Shortly after midnight on New Year’s Eve, the luxury cruise liner Poseidon, making her final voyage from New York to Greece, is hit by a tidal wave that capsizes the mammoth vessel. After the hair-raising moments of chaos when the ship literally rolls over, setting all sense of reality askew, a group of battered survivors who were in the ballroom celebrating New Year’s Eve realize they are in a deadly trap. Following the advice of a precocious child, Rev. Scott (Gene Hackman) forms a team that plans to climb up and out of the ballroom, on a metallic Christmas tree, to salvation. Played to the hilt by a star-studded cast (among them Shelley Winters, Ernest Borgnine and Stella Stevens), the group battles nightmarish obstacles as it navigates the upside-down maze of the Poseidon.
The Poseidon Adventure proved to be one of the biggest box-office hits of the early 1970s, and it is often mistakenly credited with spawning Hollywood’s “disaster film” genre, an honor that truly belongs to Airport (1970). Created by the larger-than-life Hollywood producer Irwin Allen and low-key British director Ronald Neame, The Poseidon Adventure posed several unique challenges for its director of photography, Harold E. Stine, ASC. Art director William Creber’s gargantuan sets, fashioned from the real luxury liner Queen Elizabeth (aboard which much of the pre-accident footage was shot), had to be meticulously rigged with practical light sources from below; the capsized craft had to look as though it were lit with emergency lights built into its ceiling, and those dim practical sources were now on the floor. Also, Stine worked closely with L.B. “Bill” Abbott, ASC, who shot the special-effects miniature sequences, so the elements blended seamlessly. Stine earned an Academy Award nomination for his work.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has outdone itself with this new two-disc special edition of The Poseidon Adventure. The studio’s single-platter DVD release of 1998 was a solid effort, but it was not anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. This new anamorphic transfer of Stine’s 2.35:1 canvas looks very good, with solid, accurate color and shadow reproduction. The audio track has been upgraded to a stereo mix that seems to only become active whenever John Williams’ score plays.
Although the new transfer is sharp, the real stars of this package are the supplements. The generous array begins on disc one with two audio commentary tracks. The first, by Neame, is packed with information regarding the shoot, his experiences with Allen, and his thoughts about Warner Bros.’ recent remake of the picture. The second commentary, boisterous and entertaining, features the first ladies of the Poseidon, Stella Stevens, Carol Lynley and Pamela Sue Martin. Also included on disc one is a sadistically clever, irresistible feature “Follow the Escape.” By choosing this option, the viewer can watch the film and link to a schematic map of the ship to see a character’s progress, including the landing spots of the ones who don’t make it!
Disc two offers an incredible number of extras. Nine newly produced featurettes that total almost an hour cover all aspects of the production, offering interviews with members of the cast and crew and even religion scholars. (The latter attest to the film’s endorsement of faith.) Also included on this disc are a fun, 25-minute “AMC Backstory” segment; storyboards; photo galleries; lobby cards, and the theatrical trailers. Finally, an interactive version of American Cinematographer’s Sept. ’72 cover story by John Campbell, “The Upside-Down Filming of The Poseidon Adventure,” and an interview with Stine conducted by AC’s editor at the time, Herb Lightman, give a definitive portrait of the struggle to shoot this film.
Over the last 34 years, The Poseidon Adventure has inspired a sequel, two remakes, cult audience-participation screenings, and even a short-lived stage musical. Though only a handful of passengers survived the aquatic ordeal, the picture’s appeal endures. This new DVD is the perfect vessel for revisiting this beloved blockbuster, which, in spite of its gimmicks, seems to have something for everyone.