Friday, November 28, 2008

The morning after

This being the morning after the big holiday, I found myself thinking of that dreadful song, "The Morning After", which believe it or not, is an Oscar-winner, from the 1972 blockbuster The Poseidon Adventure.

The movie's been remade, so you certainly know the story. A luxury cruise ship goes on a voyage, and on New Year's Eve gets hit by a giant tsunami (yeah, right: the voyage is in the Mediterranean, where they wouldn't get tsunamis). This capsizes the ship, and begins to fill it with water, forcing the survivors to make their way where they think is up, to eventual safety. Nowadays, this is all standard-issue stuff, but in 1972, when the movie was released, it hadn't really been done before.

The cast is an all-star one, and pretty good at that. Gene Hackman plays the ship's chaplain, reduced to working on ships because no real ministry would have him anymore; Ernest Borgnine plays a cop married to Stella Stevens; Shelley Winters and Jack Albertson are the older couple on their second honeymoon; Red Buttons the aging bachelor who's never been able to find true happiness in life; and Roddy McDowell the ship's purser. (Leslie Nielsen has a brief role at the ship's captain, although he doesn't survive the tsunami.) For good measure, throw in the proverbial bratty kid and his older sister. Once the tsunami hits, all of them end up together, working as a group to try to ensure their survival.

What makes this more interesting, however, is that not everybody survives. There's no particular rhyme or reason as to which of the characters are going to live, and I wouldn't spoil the movie by saying anything about it. However, the movie gives us ample opportunity to form opinions about which of the characters we'd like to see survive. As for the performances? Well, the script isn't the greatest, but the main idea of the story is much that don't need the greatest screenplay. Shelley Winters probably gets the best part, and in one key scene she gets to show off her swimming skills, despite the fact that she put on a good 20 or 30 pounds to play the role. Winters earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for it. Red Buttons is also quite good in his poignant role. Hackman is mildly irritating, and Borgnine and Stevens strain credulity.

Finally, there are the special effects. They're 1970s vintage, which means they're clearly not as advanced as they'd be today -- except that they're also not CGI. Apparently, however, the giant ship set must have cost quite a bit of money: there wasn't enough left in the budget to get a wide shot of the doomed ship for the final scene. You see the survivors on the outer hull of the Poseidon, and that's it. There's no pulling away. Still, The Poseidon Adventure is available on DVD and a great way to spend two fun hours.

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