I feel like I'm enjoying the films in this marathon more than I have any right to — or, at least, more than I can justify in retrospect. When Airport
ended, I graded it a B-, but thinking back on it no single scene stands out in memory as being particularly great; I'm more apt to remember the ones that were awkward and boring. With The Poseidon Adventure
, I felt pretty comfortable grading it a straight B, but now, confronted once again with Leslie Nielsen's cardboard expression, it just doesn't seem possible that the movie was really that good. But then when I think about how great the basic concept is, and how good some of the scenes were, that grade starts to make a lot more sense.
It's no wonder they just tried to remake the film, because the idea of passengers forced to climb up to the hull of an overturned ship is pretty awesome in its simplicity and its effectiveness. And one of the virtues of the film is that it doesn't waste too much time getting to that concept. The disaster hits less than thirty minutes in ("Oh my god," deadpans our captain) before the exposition gets too unbearable. (Yeah, he's a cop, she worked the street. I get it already.) This is an improvement over Airport
, I think, as is the choice of Hackman's man-of-action preacher as the lead character (versus Lancaster's paper-shuffling director of airport operations). Even today, many of these films bog their stories down with reluctant heroes, so Hackman's total lack of hesitancy is really refreshing. Now if only that were true of the other characters...
In talking about Sunshine
this week, my big complaint about it was that a key obstacle was largely inorganic to the basic concept. That is, when you're on a mission to restart the sun, you shouldn't have to stretch
to find things that could go wrong. Well that idea applies twenty-fold to The Poseidon Adventure
. The film's greatest flaw is that it too often ignores the conflict inherent in the characters' situation and instead imposes more artificial conflict onto things. Hackman spends more time bickering with Borgnine's character than dealing with the logistics of being in an upside-down ship. I rarely find that kind of bickering entertaining, and it was completely unbearable here and a colossal waste of time. Equally annoying was that the other primary source of conflict wasn't the ship or the water or the explosions, but rather Nonnie, who just couldn't go on ... she just couldn't. When she just stalled on ladder, I wanted to throw something at the tv. Even though her fear might be a realistic obstacle in that situation, it's hardly the most interesting one.
But for the most part the film succeeds despite these lapses, partly because veteran director Ronald Neame doesn't dwell on them for too long. He does generally good work here, highlighted, for example, by the very effective cross-cutting between the partygoers and the crew right before the wave hits. There was probably more excitement in that mayday siren and in the visual of the wave than in any single moment in Airport
. That might be the very instant that disaster films transitioned away from Drama and into the Action-Adventure genre.
The other standout scenes for me are all at the end. It's no coincidence that once Scott and Rogo stop butting heads, things get pretty great, starting with the underwater swim. Now, like much of the film, it works in spite of itself a little. The way Hackman gets trapped is awkwardly handled, and the whole 'former swimming champ' thing is just plain silly, but damn if I wasn't holding my breath right along with Shelley. The twist at the end there feels cheap (more conflict not inherent to the concept), but the subsequent reactions of Rogo and Manny almost make it worth it. I'm almost ashamed to admit this, but when Scott tells Manny, "The last thing she said..." I actually got chills.
There's another sillyish demise soon thereafter — yet another female character meeting death out of weakness, perhaps — but, yet again, the payoff almost makes it worth it. For once, the conflict between Rogo and Scott actually means something. Plus, it makes possible this unexpected still of the guy who won an Oscar playing Marty:
That leads to the final sacrifice — one that somehow caught me totally off-guard, even though I'd seen the movie before. I hope it worked for everyone as well as it worked for me. It tied things together better than I had thought likely and, as a bonus, was completely gripping. (It'd be interesting to know if the scene was a reference point for James Cameron with Terminator 2
.) And the final moments, with the realization of all that happened, were just as effective. All in all, a very strong ending to a mostly entertaining film.
I need a monkey.