a trip on the Queen Mary in the 1950s when it had been hit by a large wave. Tilting slightly plates and glasses went flying until the ship righted itself. Years later as Gallico sat down to write a novel the memory came back to him.

Perhaps the most famous shot of the movie is of the character Terry falling from a table into the glass ceiling below. This stunt was performed by actor Ernie Osatti, who was asked to do it so the movie could say that a number of the stunts had been performed by the actors themselves. This is recounted by Osatti in the 4:09 documentary "Falling up with Ernie."

Of the two commentaries the solo effort by Neame is the most involving with the director commending his cast for spending virtually an entire movie being "damped down" with hoses before practically every shot. Neame also reveals that he was "terrified" when he heard that Gallico would be seeing the movie because he had not stayed faithful to the novel, but was relieved to find out that the novelist loved the film.

Neame also explained the use of the "title" on the front of the movie which would seem to a casual observer to be a spoiler. As the movie opens we learn from a blurb on the screen that "only a handful of survivors" made it through the capsized ship. As Neame tells us, this was included as a means of holding the audiences attention through the first 20 minutes of the picture as we are introduced to the impressive cast with the audience trying to figure out who will survive.

The second cast commentary by Martin, Stevens and Lynley has, strangely enough, more periods of silence as the three seem to become involved in watching the movie unfold. It is also more anecdotal in nature. Stevens, for example, recounts getting into trouble recently for having her picture taken with the model of the ship (which apparently is on display at the maritime museum in Long Beach, Calif.), until it was learned she had appeared in the movie.

The three also talk about the casting and even mention how they had expressed an interest in making cameo appearances in the new movie, a notion which was met with no enthusiasm by the studio.

Perhaps the most interesting special feature is also the most unusual, an interactive feature that allows the viewer to follow the escape through schematics of the ship as they watch the movie. With a boat graphic in the lower right corner of the picture as a prompt, a screen comes up that shows the viewer where the survivors are, the path they took to get there and who is left. The schematic is based (as the movie and book were also) on the R.M.S Queen Mary.

Rounding out the DVD is a 10-minute archival 1972 promotional feature on the movie, two teaser trailers and the theatrical trailer, three storyboard comparisons and the transcription of an article that appeared in an edition of "American Cinematographer" with selectable images that take the viewer to image galleries.

20th Century Fox missed the boat on this one. This movie holds up remarkably well considering most of the dialogue seems a bit dated now. Shelley Winters gives a good solid performance of the grandmother on the way to see her grandson in Israel. Hackman is a rebel priest, and Stella Stevens is the hooker made good by marrying cop Ernest Borgnine. Everyone is having a good time until disaster strikes. The special effects of the capsizing of the Poseidon were unsurpassed until Star Wars came along and even then Lucas wasn't turning over a boat load of passengers. The grand piano crashing through mid air still gives me stomach pains. Yes, they don't compare to James Cameron's Titanic, but remember they didn't have digital/computer technology back then. I still don't know how they did it. Which leads me to my next point.

The real disaster is the treatment Fox gave the DVD. I didn't wait all these years for DVD technology to hear Dolby mono. The movie was originally released in stereo. Hearing all those screaming people from my center speaker doesn't cut it. Hearing John William's fine score, and the Academy Award winning "The Morning After" in mono is a real disappointment. I know there was a 'making of' documentary produced around the time the film was made. Why isn't it on the DVD? Why didn't we get a commentary track from some of the special effects wizards, cast, or director. They can't all be dead. Again, we waited for years for this to be released in a digital format, but my recommendation is to stick with the VHS version. At least that is in stereo.

Buy The Poseidon Adventure (1972) Now

I first saw Poseidon Adventure on Christmas Eve 1972. I was nine and my brother was almost twelve. I vividly remember calling the theater and, because it was rated PG, asking the lady if my brother and I had to have an adult with us in order to see it! Well, needless to say, my 9-year-old eyes had never seen anything like it and to this day the movie has a certain hold on me. I bought the special edition dvd the day it came out. I watched it four times the first two days. Both commentaries are great but I think I like the commentary by Stella Stevens, Carol Lynley and Pamela Sue Martin a little better than the director's. It's fun to listen to the three ladies reminisce and laugh together. I have seen the new movie and I like it, probably because I like the premise of the story. It's just a very different take on the same premise. Poseidon Adventure will always be among my favorite movies.

Read Best Reviews of The Poseidon Adventure (1972) Here

If you are a fan of the movie, this Blu-ray is a must-have. The widescreen picture is crisp and clear with no fuzziness, and the underwater swimming scenes look especially good in hi-def. The audio is clean with no hiss at all.

There are more extras than you can shake a stick at:

Commentary by director Ronald Neame

Commentary by Pamela Sue Martin, Stella Stevens, and Carol Lynley

Hollywood Backstories episode with nice behind-the-scenes footage

The Cast Looks Back

Falling Up with Ernie

The Writer: Stirling Silliphant

The Heroes of The Poseidon

The Morning After Story

R.M.S. Queen Mary

Conversations with Ronald Neame

Marketing and publicity galleries

Storyboard Comparisons

Original 1972 Featurette

Trailer and Teaser Trailer

Wow! That's a lot of stuff to watch. I watched a lot of the extras my favorites were the Hollywood Backstories episode (about 25 minutes long) and also some of the more recent interviews with cast members.

I purchased the disc at Wal-Mart for under thirteen dollars. At the time of this review, it looks like that is the only place that sells this Blu-ray based on the packaging sticker, which read "Only at Wal-Mart."

Want The Poseidon Adventure (1972) Discount?

I think I like this a lot BETTER than that "other boat movie", which is strange, because you'd think it would get COOLER in 20+ years. The reason is simply this: Poseidon Adv. doesn't piddle around with trying to make a romance out of a disaster. I think that in REAL life once Titanic hit, J. Dawson would be like "Nice dance, nice screw, ship wrecked, screw you." Of course, that's just me, and anyone else who's being honest. A lot of people 21 and under probably saw Titanic, not this. I suggest they give it a look.

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