Since its initial release, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure has been mercilessly attacked for being the sequel to the 1972 classic disaster film that never should have been made. Reviewers in 1979 ripped it a new one, as have most viewers, generally, in the years to follow. But how bad is it? I had a chance to view the film on TCM the other day, and I have to admit, I actually enjoyed it and didn’t think it was horrible. When you consider all the atrocious sequels to be made after the initial classic was such a blockbuster, this is pretty good in comparison. Yes, the story requires one enormous suspension of disbelief after another, but if you put that aside, we have a decent and exciting adventure movie that has the same production values as the original. The finished product is not perfect, but it is far from the nightmare people have painted it out to be.
Michael Caine plays the captain of a small tugboat who stumbles on the still-floating wreck of the Poseidon, presumably days after the disaster we all know about occurred. With his crew of two (Karl Malden as an experienced sailor and a young Sally Field playing a green and clumsy deckhand), they decide to go into the wreck to salvage any gold and valuables they can find. After making their way through a hole cut in the hull by the French Coast Guard, they descend into the upside-down luxury cruise liner. This happens after they encounter a second group led by Telly Savalas, who says he is a doctor with a crew seeking to find more survivors the coast guard missed. Yeah right, we all know where this is going…
As they wander around the ship, they do encounter other survivors, which range in personality from a tough New Jersey bar-owner (Peter Boyle), his daughter and her new-found love interest (Angela Cartwright and Mark Harmon), an alcoholic Texan businessman (Slim Pickens), and a few others. Caine manages to find what he is looking for, the gold and jewels, while Savalas and his group who split up earlier are revealed to actually be a sinister bunch in search of a secret shipment of plutonium on board. The groups eventually cross paths and have an exchange of gunfire (there are additional shipments of machine guns, apparently) and both try to find their way back to the top of the ship to escape.
The adventure switches back and forth between exciting and believable to outlandish and ridiculous. Again, the suspension of disbelief comes into play on numerous occasions: 1) Would any salvage crew, no matter what the potential wealth is, be so daring as to board a capsized ship that could sink at any minute? 2) How did the group manage to navigate their way around an unfamiliar ship upside-down without having deck plans for most of the film? 3) How long, exactly, could such a ship even stay afloat, not to mention with frame-rocking explosions occurring what seems like every ten minutes? 4) What are the odds that along with something as rare as plutonium aboard, there would also be endless crates of machine guns, ammunition, and even grenades? 5) Lastly, how likely is it that sitting, in perfect condition right near the final escape area, there is scuba gear and oxygen tanks just waiting to be used to help them get to the surface?! You can probably find more to add to this list. Like I said earlier, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure is not perfect.
Even with all of that, though, the story is interesting. The special effects and extensive sets seem to have a lot of money behind them, making budgetary constraints a non-factor here, unlike most sequels. Where this film lacked is the script and acting. According to various websites, the script was changed almost daily, with new scenes constantly being changed or written in. Perhaps the actors did not have enough time to know their lines and gel together enough to make for a convincing effect. The only two actors who have any chemistry whatsoever are Caine and Malden, who are almost like a father-son tandem. Field’s acting is annoying and horrific, while Savalas exerts the passion of a wooden board in his “villain” role. The rest of the acting is either over-the-top or emotionless, take your pick. It is rumored that John Wayne was offered a role in the film and was interested only until he read the script. While no one can be surprised at his decision, it makes you wonder about how it might have been different, and it also would have been Wayne’s final film, as he died the year this was released.
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure is not a great movie but it can be exciting and enjoyable if you can manage to put aside some glaring errors. This is not as bad as people have made it out to be over the years, and is one of the better disaster movie sequels made in the 1970’s. Give it a try. Its a fun way to waste two hours. Directed by Iwin Allen.
6 out of 10 stars.