Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979)

screenshot from Beyond the Poseidon Adventure

Directed by: Irwin Allen
Screenwriter(s): Nelson Gidding
Starring: Michael Caine, Sally Field, Karl Malden, Telly Savalas, Slim Pickens, Shirley Jones
Genre: Disaster / Action / Adventure
Country: USA
Running time: 1h 54m
Rating: 4 out of 10

What made the Poseidon Adventure great was the sense of disorientation (to this day, the image of toilets on the ceiling sticks in my mind) and the whole shock value of a luxury liner turning into a huge, metal tomb, about to either sink or explode at any moment.

Producer/director Irwin Allen, the so-called ‘Master of Disaster’, followed that up with the greatest disaster movie of all time, The Towering Inferno, and soon he was riding high on a blend in innovative stunts and big-name casts. But with each new project after that, the quality fell until Allen was churning out dross like this tired sequel, with its low production values and TV movie-standard cast. At no point, however, did anyone ever ask ‘I wonder what happened to the ship from The Poseidon Adventure?’ and hope that the answer might involve gun-runners.

Most of the sets are storage areas or corridors and rarely do you get the sense that the ship has capsized. Character development is crow-barred in via characters asking other “Why are you on this ship?” and getting a five minute soliloquy in answer. On the bright side, the crew arrive at an already capsized ship, so you don’t have to endure an hour of stultifyingly dull build-up (as with Allen’s next movie, When Time Ran Out).

Some of the cliches of the first film are revived here (“but I can’t swim!”), but mostly the plot concerns the cat and mouse game between Captain Mike Turner (Caine, naturally), who needs to salvage the ship of all its treasures to save his tugboat from being repossed by the bank, and Captain Stefan Svevo (Savalas), who claims to be offering humanitarian aid, but is so sneering that you wish he had a moustache, just so he could twirl the ends of it menancingly and laugh.

Will Captain Mike get the gold or selflessly choose to save the remaining passengers? Or will Kojak triumph? Do you have to ask?

That’s not to say that the film isn’t fun. There’s a certain sense of “Let’s do the show right here” about this film, as if the studio just left them all on the back lot with a few bits and pieces of props and the cast decided to make their own movie. Although, to be fair, actors of the calibre on show would surely write better dialogue than they’re forced to spew out here; after all, they may not all be A-list stars, but they’re not imbeciles.

If you liked The Swarm, then you’ll probably enjoy this effort for its low-rent charm.