The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

The Poseidon Adventure. Kent Productions 1972.
The Poseidon Adventure. Kent Productions 1972.

Before watching the movie:

I definitely selected this movie because it takes place on New Year’s and not because escaping an upside-down sinking ship with a high fatality rate seemed like an appropriate metaphor for anything.

So, this should be a pretty grounded disaster/survival movie. Trying to navigate rooms on their ceilings, filling with water, should be an interesting challenge to see passengers try to overcome.

After watching the movie:

 On its last voyage before being scrapped, the luxury passenger ship Poseidon gets hit by a rogue wave and flipped upside-down seconds into the new year. Though the ship’s Purser insists all the guests in the ballroom stay where they are to wait for help, the heretical “God has no time to help individuals, we must claw our own survival” Reverend Scott believes their only chance is to climb up to the hull any rescue effort would be forced to cut through, and leads a small party of those that will follow him to the engine room. As the ship sinks, the water follows them higher, and not all can keep its pace.

I’m a little unsure of the philosophical message being presented. I thought that Scott’s idea that people have to create their own miracles and can only contribute to God’s plan by being strong or being part of the lineage of someone important was set up to be challenged by circumstance and example, but it seems that it was exactly modeled by the characters. Those who didn’t go fight for their own survival died. Those who did and still died had their moments to be instrumental in the survival of the rest. And the other reverend who disliked the fact that Scott’s message was only for the strong could only comfort the rest in the few minutes between when they made their decision and when it became clear they were wrong. I can’t think of any objection raised to Scott’s plans that turns out to be right, even though they are, in the absence of data, valid criticisms. So I guess the philosophical plot of the movie is that this controversial idea goes through the crucible and is borne out.

While this has a big budget feel, they seem to do a lot with very small sets. I think the only terribly large set is the ballroom, and the story moves on from there quickly. What’s left to spend the money on is the big name cast and on occasionally taking one of those sets and flooding it, both of which are handled very effectively.

The bigger point of the movie is the character study. As large a group of diverse personalities as the script can handle get thrown together in a crisis and forced to work together despite conflicting ideas on how to best reach their goal. Almost everyone is fun to watch on their own, and the interplay between them is the selling point of the film. Both the ways people clash and the ways they bond.

Maybe this film advocates and demonstrates a worldview without presenting much criticism or development (probably handled better in the book), but the heart of it is the characters and the adventure that threw them together. It’s the strength of the people in it that has let this film survive.

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