Beyond the Poseidon Adventure

Beyond the reach of reason
Irwin Allen
Michael Caine, Sally Field, Telly Savalas, Angela Cartwright, Shirley Henderson
The Setup: 
Scavengers head into the Poseidon a few hours after the survivors got out.

I didn’t even know this movie existed—although in retrospect I’m sure I must have seen it on TV a million times, back in the day. We open with the shot from the first film of the wave hitting the Poseidon, then these long and boring credits, then we join the tugboat Jenny as she battles through the storm [it was a storm now, even though in the original it was a tsunami]. It is apparent even from this point that production values have dropped precipitously. The tugboat is incredibly poorly composited against an ocean background, and the “waves” that strike it are obviously the spray of two fire hoses! It’s really embarrassing. Then we see that Michael Caine as Mike, flying just above Jaws 4 level at the depths of his career lull, is the captain of the tug, assisted by Karl Malden as Wilbur. Then up pops Sally Field as Celeste, announcing “I’m sick.” A window pops open and she says “I’ll help you” before smashing a fish hook through the glass. She manages to be phenomenally irritating a mere 10 seconds into her appearance. Anyway, the tugboat loses its cargo in the storm, which provides motivation for the rest of the story.

So the next morning Mike and Wilbur see a rescue helicopter, and figure a ship must be in trouble. Since they have lost their cargo, they need money, and figure they can scavenge from the wreck. While this is going on we’re having completely inappropriate “comedy” with Sally as we hear a smash from downstairs, and then a blithe “Sorry!” We soon find out that she’s “a good kid,” on her way to Africa, surely to spoon nutrients into starving orphans or whatever. We have also noticed that Malden’s nose looks like balls.

So they find the capsized Poseidon. There is a shot of the overturned boat through binoculars that the producers have limited to about ¼ second, as it looks so fake. I also have to admire the “binocular view” that sees through two circles connected by a little bridge, rather than two overlapping circles, which would represent an understanding of what really happens when one looks through binoculars. Anyway, they note that the ship “could go at any moment,” but Caine is made so greedy by the thought of all the jewels carried by the passengers that they decide to go in. Field, who I realize is in the Streisand role—that is, fantastically grating and yet presented as adorable—insists on going as well. She slaps Wilbur on the back as though they’re on their way to an island barbecue.

But also on the scene is Telly Savalas as Dr. Stefan Svevo, who leads a white-clad medical team that apparently cruises the oceans looking for troubled parties in their deluxe yacht. It goes without saying that Svevo is the suavest ocean-based medical professional ever. He is wearing a white double-breasted suit over a SHINY black turtleneck. Anyway, they say they’re going in to search for survivors.

So they go in. We immediately see the red hand wheel where Hackman made his final stand in the first film [but not his charred and bloated corpse, sadly]. Malden observes that the ship is a “floating time bomb,” and we note that this film comes from the days where, if you wanted to suggest an enormous blaze just off camera, you merely parked a small burner just out of frame, so the flames flare up.

So no sooner have you asked “What’s with all the sitcom banter?” when a bunch of survivors show up in the form of Peter Boyle as Frank and two other women, one a beauty in a cocktail dress and one a nurse, played by Shirley Henderson, that’s right, Ma Partridge. Frank is looking for his daughter. They come across a big hole in the floor/ceiling and have to jump across it. I love how once the beautiful woman in the cocktail dress jumps, she lands in Caine’s arms and says “Oh God, hold me please!” And she doesn’t even know the guy. Maybe I should try that approach.

Then Mike and company find the safe, which is full of… well, more coins than I thought a modern safe would have. I like Mike’s solution to make everyone a mule, offering then 10% of whatever they carry. Then we discover Frank’s daughter, played by Angela Cartwright, Penny from Lost in Space! She’s a got a boyfriend in a very young Mark Harmon. Then we learn that Svevo isn’t a doctor at all, but some sort of dastardly dude, and cocktail dress lady knows about his plan, and he tells a guy to shoot her, and he tries, but then she axes him in the neck! Which you have to admit is quite awesome.

So they go on and on, over and around whatever obstacles. Eventually they split up, because Svevo wants to go look for the plutonium which is apparently on board, and Mike wants to continue looking for treasure. Throughout there are explosions—the same explosions, I believe, from the first film, and the same explosions we see over and over in this film. Then they find Jack Warden as a blind novelist with his wife, and soon Sally freaks out about how she could have been married fifty million times if she wanted to, and she doesn’t like being called Monkey [Caine’s name for her], and basically just freaking out from the stress, but is snapped back into coherence when Caine tells her he thinks she’s beautiful. Ugh, I’ll take axe-wielding models who just need to be held any day.

Now, this week I have been freelancing at this place in Jersey which requires me to get up at 6am and commute 90 minutes [minimum] EACH WAY [don’t worry, I’ve already quit] in and out of the stinky puckered anus of the world, the New York Port Authority. I am in fact writing this review on one of their buses right now. Anyway, I mention this because this commute has essentially turned me narcoleptic, falling dead asleep at odd times throughout the day [like during meetings when someone is explaining my new job TO ME]. Oddly this same thing happened to a friend of mine when he had a long commute as well. Anyway, around this point in the movie I started drifting in and out of the most blissful, powerful sleep you can imagine. Even the intermittent sound of machine gun fire in the film only served to lull me further. And, I have to say, this movie was such a piece of crap I decided that I didn’t really care if I missed the second half.

Here’s what I did collect: it turns out that Svevo is some kind of terrorist and he’s after this plutonium that is deep within the ship. Then Frank is shot. During this time we’ve come to notice that Mike is coming to value people over riches, and is stepping naturally into the role of leader. Slim Pickens [did I mention Slim Pickens?], who everyone assumed was rich, is poor. They somehow scuba dive out of the bottom of the boat. You will notice that Savalas is so cool, he just stands there with his hand on his hip when people are shooting machine guns at him. Mike and Celeste make it back to their tug when, for absolutely no discernable reason, the entire Poseidon explodes! The end.

It was amusing bad. I was perfectly happy to sit and watch it, but also perfectly happy to skip the latter half once I fell asleep. Between the d-list stars and the significantly lower budget [it really is QUITE noticeable] and the stupid situations and the whole idea of super-suave medical technicians, it’s rather charming. Just not really THAT charming.

There is a 30 minute “making of” from the time of filming that clearly implies that the movie was filmed in a real upside-down cruise ship—even as they’re showing that the hull of the ship is just a model. I was too tired to watch the rest, and by that time I just wanted the movie out of my house.

Should you watch it: 

If you want. It’s kind of for disaster-movie completists only.

is the original film that lays down the crucial backstory! You pretty much have to watch that one at some point.
POSEIDON is the recent Wolfgang Peterson remake, and is a giant turd.