Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (Irwin Allen, 1979)
Mercenary tugboat Captain Turner (Michael Caine), second mate Wilbur (Karl Malden) and recent pick-up Celeste (Sally Field) stumble upon the capsized S.S. Poseidon, just in time to see the departing rescue helicopter on the horizon transporting away the survivors from the first film (leaving one to ponder – that’s it? An entire overturned ocean liner with thousands possibly trapped below… and just a single little helicopter crew, apparently satisfied, mission accomplished, with having found six people alive?), with the opportunistic Turner immediately deciding to get down in there and see what goods the dead have left behind to plunder… only to find himself quickly at odds with bald-headed baddie Svevo (Telly Savalas) and his menacing crew, who claim to be medics looking to help survivors, but as anyone who has seen Savalas play a part this smugly knows, they’re up to something far more nefarious…
The decade was coming to a close and clearly, taking a gander at this relentlessly indifferent effort, the golden age of the disaster film was also winding down. “Beyond” is more of an action film, with some international intrigue, than a disaster film, with its conceit of having multiple characters wading back through the capsized liner from the first “Poseidon” film (now that was disaster film) fighting over wealthy cargo and guns before the whole thing sinks potentially a lot of fun… alas, this isn’t a film particularly concerned with living up to any kind of potential.
Michael Caine taking center stage
Producer Irwin Allen, mastermind of most of the grand, epic disaster films of the 70’s, claims a seat in the director’s chair this time around (perhaps in a bid to lessen costs on a film clearly reigning back its budget in in the face of diminishing box office returns) and unfortunately reveals that, while rightly acknowledged as a genius ‘master of disaster’, guiding these monstrosities into exciting on-screen experiences, his pedestrian work as director leaves a bit to be desired.
While the production design does a nice job recreating a number of the impressive interior ship set locations from the first film, as with so much of the rest of the film, the lighting, in comparison, is treacherously bland (made that much more obvious having watched the two “Poseidons” back to back on the night), nowhere near as good at creating anything close to an evocative experience (of course, you could make a fairly convincing argument that the first film’s ship lighting post-disaster was already pushing more than a tad past credibility, but at least it’s dark and moody!).
The scenes of various characters constantly stopping for romantic interludes when they’re life clearly depends on them to keep moving is just one of the jaw-droppingly lazy storytelling devices (never mind the dialogue they’re forced to deliver). Michael Caine, never ashamed to take a part for the cash-grab (he was known to have shrugged and bragged at how Jaws 4 bought him a house), wades through it all with little conviction, as do most of the performers (Peter Boyle’s monologue during his death scene has to almost be seen to be believed at just how little he’s trying), with Slim Pickens doing his goofy drunken cowboy routine (stopping everything to deliver his own head-scratchingly ill-timed confessional monologue near the end).
There are two actors who seem to be legitimately trying – with the one, Karl Malden, doing his best with way over-maudlin material (he’s dying of some disease or another… which, the reveal of, during another of those show-stopping conversations, this one between him and Caine’s Turner, shouldn’t have made it passed a screenwriting 101 class) and the other, Sally Field, seemingly haven been given all the rope she needed to hang herself, pushing her neurotic-yet-just-so-cute act so far past the point of charming she’s entirely insufferable. While I can’t say I’ve ever loved her as an actress, it’s not like I’ve previously found her offensive or anything (why, I even kinda enjoyed her cute act in Smokey and the Bandit), so it’s hard to quite relay just how awful she is in the film.
Jack Warden’s blind guy stumbling about constantly yelling after his wife does manage to muster up a disbelieving chuckle or two, but not for the right reasons. As nice of a concept as the film has, there’s a real indifference to its execution (a problem exacerbated by its absurd almost two hour length – Jesus, man, this film is begging for a max 90 minutes!).
“Beyond” is pretty dull and uninspired, sure, but there was a modicum of entertainment value to be found in watching just how the silly thing was gonna play out. On its own it may not have been the most exciting way to finish off the cinematic year (and decade), but at least it was a New Year’s Eve double feature at the house Quinton built, the New Beverly Cinema (with all the wonderful disaster film trailers and short goodies – all on film, natch, as per the Bev’s mandate — that that includes), with first up one of the true crowning gems of the disaster films, the original The Poseidon Adventure… so it more than balanced out in the end.