You’d think that having a disparate group of survivors fight to escape the upside-down hellscape of an upturned ocean liner would be drama enough, but in 1979, producer/director/writer Irwin Allen deemed that The Poseidon Adventure needed one of the most unnecessary and clumsy sequels ever conceived and thus, Beyond The Poseidon Adventure was disgorged into the public consciousness. Despite the film featuring the usual group of famous faces that seemed to have cast with all the randomness of a bingo draw, the movie not only failed to snag the public’s interest but only managed to recoup a stunning 20% of its estimated budget at the box office making this a disaster epic in more ways than one. However, is Beyond The Poseidon Adventure truly as bad as it reputation suggests – eg. burying the disaster genre for about a decade – or is it simply misunderstood?
Almost immediately after the bedraggled survivors of the capsized luxury liner, the S.S. Poseidon, have been ferried off the sinking hulk by the French Coast Guard, along comes broke tugboat captain Mike Turner, who spots a huge opportunity amidst this catastrophic disaster. Joined by his grizzled second mate Wilbur and a random passenger Celeste Whitman (who is present because… reasons?), the three hop aboard the underside of the ship only to be confronted by the instantly suspicious Dr. Stefan Svevo, who’s name, white suit/black rollneck combo and the fact that he’s played by Telly Savalas in full Blofeld mode somehow doesn’t tip anyone off to the fact that he’s obviously not who he seems.
However, blinded by desperate greed, Mike and his crew forges onward with Svevo and his flunkies and after back tracking through the escape route we saw the previous characters trudge through, unwittingly collects a bunch of battered survivors himself when all he wants to do is raid the purser’s office for some much needed cheddar.
Joined by endlessly complaining Borgnine-a-like, Frank, his daughter Theresa, ship’s nurse Gina, Texan millionaire Dewey and a bunch of other sooty-faced sad sacks, Mike finds his priorities gradually changing as he struggles to get both his loot and these lost souls off the boat before one of those endless explosions is finally the one that sends the Poseidon down to Netflix and chill with Davey Jones.
However, an extra added wrinkle proves to make their journey all the more impossible when they find out exactly why Svevo has come. It seems he has some freaking plutonium on board being delivered for some sort of nefarious purposes and now that Mike and his motley group have found out, it’s a bullet ridden death for all of them if they don’t escape. I swear to god I’m not making this up.
So, just in case any of you out there in internet land are worried I had some sort of stroke around the middle point of writing that synopsis, I can assure you that is actually the plot that Irwin Allen deemed “a-ok” for a movie treatment. That’s right, for around the first forty minutes of the movie, we were presumably supposed to cheer on Michael Caine, Sally Field and Karl Malden as they literally climb over the bodies of the passengers and crew of the Poseidon in order to ransack their safe under the pretence of the law of salvage – excuse me for not cheering right away Irwin… I’m not being metaphorical either, because even though we’re spared the sight of our hodge podge cast stumbling over the heart attack ravaged body of Shelly Winters or the boiled lobster remains of Roddy McDowell, the camera does flick briefly to who I suspect is the smoldering corpse of Stella Stevens’ Linda Rogo when they first gain entrance to the ship.
Grave robbing heroes aside, the movie continues to not do itself a single favour by playing out like a reverse remake of the first movie as our collection of greedy idiots, evil masterminds and shouty survivors take a slightly different route in order to make their way to freedom. I’m not entirely sure how you’d make another movie set in the upside down bowels of a fucked up ship visually original and arresting, but it seems that Allen didn’t know either as the claustrophobic feel of the original just now feels drab and samey.
Of course, all this is damning enough, but the inclusion of a terrorist sub-plot overturns the whole deal way faster than a giant tsunami wave ever could as the filmmaker deem that the only thing missing from the first movie was gun fights involving M16s and bright yellow barrels of plutonium. Not only is it not needed, but it has the same effect as if you were to suddenly unleashed a flesh eating virus on the cast of The Towering Inferno or stuck in a rape/revenge plot smack bang in the middle of Earthquake.
The cast struggles gamely on with Caine (destined to repeat appearing in a shitty, waterlogged sequel with Jaws: The Revenge) essentially yelling his way through proceedings like he’s dealing with his agent and Field bizarrely being enlisted as comic relief while Savalas genuinely feels like he’s sailed in from another movie which, judging by his performance, I presume is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. As for the rest of the tired looking ensemble, everyone lines up to announce their various sob stories to the group at inopportune times like an episode of American Idol shot in the middle of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. However, the main staple of these movies – the tragic, random deaths – fail to make any dent whatsoever. Take Karl Malden’s heroic sacrifice that’s so confusing, he entire character just up and disappears while suba diving to the surface. Whether the character was fatally ill or not, the fact that Michael Caine actually has to spell the whole thing out for Field (or, to be more exact, us) manages to drain every ounce of drama out of it, causing the viewer to suddenly go “Oh wait, he died?” instead of being moved by the loss.
However, despite the cringe worthy monologues and some sub-par model work (shocking for an Irwin Allen disaster flick), Beyond The Poseidon Adventure manages to narrowly avoid plumbing the absolute depths of awfulness by accidently being quite funny, virtually begging you to hurl derisive comments and quips at the screen with every clunky scene and straight-laced line of dialogue.
As sloppy as an unwashed engine room and about as emotionally investing as folding laundry (Caine’s shirt remains stubbonly untucked despite it weathering gun battles, climbing and suba diving), Beyond The Poseidon Adventure repeatedly proves that its treading water and sinking fast.