A full-on revival of interest in disaster movies is in swing as we approach the release of Wolfgang Petersen’s ultra-expensive remake of Irwin Allen’s (and Ronald Neame’s) trend-setting The Poseidon Adventure (1972). Both Poseidon (1972) and The Towering Inferno were unleashed in splashy two-disc DVD packages this week-- Inferno even features an unlikely commentary track hosted by Los Angeles film critic F.X. Feeney, surely the most literate and serious-minded consideration this movie has ever had.
And Universal Home Video has jumped on Allen’s coattails this week with the DVD release of Earthquake, in remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital stereo but, alas, no Sensurround (just boost your subwoofer to 11—that’s about all Sensurround was anyway). Though I haven’t seen the slipcase packaging, I’m assuming this new edition of Earthquake will also be sans one of my favorite film critic blurbs ever to appear on a DVD, an endorsement from no less than Pauline Kael--—“The picture is swell!” But anyone familiar with her review of Earthquake (from the Reeling collection) will remember that the piece was anything but enthusiastic—it was, in fact, a scorching pan. And a close look at that review reveals that whoever edited the copy for that original Earthquake DVD probably just, um, made an honest typographical error—yeah, that’s it. Kael’s original review reads, “The picture is swill, but it isn’t a cheat, like Airport 1975, which was cut-rate swill.” (And in case that’s not clear enough for you, she goes on in the next paragraph to say that “Earthquake is Universal’s death wish for film art.”)
So, in the proper spirit of celebration of a week dedicated to cinematic disasters, there’s a lot of good online reading available to carry you up to the first showing of Petersen’s take on that 90-Foot Wall of Water Coming Straight Toward Us at 12:01 Friday morning. David Hudson of Green Cine Daily has rounded up a collection of early reviews of Poseidon, including Ed Gonzalez’s pan at Slant. How about this for an opening salvo?:
“Poseidon recognizes and encourages belief in the popular popcorn-movie theory of The Survival of the Whitest. Twenty whole minutes shorter than Ronald Neame's trash classic The Poseidon Adventure, the film's short-attention span is apt to this era. (The only surprise here is that the hole left behind by Shelley Winters wasn't filled by at least one anorexic Nicole Richie type.) This may be a deliberate ploy on the part of the filmmakers: Move the story so fast and stupidly that it will convey the sense that it has nothing on its mind, making critics appear snobbish for wanting to grapple with it. For sure, the film doesn't think very much, but that's only because Wolfgang Peterson's latest travesty insults us on an unconscious level, and there's no shame in calling out his dumb-as-shit Aryan fantasy for rewriting ‘Back of the Bus’ as ‘Bottom of the Ship.’”
But then there’s Michael Guillen over at The Evening Class, no pushover he, who dug it just fine:
“I found it satisfyingly if not thoroughly entertaining for what it was: an homage to the disaster flick of 1972 that was part and parcel of the Irwin Allen consciousness that permeated my boyhood. I love disaster flicks!! It's something demiurgic in me… the Rogue Wave that capsizes the oceanliner Poseidon will undoubtedly survive as one of Hollywood's great cinematic characters. Peterson gave the Rogue Wave a chance in The Perfect Storm to see what she could do and—finding her more than adequate—cast her in Poseidon, where she makes your breath catch in your throat.”
And while Michael Atkinson at the Village Voice seems to think Petersen’s updated take on the capsized luxury liner is "an utterly empty-skulled genre mechanism and nothing more," Sean Burns of the Philadelphia Weekly begs to differ, and he reserves special praise for one of the film’s stars:
“It's a compact, satisfying genre piece that honors tried and true Hollywood formulas, delivering the goods with a minimum of foolishness. And the always-dependable Kurt Russell is the film's ace in the hole. America's most underrated actor once again proves himself incapable of being anything less than absolutely forthright and sincere. ‘You know it's not fair who lives or dies,’ Russell admits during the movie's single pause for speechifying. ‘It never is.’”
But easily the most satisfying and hilarious take on Unofficial Disaster Movie Week 2006 comes from our friend That Little Round-Headed Boy, who offers up a real gut-buster: the comprehensively titled ”WHEN TIME RAN OUT on THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE to THE TOWERING INFERNO because an EARTHQUAKE unleashed THE SWARM on a ROLLERCOASTER near the AIRPORT”, a very special round-up of the top 10 actors to ever appear in a ‘70s disaster movie. Strap yourself in, Ms. Swanson— we're in for a bumpy ride!