For the last couple of years I’ve made a goal to share some wonderful Christmas films with you all that you might not have realized were based off novels. This has taken the form of Christmas classics Die Hard and Die Hard 2. Both of which were actually adaptations of novels, neither of which had anything to do with each other, and were quite different from the films they inspired. It was a nice little series I had going. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, because the other Die Hard sequels are A) not Christmas based and B) not based on novels that were Christmas based. So, I logically looked into some other 80’s action films that took place at Christmas, hoping against hope I could scrounge up another shocking novel. But, Lethal Weapon and Gremlins are sadly not based on novels. So, I got a little weird with it this year. I left the action genre behind, and found myself getting a little hammier. Because when I heard that the utterly bizarre 70’s Disaster masterpiece the Poseidon Adventure was based on a novel, and that the novel took place the day after Christmas, I knew what I had to do. I had to watch a handful of really crappy movies, none of which even take place on Christmas. We have more of a New Years Eve thing going on this year, folks. Hope no one was planning a cruise.
Author Paul Gallico was not someone that I was particularly familiar with when I started prepping this installment of Film Library. He doesn’t seem to have had a whole lot of cultural cache, even though the guy had a pretty staggering amount of output. He put out more than fifty novels in his career, several of which were made into films. He seemed to be a pretty pulpy writer, creating tales of adventure that apparently took on an almost folk-tale quality. Not a lot of realism, but a lot of rip-roaring adventure. Which, can certainly be an appealing type of novel every now and then. Who needs realism when you can have pulpy fun? And, Gallico’s most famous novel, arguably, is the one we’re going to be talking about today. The Poseidon Adventure! The novel apparently was not very popular when it was released, not causing much of a stir. People recognized it as a fun little adventure story, but little else. However, as luck would have it, in the early 70’s a new and strange genre of movies was becoming popular. The Disaster movie! Big effects-heavy melodramas full of actions, fading stars, and lots of death. They became all the rage for a brief moment in film history, and when the hunt for source material that filled that specific niche began it was only a matter of time before someone found this novel, a story of a capsized ship and all the melodramatic humanity enclosed withing, and brought it to the silver screen, finally giving this story some attention. And it all started here, with this fun, if a tad repetitive, little story.
The Poseidon Adventure takes place aboard the titular Poseidon, a massive ocean-liner, that’s making a trek across the Atlantic, making several stops. The novel begins the afternoon of December, 26th where a group of passengers meet in the cafeteria, ready to brave the rocky ocean and have some lunch together. The group includes: Richard, Jane, Susan, and Robin Shelby, a suburban family on a nice vacation. Reverend Frank Scott, a famous preacher and former college football star. Mike and Linda Rogo, a New York detective and his former actress wife. Manny and Belle Rosen, a retired couple who are travelling after leaving their New York deli. Mary Kinsale, a quiet British spinster. Hubert Mueller, a wealthy playboy and general layabout. James Martin, a quiet haberdasher. And Tony Bates and Pamela Reid, a pair of single alcoholics who have befriended each other at the bar. This group of people are spending time together the day after Christmas when a massive under-water earthquake strikes near the Poseidon. This causes a massive wave to hit the ship, which was improperly loaded with ballast to make better time, in such a way that flips the ship over, capsizing it. A massive majority of people aboard the ship die more or less instantly, which Gallico describes in incredibly morbid detail.
Those on the bridge and topsides quarters died immediately. The Captain, his officers, helmsman, quartermaster and the watch were either slung into the port wing, or jammed up against the side of the enclosure, wedged and pinned there by centrifugal force, or crippled by the fall. None of them had been able even to get close or reach for emergency switches to close all watertight doors. They were drowned before they knew what was happening to them.
Death visited every potion of the ship. The engine and boiler-room crews were wiped out in a body: crushed, scalded, or obliterated pitilessly in those oily lakes where once the opening of funnels and skylights had been.
Yikes. But, our group of protagonists survive. And, sensing that something needs to be done, Reverend Scott takes charge. Along with some tidbits gleaming from Robin Shelby, a young boy fascinated by the ship, Scott decides that their only course of action is to climb upward, towards the keel of the ship. Specifically the the propeller shaft where the hull is thinnest and may be able to be cut through. So, clambering up a mostly destroyed Christmas tree, the little band begin their trek further into the bowels of the ship. They make slow progress, but eventually come across a massive service corridor which lets them travel pretty quickly through the upside down ship. And, while there a lot of things happen. They end up losing Bates and Reid after they comes across a room full of alcohol and get too drunk to continue on. They also gain two members, a Turkish engineer named Kemal who speaks no English but who is incredibly familiar with the ship, and a young showgirl named Nonnie whose friends have all died and who takes an immediate shine to Mueller. Susan Shelby is also raped by a random crew-member, but she seems to be completely fine with it, and gets sad when the boy immediately commits suicide. They also, in the middle of a blackout, lose Robin Shelby. The crew search for him for quite a long time, but the decision is eventually made to leave him behind, causing Jane Shelby to lose her cool and start airing all her dirty laundry with Richard Shelby.
But, they eventually continue on, slowly making their way further up, to the bottom of the ship. When they finally reach the engine room however, they run into a bit of a snag, because the only corridor that will take them where they need to go is submerged under water. Luckily, Belle Rosen is a former swimming champion, and she’s able to scout ahead, giving them a line to follow, even though this does begin to trigger a heart attack. She keeps her strength though, and the band begin climbing around in the engine room, scaling a massive wall of destruction to get closer to the propeller shaft. Which is when things really start to go wrong. Linda Rogo, constantly bickering with everyone, decides to go against Reverend Scott’s instructions, and ends up falling to her death. Scott takes her death really hard, and after the ship begins to settle he decides that God is angry at him and needs a sacrifice. So, cursing his presumed Creator, Scott throws himself to his death, in theory for the greater good. And, as luck would have it, the ship stops settling, and the crew is able to continue their journey. Martin takes over leadership of the group, and with his guidance they’re able to get to the propeller shaft, just in time to hear clanging from rescue workers. A hole is cut in the hull, just as Belle Rosen finally succumbs to her heart problems, and the rest of the survivors are saved. They then travel back to their respective homes, hopefully to never think about this horrible ordeal ever again.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel. It’s incredibly melodramatic, reaching almost soap operatic moments at times. And, Paul Gallico definitely didn’t have a deft hand at writing women. But, it was a pulpy adventure story full of a bunch of generally likable characters going through a series of absurd ordeals. It wasn’t trying to be anything monumental. And it succeeded at what it was trying to do. The books is written with a very fun flourish, full of lurid little details that helped bring the horror of a capsized ship to life. And, with this big a cast of characters there were bound to be some that connect with the reader, and some that don’t. The book is a tad repetitive though. It quickly falls into a patter where the group encounters an obstacle, they figure out how to solve it, and then we read as each and every person crosses the obstacle. Rinse and repeat. At times this became frustrating, but other times it ended up working nicely, giving us little insights into each character and what was running through their minds while crossing these impossible little tasks. But, there was also some incredibly strange elements to the novel that really made me sit back in shock. I mean, I know it was written in the late sixties, but reading Susan Shelby respond to her rapist with sadness and understanding was really off-putting.
He was so like a child that she soothed, “Hush! Don’t cry so! It’s happened. You didn’t mean it. I wouldn’t tell. No one need ever know. Please don’t cry so!”
That’s just gross. And, as you maybe could assume from the time period, there’s a hefty amount of casual racism tossed around, especially in the direction of the Rosen’s and Kemal. Which, obviously, can be a deal-breaker for people. I don’t approve of the opinions put into this book, but with historical context I can at least understand them, and attempt to find what enjoyment this book has to offer. Which doesn’t help when you realize this may be the most enjoyable version of this story.
THE FIRST FILM
Like I said earlier, The Poseidon Adventure was published at perhaps the most perfect time. In 1970 a film was released called Airport. It was about a disastrous night at an airport full of chaos and absolutely stuffed with celebrities. It juggled several different narratives, was full of B-List stars, and became a huge hit. People loved the format of the film, and as Hollywood is wont to do, ripoffs began popping up. Before you knew it, a whole new subgenre of movie was made. The Disaster Movie. The films in this subgenre followed a pretty basic pattern. They had to be set in a pretty limited location, it had to be full of stars that were a mixture of fading and rising, those stars had to be dealing with some sort of disaster that could be either natural or man-made, and it had to be full of cutting-edge special effects. That framework led to a whole bunch of movies, most of them of pretty middling quality. And, the absolute king of the genre became director Irwin Allen. “The Master of Disaster” was responsible for a handful of the most famous Disaster films of all time, including the Poseidon Adventure. Allen saw huge potential in the novel, but struggled to find a studio willing to back it. So, Allen backed half of the film himself, with 20th Century Fox finally taking the bait and backing the other half. And it paid off. Hugely. Because The Poseidon Adventure became massively successful, eventually earning $100 million, and garnering some critical awards, such as Oscars for special effects and original song, a BAFTA for Gene Hackman and a Golden Globe for Shelly Winters. All from this weird little story about a capsized ship and a bunch of people doing their best not to drown in it. The film then went on to become one of the most recognizable entries in the entire Disaster genre, proving how successful they can be.
The Poseidon Adventure takes place on the Poseidon, an aging ocean liner that is scheduled to be demolished after one final voyage across the Atlantic. The story takes place on New Year’s Eve, when a group of passengers bound together after an under-water earthquake causes a massive wave to capsize the ship right after the strike of midnight. A majority of the other passengers and crew are killed outright, but this band of survivors meet and decide to leave the supposed safety of the grand ballroom and head towards the bottom of the ship. This group of survivors is comprised of the following: Reverend Frank Scott, a preacher with an iconoclastic streak who is being punished and sent to Africa to start a new community. Detective Mike Rogo, a New York City policeman, and his wife Linda, a former prostitute. Susan and Robin Shelby, two siblings who are meeting their parents at the end of the voyage. Manny and Belle Rosen, two retired shop-owners who are visiting their grandson in Israel. James Martin the lonely bachelor. And Nonnie, the singer in a band that was playing the New Year’s Eve show. Much like the novel, Reverend Scott takes charge, and using Robin Shelby’s knowledge of the ship he decides to lead his little band of survivors towards the keel of the ship. They climb up a discarded Christmas tree to escape the ballroom they’ve all been trapped in, which earns them a lot of mockery from the other survivors, who believe staying put is the best idea. But, as soon as they climb up the tree the windows of the ballroom break, flooding the room, and our survivors have to watch as the rest of the people desperately try to climb the Christmas tree, only managing to knock it over and trap themselves in a watery tomb.
The survivors then begin making their way through the Poseidon, and it plays out basically the same as the novel. There’s less drama though. Since the Shelby parents aren’t there, they can’t bicker. Susan luckily doesn’t get raped. Even Robin isn’t lost and presumed dead. They do pick up an employee of the ship named Acres at one point, but he drowns almost immediately. And, he’s really the only one for quite a while. The movie is a pretty straight adaptation, pulling the same plot elements, and for the most part the same set pieces. We still get to see them climbing around. We see Belle Rosen have to do her pulse-pounding swim through the flooded corridor, but this time she dies immediately after saving everyone instead of dragging it out for a little longer. We still see them climbing up the wreckage of the engineering room. But that’s where things start to get a little different. Because Linda Rogo doesn’t fall to her death because she’s stubborn and dumb in the movie, instead she falls to her death after an explosion in the ship causes it to violently rock around, knocking her off her perch. And, her death does cause Reverend Scott to break down a bit, and he does die. But it isn’t a suicide. This time he dies while shutting off a steam valve that’s blocking their progress, still sacrificing himself, but in a far nobler manner than insulting god and hopping off a cliff. Rogo then takes things over, brings everyone to the propeller shaft, and starts banging on the walls to gain the attention of the rescue crews. They cut through the hull of the ship, and pull all the survivors out, bringing them to safety.
It’s easy to see why this film became the gold standard for Disaster movies. It’s fun, it moves quickly, it’s full of a very eclectic group of stars, and it has a lot of really great special effects. You can see why the movie garnered some Oscars for its visual effects. The film was able to bring the surreal horror of being in a capsized ship to life wonderfully, even though a lot of that took the form of torrents of water smashing around the large assortment of cast members. It was certainly a wise move to cut the cast list almost in half, because while that many characters worked pretty well in a novel, it would be hard to share that much screen time and keep the plot going without getting too bogged down. And, to be honest, they picked the right characters. Characters like the Shelby parents, Ms. Kinsale, and the two alcoholics really don’t add much to the story, and combining Martin and Mueller really didn’t lose much either. What we’re left with is the most engaging characters, portrayed by a whole slew of terrific seventies actors. We get Gene Hackman, Shelly Winters, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, and a slew of other actors bringing the story to life, filling out the most important aspect of the Disaster movie. Giving us a smorgasbord of actors that make you say “oh wow, they’re in this movie?” The film isn’t high art or anything, it’s a silly little action movie that was the precursor to the age of the blockbuster, just some good old-fashioned dumb fun to watch while eating popcorn. And it delivers on that promise wonderfully, giving us a movie that’s still fun to watch, and that left a massive footprint on American cinema, remaining one of the most beloved Disaster movies, and one of the most fondly remembered movies of the early seventies.
THE SECOND FILM
Hollywood loves trends. So, if one particular genre of film is working, it’s bound to work again at some point. The Disaster movies made Hollywood a whole lot of money, so they seem to have been fixated on resuscitating the genre, kicking a new rash of Disaster movies off. And, for whatever reason, it just never seems to work. Today we occasionally get movies that seem to come from a similar place as Disaster movies, often starring the Rock, but they usually end up being movies about the Rock surviving a Disaster, not that specific brand of weirdness we got in the seventies where a boat-load of mid-level celebrities go on an adventure together. The only time that the genre seemed to have a real chance at coming back was in the late nineties and the early aughts. And most of that comes from director Roland Emmerich. Movies like Independence Day, the Day After Tomorrow, and 2012 are the closest things we’ve had to revitalizing the Disaster genre, and their success managed to push some other directors of the time to try their hand and giving the genre another shot. And one of those directors was Wolfgang Petersen, the director behind such films as Outbreak and the Perfect Storm. Petersen had had a storied career in Hollywood, as well as German cinema, but the last act of his career seemed to revolve around bringing big-budget Disaster movies back. They’d have crazy effects, huge casts, and plenty of melodrama. So, it seemed like he’d be the perfect person to try and bring the Poseidon Adventure back to the public for a new generation. And, after assembling a massive cast, an at the time staggering special effects set-up, and a slew of huge sets that could be right-side up and upside down, Poseidon was brought back to America. And promptly forgotten.
Poseidon, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, takes place aboard the Poseidon, a top of the line luxury cruise liner that’s crossing the Atlantic over New Year’s Eve. We’re introduced to our cast of characters as they prepare for their New Year’s Eve festivities, either heading to the large ballroom for a slightly classier evening, or to a club. Everything seems to be going okay, full of drama, until the clock strikes midnight and the Poseidon is hit by a rogue wave, a randomly occurring massive wave, that knocks the ship over, capsizing it. A majority of the passengers and crew die in the flip, but two groups of survivors start to come together, and decide they they’re going to leave the relative safety of their party locations and begin heading towards the bottom of the ship, where they’ll have a greater chance of being rescued. In the ballroom we have the following people: Former firefighter and mayor of New York City Robert Ramsey. Dylan Johns, a former Navy submariner and current professional gambler looking to make a big score on the ship. Richard Nelson, a love-sick architect whose husband has just left him. And Maggie James, a single mother who is travelling with her son Conor, who has been befriending Johns. Ramsey is dead set on leaving the ballroom and getting to the club where his daughter was, and ends up teaming up with Johns who is convinced that the keel of the ship is the most likely place they’ll be saved. So, the crew leave the ballroom, scaling a giant Christmas tree, and begin trekking towards the club, with the help of a waiter named Marco, where the rest of our characters are. Ramsey’s daughter Jennifer is there with her new fiance Chris, along with a stowaway named Elena, and an abrasive drunken gambler called Lucky Larry. The ballroom crew, with Valentin’s knowledge of the ship, manage to get to the club, although they do lose Valentin almost immediately in an elevator shaft. And, once reunited, the larger group continues on to the bottom of the ship.
From there the plot of the movie is pretty simple. They make it to the keel of the ship, heading ever upwards, and deal with a whole bunch of problems. But, surprisingly, this movie doesn’t really use a lot of the same set-pieces from the novel or the first film. Really, the biggest thing that it borrows from its predecessors is the whole swimming through a submerged area. But, since this movie has no one even close to being Belle Rosen, there’s no moment of triumph as someone bravely swims through the submerged tunnel, only to die afterwards. Elena drowns in the sequence, but it kind of comes out of nowhere, and it just because she hit her head of a pipe, not from sacrificing herself for the greater good. There’s actually a shocking lack of death in the movie. Lucky Larry, who is a complete asshole, is smashed by a falling bit of debris, and Elena drowns, but other than that things go pretty smoothly for our protagonists. They get stuck in some shafts, jettison themselves through a ballast tank, and temporarily lose Conor inside a strange room that’s never explained how he gets stuck. But, for the most part, things go pretty smoothly. That is until they finally reach their destination, and find that the propellers are still active, creating an impassable obstacle. They only have one way through, to shut down the propellers. The attempt to destroy them, but nothing works. So, in order to save his daughter and all these strangers he’s made friends with, Ramsey decides that he’ll sacrifice himself. He swims through a submerged area to the control room for the propellers, and right as he’s about to drown he pushes the button that makes them start spinning in the opposite direction. The survivors are then able to toss a nitrogen tank into the propellers, causing them to explode, and rip a hole in the keel that they’re able to escape from. They find a life-raft in the flotsam and jetsam around the wreckage of the Poseidon, and swim to it, right as some rescue helicopters show up and save them.
Poseidon isn’t really a great movie. I have a certain amount of strange nostalgia for it, because it was the first film that my folks and I saw in a very important movie theater for me, but other than that, it’s pretty forgettable. Which is probably why it was a huge bomb. The movie did pretty terribly, other than some at the time groundbreaking CGI work, and it seems to have damaged Wolfgang Petersen’s American film career, at least for the foreseeable future. It took the foundation of the Poseidon Adventure’s story, without any of the characters or major plot elements, and told a new story about a bunch of characters trying to escape a sinking ship. The only problem is, none of it was particularly interesting. None of these characters were particularly engaging, and there was a strangely slim amount of characterization anyway. Honestly, the biggest cause of that might be because the characters in the Poseidon Adventure novel and movie are so incredibly broad to the point of being caricatures. They’re all a bunch of stereotypes, so they don’t really need to spend much time getting to know them, because you can figure them out pretty easily. But these new characters are all just kind of bland. And, because we don’t care about them, and no one but Kurt Russell and Richard Dreyfuss have any real cultural cache you can bring into the movie to flesh the characters out, it just becomes kind of dull. It’s a bunch of characters we don’t get to know, with no chemistry among one another, yelling at each other and maybe drowning. Scintillating cinema it is not. But, at least this is the worst version of this story that could ever be made. It’s not like they made a terrible television mini-series based on the Poseidon Adventure with no real budget and staring a Police Academy alumni.
Oh. Oh no. Oh, crap.
THE MINI SERIES
That’s right! Did any of you know that in 2005 they made a three-hour TV movie remake of the Poseidon Adventure? Because I sure didn’t when I decided to tackle this for this year’s holiday Film Library. I fought with myself for a while, after learning of this thing’s existence, whether or not I should actually include it. Not really because I thought it had any real reason to be disqualified, but primarily because I was just worried about it. I mean, there was no way that it was going to be good, everything I read about it seemed to imply that it was awful. But, for the sake of completion, and the fact that it was literally free to watch on Amazon Prime, I decided to bite the bullet and take a forth trip aboard the Poseidon. And, to be completely honest, I mostly wish I had stuck with my instincts. Because three hours of my fleeting life are gone having watched this absolute mess of a movie. I tried to do a bit of digging, I really did, but I can’t seem to find what the impetus of this movie was. I have to assume that when it was announced Wolfgang Petersen was making a big-budget remake of the seventies classic people decided to cash in on brand recognition and get a movie out on the cheap before they could, but I can’t be positive about that. All I can really tell you is that in 2005 NBC decided to air this thing, in all of it’s three-hour glory, giving an unsuspecting public the gift of seeing something that would be worse than what Petersen was about to give them. Buckle up folks, this thing is weird.
This movie, obviously, takes place aboard the Poseidon, a state of the art luxury liner that usually looks like a cheap motel. It’s travelling from Cape Town to Sydney, giving the passengers a chance to spend New Year’s Eve on a ship. And, everything should have gone well for this group of passengers, all of whom are absolutely filled to the brim with melodrama, if it weren’t for one pesky thing. Terrorism! That’s right, in an apparent ploy to modernize the story, this Poseidon is not felled by a wave of any kind. It’s capsized thanks to a group of vaguely defined terrorists who have selected the Poseidon, for some reason, to be the setting of their latest terrorist attack. They’ve planted a series of bombs hidden in beer kegs at the keel of the ship, and at the strike of midnight plan to detonate them, flooding the ship. But, before we even get to that, we have to wade through quite a bit of drama with the passengers. A lot of whom are taken more or less from the novel. They include the following: The Clarke family, Richard, Rachel, Shelby, and Dylan who are trying to have a nice family vacation that gets spoiled by the crumbling marriage of Richard and Rachel. And that crumbling really comes to a head when Richard realizes his wife brought some coworkers along so she can do business, leading Richard to immediately start having an affair with a masseuse named Shoshanna. We also have Belle Rosen, an elderly widow who is taking a solo trip in honor of her late-husband Manny. There’s Bishop August Schmidt, a lonely religious man who is trying to keep to himself. We also have a powerful Australian media mogul and his young new wife, Jeffrey and Aimee Anderson. And, of course, Mike Rogo, a Sea Marshall who has been put on the Poseidon thanks to some intelligence from the Department of Homeland Security that thought the ship would be the target of terrorism. Which, was a good call, because when midnight approaches some terrorists kill the captain, all the bridge officers, and detonate the bomb, causing the ship to capsize.
Our group of heroes then band together, and start making their way to the keel of the ship, in the hopes that they can escape through the big hole the bomb made. Richard and Shoshanna were busy having sex in her room when it happened, so he’s not involved, and Shelby decides to stay behind and take care of the wounded with the ship’s doctor who she has fallen in love with, but everyone else begins to make their way toward the bottom of the ship. And, from there, it’s exactly what you’d expect. They lose some random crew members, Richard comes to his senses and brings the entire cast together, and they go through the same trials and tribulations that always happen. Belle Rosen sacrifices herself by swimming through a submerged tunnel, and they have to be on the lookout at all times for random flooding and explosions. Really the only wrinkle in the entire plot is the fact their entire journey upwards includes one of the terrorists, who Rogo has taken captive and is forcing to stand trial for what he’s done. Other than that, it’s exactly what you’d think it was. Rachel Clarke is able to send an email out to her vast Christmas card list, alerting people of the sinking ship, and getting the Department of Homeland Security involved, even though it seems a little out of their jurisdiction. The survivors eventually reach the keel of the ship though, after crossing a bridge of hilarious CGI fire which ends up killing Shoshanna and the terrorist, and find that they’re going to have to set off a second bomb in order to make a hole big enough for them to escape through. They do this though, and are able to get rescued by the Navy.
It’s kind of hard to get across how absurdly bad this movie is. I spent the entire run-time vacillating between being bored out of my mind and having my jaw drop at how weird and inept it was. The fact that they took the wave out and replaced it with terrorism is hilarious enough, but to then have them drag along an increasingly hostile terrorist the entire time, only for him to jump into PlayStation 1 level fire is just the icing on the cake. It’s full of a bunch of actors completely phoning it in. Some of whom can even be good sometimes! I mean, Rutger Hauer and Peter Weller are in this movie! But everyone is so clearly counting down the minutes until they can cash the checks they got to be in this turd. Everything about this movie just looks so incredibly cheap. The ship doesn’t look appealing in the slightest, it’s got that terrible filmed-on-video look about it that makes it feel like you’re watching an infomercial the entire time, and the effects are downright laughable, even when not relying entirely on bargain-basement CGI. It just feels like something I would expect to see on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, except stretched out to, and I can’t emphasize this enough, three hours! I sometimes come across bad movies that are so bad they an be enjoyable, and worth a watch to laugh at. This is not one of them. Don’t watch this movie. Save yourself.
So, that all being said, what are my final thoughts on the various adventures of the Poseidon? Well, it’s a seriously mixed bag. And, none of it is particularly great. I would say that the best version of the story, and the narrative that succeeded the most, was Paul Gallico’s original novel. It’s not high literature by any means, but it’s still a pretty fun little novel. It’s certainly repetitive, but I had a good time reading it. It was thrilling, really dark, and had a flair that you wouldn’t expect from it. Gallico seemed to have legitimate talent as an author, and he was able to bring this weird little slice of melodrama to life in a way with far more style and panache than it probably deserved, or that anyone else could have brought to it. You get a fun little group of characters, going through the ringer, and seeing what they would be like on the other side. It’s fun. It’s not particularly memorable, and really had absolutely nothing to do with Christmas, but it was a fun little book to read.
Otherwise, the quality of these projects kind of goes down in the order that I discussed them. The best movie of the bunch is, without any doubt, the Irwin Allen classic of the seventies. Disaster movies are fun, if a little trashy, and the Poseidon Adventure is probably one of the best examples of the entire genre. It’s fun, and a really solid adaptation of the novel. It takes the same plot, most of the characters, and just brings it all to life in pretty accurate detail. It’s not a really complicated film to make, other than the special effects, and it handled it all really well. The only issue is the one that we so frequently run into during these Film Library posts, in that it’s really similar to the novel. Reading the book and watching the movie too close to each other will almost certainly have a negative outcome on whichever you did second, because there’s really nothing overly different about the two stories, becoming an adaptation that hewed extremely close to the source material.
And, going in the opposite direction is Poseidon. It really seems like that movie took the idea of “boat capsizes and people travel to the new top to live,” and threw the rest of the novel out. There are no characters in common, and not even any alternate versions. They created a whole new set of characters to go through the same adventure, even with their own set-pieces. Which, is honestly not a bad idea. It’s not a direct adaptation of the novel, but it adapts the feeling of it, taking the broad strokes and doing something different with them. Which, could have made for an interesting adaptation, if only the movie wasn’t just kind of a dud.
And, honestly, the less said about the TV miniseries the better. It certainly hews closer to the novel, but only in the sense that it uses some of the same characters. Otherwise it becomes so obsessed with updated and modernizing the story that it becomes an even bigger time capsule than Irwin Allen’s, making a terrible little movie that couldn’t possibly be more 2005.
So, if you’re in the mood for a story that really captures the Christmas or New Year’s spirit, you should probably just look elsewhere. The novel and the original film are pretty fun, but none of them are really required viewing or reading. They’re fun. The novel had a really fun idea, and it makes sense that people have tried to adapt it so many times, because it’s a simple and fun idea. I just wish they could find a way to make it feel new and entertaining. It seems like those things have to be mutually exclusive.
The Poseidon Adventure was written by Paul Gallico, 1969
The Poseidon Adventure was written by Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes, directed by Irwin Allen, and released by 20th Century Fox, 1972.
Poseidon was written by Mark Protosevih, directed by Wolfgang Petersen, and released by Warner Bros. Pictures, 2006.
The Poseidon Adventure was written by Bryce Zabel, directed by John Putch, and released by Echo Bridge Home Entertainment, 2005.
Categories: Film Library
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