How do you make a sequel to a successful film when the setting of said film apparently sank beneath the waves? This was the quandary facing producer Irwin Allen after the success of his 1972 disaster movie The Poseidon Adventure, and while he wished to rush a sequel into production as soon as possible it actually took him longer than he’d hoped to get this one off the ground, sadly, he should have realized that some things were not meant to be.
Taking place immediately after the events of The Poseidon Adventure, this sequel follows tugboat captain Mike Turner (Michael Caine) and his second mate Wilbur Hubbard (Karl Malden) as they head out to claim salvage rights on the capsized vessel. This enterprise is crucial for their financial future as their tugboat Jenny lost her cargo in the same storm that hit the Poseidon, and along for the ride is their “passenger” Celeste Whitman (Sally Field) whom Turner will repeatedly call “Monkey” and which will never become endearing and will remain mostly obnoxious. Also arriving on the scene are Dr. Stefan Svevo (Telly Savalas) and his crew, who claim to be Greek Orthodox medics who received the ship’s SOS, but they are all so obviously villainous that they may as well have been twirling moustaches and tying women to railroad tracks. This brings us to the film’s first major failings, “Why the need for human villains?” The original film was about a group of survivors and their race against time through the bowels of a sinking ship, with water rising behind them deck by deck, and the very existence of a sequel kind of undercuts the “ticking clock” of the original, so a new threat had to be introduced.
This film also includes a collection of new survivors that are in need of rescuing and Irwin Allen spared no expense in putting together a cast of Oscar-winning actors to fill these roles. This new group includes the ship’s nurse, Gina Rowe (Shirley Jones), the elegantly dressed Suzanne Constantine (Veronica Hamel), war veteran Frank Mazzetti, who is searching for his missing daughter Theresa (Angela Cartwright) and then there is the handsome young elevator operator Larry Simpson (Mark Harmon) who had saved Theresa’s life. We also get a “billionaire” named “Tex” (Slim Pickens) who clings to a valuable bottle of wine and repeatedly states how rich he is. Later our intrepid group will find the blind Harold Meredith (Jack Warden) and his noble wife Hannah (Shirley Knight) who were simply waiting around to be rescued, but despite such an all-star selection of actors in these roles we never really care whether or not they live or die, except for Michael Caine’s douchebag tugboat captain whose obsession with picking the carcass of the Poseidon clean had me constantly wishing for him to die horribly. Scrooge McDuck is less of a dick than Mike Turner, though to be fair, his friends aren’t much better either.
As to the film’s actual villains, we later learn that the glamourous Suzanne is secretly working with Svevo and that they were onboard to collect an illegal shipment consisting of machine guns, grenades and a crate of weapon’s grade plutonium, that were somehow smuggled aboard the Poseidon. Don’t ask me why a New Year’s Eve cruise ship, one that was bound for the scrapyard, would be an ideal transport for your weapons cache because if there were a reason I’d bet it would be about as idiotic as the rest of this plot. Poor Suzanne is quickly killed off – I’m assuming this was to make us believe that Svevo is a worse person than Turner – and the film then devolves into a collection of scenes where characters stumble through cheap sets and worse practical effects, seriously, the original film was a landmark in stunt work and amazing practical effects but this thing looks like it was working on a Dollar Store budget.
• In the first movie, an undersea earthquake caused a massive tidal wave that hits Poseidon, but in this film, the ship is portrayed as being capsized due to a wave generated by an enormous storm in the Mediterranean Sea. Did the screenwriters of this sequel not watch the original?
• A couple of years later Mark Harmon would board another sunken vessel in the made-for-television film Goliath Awaits.
• In his white suit and surrounded by goons, Telly Savalas looks like he’s reprising his role of Blofeld from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
• We are told that Gina Rose quit her job as head nurse in a Philadelphia hospital and signed aboard the Poseidon to spice up her life, but as this was Poseidon’s last cruise that’s not what I’d call a smart career move.
• Irwin Allen had considered a sequel to The Poseidon Adventure that was to be set on dry land and in a collapsed train tunnel, a premise that was borrowed for the Sylvester Stallone action movie Daylight.
• The box office failure of this film as well as The Swarm and When Time Ran Out was the death knell of the big-budget all-star disaster genre, and as two of those starred Michael Caine that should give one pause.
• This film is definitely another example of Michael Caine’s philosophy when it comes to choosing film roles as “If the money is there I do not care” which led to such other gems as Jaws: The Revenge.
• You can play a drinking game where you take a shot every time they cut to the exterior shot of Poseidon’s smokestacks exploding.
What really sinks Beyond the Poseidon Adventure beyond repair is that Michael Caine’s character is just so damn unlikable, which is an acting achievement because Caine is a naturally likable guy, from almost frame one he comes across as a self-serving greedy asshat who doesn’t seem to care who lives or who dies as long as he gets his payday, yet we’re supposed to root for him and consider Telly Savalas the villain. There is a moment when you think Turner is making an altruistic decision, insisting that they help a woman and her blind husband, but then he states “If I leave a single soul alive on this wreck, I’ll throw out my title to the salvage rights” so right there again, he proves to be a complete monster.
The other distressing element of this film is that it’s too well-lit, making the cheap sets look even cheaper, and this is compounded by the fact that no matter how many times Irwin Allen shakes the camera to simulate an explosion we never get the sense that these people are actually on a sinking ship, they nothing more than idiots wandering from one stage set piece to the next. Then to make matters worse, the movie also thinks we have time for not only one love story but for two, with Sally Field making goo-goo eyes at Michael Caine while Mark Harmon woos Angela Cartwright because racing against time aboard a sinking ship isn’t enough drama so you have to add a little sex appeal. Then there is the “startling” revelation that Slim Pickens’ Texas millionaire is not rich and is, in fact, nothing more than the ship’s assistant wine steward, and we are left pondering “Do we really have time for this?” Are we also going to learn that Stefan Svevo has some tragic backstory that explains his evil actions?
Irwin Allen rightfully earned the sobriquet of “Master of Disaster” with such epics under his belt as The Poseidon Adventure and Towering Inferno, but this was a disaster in every sense of the word and is one of the more embarrassing entries in this filmography. Where those other films were helmed by Ronald Neame and John Guillermin respectively, in this outing Allen didn’t just produce Beyond the Poseidon Adventure he took over the directing duties as well, and as was the case of The Swarm, we see that he makes a much better producer than he does a director. Even if we were to set aside how cheap the film looks, or how our protagonists aren’t all that likable, we are still stuck with the problem that this is basically a retread of the last movie, but one that lacks any sense of suspense and has terrible pacing. As a self-professed lover of disaster films, even I have a hard time making it through this mess, the fact, that this movie did its best to tarnish Michael Caine’s image makes this entry doubly unforgivable.
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979)
Movie Rank - 5.5/10
With virtually the same story as the original film but with less money and talent behind the camera Beyond the Poseidon Adventure is a shaggy dog story that suffers from bad dialogue, cheap sets and a script that made little to no sense. Even fans of disaster films may find it hard to slog through this one.