At a time when disaster movies could allure big names like Gene Hackman and not cannon fodder like John Cusack or Dwayne Johnson, The Poseidon Adventure slotted in exceptionally well to the period of 1970s enlightenment. Explosives, horrors and disaster all over the place. What a mess. But what a rush, too. Not just for the audiences who wished to see death and destruction but for the cast, who find themselves portraying a wide array of utterly aimless individuals setting forth on a cruise to Athens. Why this coincides with the celebration of New Year’s is beyond comprehension, but it sets a suave backdrop for the horrors of sinking into the murky depths of the sea.
A man of God in the form of Reverend Scott (Gene Hackman) takes immediate charge of this horrifying situation. Strong sideburns do not make for the ideal team leader, but it is all we have got. He has bested Ernest Borgnine in that regard, as surprising as that may be. There are nice touches throughout, but none are accounted for in the cast. They at least feel like people, rather than ideas. One flaw of the modern disasterpiece is that characters are not given a personality. Simplicity is on display within The Poseidon Adventure. A policeman, an actress, a reverend, a retired couple and children are just a few components of this ragtag group. There is the semblance of a chase within this Ronald Neame piece, the water is always shown one step behind these characters, but it is not enough when the characters are so simplistic. One character is fat, another is old. A third, God forbid, is Irish.
Everyone chews the scenery a tad too much. Hackman’s poor combover is the most convincing part of this drab, overworked performance as a preacher bound to the boat. He rants and raves at God in unconvincing fashion, although Neame doesn’t appear to care. If he did, he would cut Hackman short with a blast from below the hull or an explosion to cut his ramblings off. No such luck, and The Poseidon Adventure continues to trundle on, off course and with no direction. “Therefore, don’t pray to God to solve your problems,” Scott rambles, who then subsequently begs God for his life and the lives of others. There is something within this parallel, but it is too obvious to say that desperate men fall away from their own teachings. Neame is not smart enough to control such a simple story.
An assault to the eyes and ears, The Poseidon Adventure brings together a horrid colour scheme with some poor, wrought moments of survival. As midnight dawns and the New Year begins, it is clear not many of these passengers will make it. Their panic is real, my boredom too. Fear factors in so much to the decisions of this ragtag bunch, but they also have the skills between them to survive this grave ordeal. Baffling dialogue that wishes to bring some semblance of anger and mistrust between the butting heads of the group is thrown in with no concern or care for where it ends up. Disasterpieces should not be a disaster themselves, and it is a shame that The Poseidon Adventure sinks, as does half its cast, into the depths of that cool, blue sea.