Tuesday, August 22, 2006


New on DVD today is Irwin Allen's ill-advised sequel-cum-ripoff of his earlier popular favorite, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, and while there's no way it could be called a good movie, it is well worth seeing, if only as an example of how old Hollywood used to do things.

Clearly Warner Bros is releasing Beyond The Poseidon Adventure today to cash in on the simultaneous release of Poseidon, this year's awful remake, with its B-level cast and over-reliance on CGI. It's also appearing at the same time that Snakes On A Plane, a campy throwback to seventies disaster movies, has hit theaters. And so this is where we find ourselves: a movie that for years has been considered a pointless, godawful piece of trash somehow seems...a well-made pointless piece of trash.

Let's be clear: Beyond is a bad movie, but one with modest virtues. As a director, Irwin Allen had no concept of such niceties as style, or even camera placement, and seemed clueless at building suspense sequences. Yet he moved the story along, fast enough that you seldom have time to question the idiocies of the plot, and at least managed to sustain interest throughout the entire running time.

The surprisingly strong cast--Michael Caine, Sally Field, Telly Savalas, Peter Boyle, Slim Pickens, Shirley Knight--helps, too. Sure, all these actors are only in this to collect a paycheck, but they're too professional to let this come across onscreen, and they inhabit their incredibly cliched characters with a surprising amount of conviction. (Caine and Field are funny enough together you wish the script gave them something to work with, and Savalas is superbly menacing.)

Physically, this is a solid craftsman's piece of work, cleanly shot by Joseph Biroc and designed by Preston Ames, both veterans of the old studio system. It looks good without ever being fussy, without calling attention to itself. In other words, everything in the movie is there to serve the story being told.

Of course, it doesn't have a story worth telling. Beyond got terrible reviews when it was released in 1979, and deservedly so. 1979 was an astonishing year for movies--Manhattan, The Warriors, Alien, Being There, The Muppet Movie, All That Jazz, Breaking Away, Dawn Of The Dead, Apocalypse Now, to name but a few. Holy crap! On any given day, something truly great would be playing at the movies.

In an atmosphere of such amazing creativity, something like Beyond The Poseidon Adventure must have seemed incredibly old-fashioned, ludicrous even. But we don't live in 1979. That great burst of creativity is only a wistful memory, and the movies we get now are so bad, so lacking in even the slightest ambition, that something that is at least competent now reminds us that there was a time when audiences demanded more, when even modest entertainment was expected to, well, entertain.