Films have formulas and rules, but how well do Disaster films follow those formulas?
The Poseidon Adventure (1972) is an Irwin Allen disaster film about a ship capsized by a giant wave and the handful of passengers who survive.
The following will include spoilers for
The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
RULE #1 - Characters
"I saw a young officer on deck the other day, and he looked DAMN familiar... even with his clothes on." ~ Linda.
- Male lead - Reverend Scott. Although he has no theories about the disaster, he does preach about God helping those who help themselves through action rather than prayer. This become important when his plan is to move rather than wait to be rescued.
- An important person - Mr Linarcos is the representative of the new owners. His only concern is to get the ship to port as quick as possible to be wrecked and the wrecking crew is costing money and doing nothing.
- The usurped official - Captain Harrison is an expert and concerned about the ship capsizing but is given orders by Linarcos. Linarcos is able to use the fact that he can relieve him of comand and replace him to make him obey.
- A nerdy/geeky expert - Acres the waiter. Well, a little geeky looking and with some knowledge which soon runs out. Sure, Robin had more and geekier info but get over it.
- The experienced tradesman - The Chief Engineer. Appears only briefly. It vocal in his hate of Linacros.
- The joker - James Martin. Not much of a joker but maintained a light demeanor and was supportive throughout.
- The criminal - Linda Rogo was a prostitute, but isn't anymore. Still feels other women are looking down on her. She dies.
- Someone religious - Reverend Scott has ideas not generally accepted by the church. He has a moment of questioning God when Belle dies, and denounces God before sacrificing himself. John the Ship's Chaplain who decides his fate is to die tending to the weak. His is less a crisis of faith and more an acceptance of where his faith has led him.
- Minor celebrity - Nonnie. But really minor and the "celebrity" wasn't used.
- A typical family - Susan & Robin Shelby - part of a presumably typical family, however, they are travelling alone to get back to their parents.
- The child - Robin Shelby. The film starts with Robin on deck during a storm and getting onto the bridge where the captain yells at him because of how dangerous it was out there. Definitely precocious, able to discuss with conditions with the captain at his level.
- Bickering couple - Mike & Linda Rogo. Constantly argue, mostly about Linda's problems with her past. After the disaster they argue over whether to follow Reverend Scott or not. They are mostly together at the end, until she dies.
- Tired couple - Belle & Manny Rosen. Belle asks fairly early how long it's been since they told each other that they loved them. Manny states he didn't know, possibly twenty years or yesterday. This leads to proclamations of love. They support each other throughout until she dies.
- The older woman - Belle Rosen. Although seemingly not concerned with the two chidren, she was obsessed with, if not seeing her grandchild getting a necklace to it. Dies after saving the leading man and leading everyone to safety.
- The officious but incompetent person - The Purser. An arrogant individual who claimed that he was the person who really ran the ship and the one who refused to listen to the reverend's plan and cause the death of a large group of survivors. Not necessarily academic.
- Characters not appearing - Female lead (Susan comes close as she had a crush on the male lead) as such there's no New man for her. There's also no Wash-out, Relatives of the important guy, Loving couple (although, Martin & Noonie had the potential to become one) and no Animals.
RULE #2 - Sex & Nudity
"She's got nothin' on underneath." ~ Mike Rogo.
"Just panties. What else do I need?" ~ Linda Rogo.
- Nudity - Linda Rogo is a former prostitute and is first seen in bad (implied to be naked) and later in a lacy blue nightdress with nothing underneath. At the party she wears a dress with very prominent cleavage, and is willing to strip down to just panties to climb the Christmas tree, although ended up wearing her husband's shirt it allowed a lot of pantie shots. Young Susan's red skirt quickly become red tights. Noonie, as an entertainer was wearing quite short shorts which are a little checky at some angles. Even Belle gets some pantie shots while swimming.
- Sex - No sex. Although there are some married couples, their sex lives aren't even mentioned (apart, obviously, from Linda's career). There is a joke about Martin's possible virility. It should be noted that Linda, the most exposed and the one with a sexual history dies suddenly at the end.
RULE #3 - The Disaster
"What's its speed?" ~ Captain Harrison.
"60 knots, sir." ~ First Officer Larsen.
"It must be mountainous..." ~ Captain Harrison.
- Manmade Disaster - Before the disaster both the captain and engineer accuse Linarcos of endangering the ship by making it top heavy. Linarcos orders full ahead and makes the captain comply.
- Size & Unreal - It is said that Paul Gallico, the writer of the original novel, was inspired by a large wave hitting the Queen Mary when he was travelling on it and the story of a similar incident when in was a troop ship during WWII. It has been claimed that during the war if it had tipped another five inches it would have capsized like the Poseidon. These events were "Rogue Waves" and were considered a seafarer's myth or a once in a thousand year even, until the early 21st Century, however more recent evidence shows that they are real and three may be hundreds every decade. The wave in the film is explained as a tsunami caused by an earthquake, although for a wall to form like it did it would need to be a shallow area (which is handwaved with the line "lt seems to be piling up in those shallows."). The tsunami, probably an attempt to be more plausible, was probably less realistic.
- True Story - The movie has an opening card that implies (but doesn't state) that this is a true story. Obviously, it isn't.
- The moment - When the wave hits.
- Ongoing - The ship is upside down and slowly sinking. Also, frequent explosions just to - literally - shake things up.
- Sudden end - Once the 6 survivors escape they are told that no one was found in the bow and that are immediately taken away in a helicopter. The ship is still, but presumably no one else is in danger.
RULE #4 - Endangered
"Mr. Scott, a fat woman like me cannot climb." ~ Belle.
- Warnings - No real warnings, other than the knowledge that a wave may be coming.
- Warning issued too late - the crew sounded the alarms just before the wave hit, causing confusion as people didn't know what was about to happen. There was no deliberate attempt to withhold warnings, but no notification of upcoming possibilities were given either.
- An Event - The disaster occurs on New Year's Eve, meaning there are a large group of people in the dining area and in finery. No too much extra endangerment though as they'd all still be on the ship either way. It does allow the juxtaposition of singing Auld Lang Syne and the crew watching the incoming wave on the radar and shredded fancy clothes later. Alarms are heard at the party, not drowned out at all.
- Sneaking out - Robin doesn't sneak out. However, he does come back late from looking for supplies, despite his sister's warnings not to go too far. Of course, she was off following the Reverend that she had a crush on, so she almost fits this category, too.
- Rescuers - No real rescuers going back occurred. Although landing a helicopter on a sinking ship and waiting for banging coming from inside is pretty brave and foolhardy.
- The stubborn - The Purser stubbornly refuses to go with Reverend Scott's group, leading to the death of him and others. The Doctor and his group have similar issues.
- Criminal activity - did not occur.
- Unheard warnings - did not seem to happen in this film.
- Meetings - No meetings, but Reverend Scott does try to convince a large group of survivors to come with him.
- Arguments - There are arguments throughout, but right near the end Rogo, upset at his wife's death delays their escape by arguing with Reverend Scott.
- Fear - Susan, caught on a table initially refuses to jump, although no one was endangered by this. Belle feared going through the burning area but was quickly convinced (all three female characters had squealing moments at this point. An explosion while climbing the ladder causes Noonie to freeze in fear slowing Martin and Rogo. She later delays herself and Martin with her inability to swim.
RULE #5 - Destruction
"How long will we stay afloat?" ~ Nonnie.
"Long enough." ~ Martin.
"The Andrea Doria stayed afloat 10 hours before she sank." ~ Robin.
- Panoramic opening - A ship (or a model of it) in rough seas. Fairly tightly shot (probably to avoid showing sides of the tank). But because of the scale and distance it looks sort of beautiful and calm. There is dramatic music over the top (lots of plaintive notes).
- Warning bouts of destruction - The film does start in bad weather, with concerns over the top-heaviness of the ship and its ability to handle worse weather. No destruction, just concern.
- Landmarks - set in the open ocean, no landmarks.
- The tipping point - No official predictions. However, there is some concern prior to the tsunami. The captain, upon seeing the wall of water heading towards the ship states, almost calmly: "Oh my God." Then comes the literal tipping point.
- Ongoing destruction - The Christmas tree falls after everyone's gathered together seemingly killing at least one more person. Just as the last ditch survivors complete their first leg (climbing the Christmas tree) there is an explosion, flooding the ballroom and killing all those who refused to join them. This lead to the slow sinking of the ship and the water building up behind the survivors.
- The final event - There is no "final event" although the fear of the ship eventually sinking is alluded to a number of times.
RULE #6 - Death
"Please GOD NOT this woman." ~ Reverend Scott.
- Mass casualties - When the wave hits, especially focusing on the ballroom: lots of people and things falling and lots of bodies immediately afterwards, all extras. The bridge crew and the radio operator where shown dying instantly hit by water rushing in.
- Panic - There was panic to get to the rail as the ship was tipping, but no obvious deaths during it. When explosions and water endangered those who decided to stay with the Purser, there was panic. The fact that more they were panicking and not climbing up one at a time caused the tree to fall, cutting off their chance to survive.
- The important guy - Linarcos dies when the ship is hit by the wave. No real chance of ironic death.
- The usurped official - The captain dies when the ship is hit by the wave. No real chance of redemption.
- The bad coward - During the panicked attempts to climb the Christmas tree a number of people are shown pulling others away to give themselves a better chance. All die.
- The older woman - Actually died after saving the entire group, especially Reverend Scott.
- The expert tradesman - Died off-screen, none of the cliches occurred.
- Sacrifice - John the Ship's Chaplain remains with the purser's group, not because he thinks they will survive, but rather that the group includes the weak and injured who need tending and protecting.
- Slow death - After all the sudden deaths, Mr Tinkerham (whose mistress is the sea) has a slow death trying to tell Scott to get people to the life boat stations. Belle has a heart attack and gets to make an important point about the important things in life.
- Bad options - The Purser dies with those who stayed with him.
- Reminders of danger - Acres falls from the ladder after an explosion and disappears into water. Rogo goes after him but couldn't find him. Linda falls to her death from a gangway right near the end after an explosion.
- One half of a couple - The wife of the two married couples Bella and Linda both die, leaving their husbands distraught and questioning whether they can go on.
- The noble death - Reverend Scott jumps to the value for the vent and closes it. He then "falls" to his death to get the others moving.
- Children - Robin and his older sister survive.
- Deaths no occurring - Prelude Deaths, The Black Guy (no minorities), Pets (no pets).
- The male lead - As noted, Reverend Scott sacrifices himself at the final obstacle.
RULE #7 - Last Ditch Group
"You see, swimming through corridors and up and down stairwells I'm the only one trained to do things like that." ~ Belle.
- Survivors - A small group (mostly the named cast) decide to the bottom (now top) of the ship, leaving those who decide to stay behind creating their own small group of ten last ditch survivors.
RULE #8 - Ridiculous Solutions
"Through the kitchens and go deeper and deeper in the ship till we reach the hull. That way!" ~ Reverend Scott.
"And you just kick out the bottom and we swim ashore, huh?" ~ Rogo.
- Outrun - As they made their way through the ship the water followed the survivors. Although at first it is slow and ominous it does being to catch-up and they are forced to wade through it and get to air-tight doors.
- A plan - Reverend Scott comes up with a plan to climb to the bottom of the ship and escape through the hull. Many other characters (Rogo and the purser for example) think the idea is crazy... which - considering it requires rescuers (who may not exist) waiting to cut a hole for the survivors - it is.
- Big & simple - Not big, but simple - climb up to the bottom of the ship.
- Critical fail - No real critical fail beyond the momentary pause waiting for a response.
- Time - The fact that the ship was sinking. And that didn't get any real countdown.
- Instant - The cutting through and the fact the the helicopter is actually sitting on the hull waiting was instant. No getting to waiting ships, etc. Also, the cutting probably would have caused the air to rush out and the ship to sink pretty quick at that point.
- Dangerous - The final escape wasn't portrayed as dangerous.
- Explosive - Although it could have been written that way (they get explosives from somewhere to blow their way out) it instead ends with a simple cutting tool.
RULE #9 - Happily Ever After
"I said I was gonna get everybody out of here and goddamit I'm gonna do it!" ~ Reverend Scott.
- Reunited - There are no separate main couple to reunite.
- Together - See above.
- Vindicated - The Reverend's plan proved successful.
- Retribution - Did not occur.
- Lesson - Not covered.
- Or not... See above.
- Sunrise - It seemed well past sunrise (the disaster happened just after midnight.) For the 6 survivors there was a morning after.
- Beautiful - A little, yeah.
RULE #10 - Sequels
"There's got to be a morning after." ~ Noonie.
- Sequels - There is actually one sequel, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979).
- Remakes - The movie was based on a novel which was adapted two more times: The Poseidon Adventure (2005) and Poseidon (2006).
As the first film in a series (and an early disaster film) the following don't apply. However, notes are made for future reference.
- More deaths - There would have been hundreds on the ship, but only 6 survived. Of the group focused on there were only 4 deaths, lots of random deaths in the tipping scenes and the Purser's group, and about other 10 deaths of characters with names (the bridge crew, engineer, purser and chaplain, the ship's doctor and nurse (presumably) and a few entertainers in the ballroom. Occasional bodies.
- More effect - Lots of model work. Big sets, lots of explosions, water and the big one - a tilting set.
- Better effects - Pretty good. Obvious model work and some obvious stuntmen.
- More Formulaic - Pretty formulaic as is, with some gaps as the formula develops.
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