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Poseidon AdventureThe Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno on DVD

Irwin Allen's most famous disaster movies are now released in special, two disc DVD collections that do both films justice. Both movies feature excellent picture quality overall, with about as good sound quality as you can expect from the old analog days.

There's also an abundance of extra to sweeten the deal.

Just in time to cash in on the new version of The Poseidon Adventure….

Poseidon is arguably the movie that started the disaster movie trend that was so popular in the 1970's, though others argue it was really the original Airport. We'd argue that Allen himself was more responsible for the genesis of the disaster movie through his own 1961 movie Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which saw the entire world put in jeopardy thanks to a fire in the upper atmosphere.

But the Poseidon adventure definitely put the disaster movie genre on the map, and watching it more than 30 years later you can even see bits of James Cameron's Titanic in it, in its portrayal of a ship with problems whose captain fought corporate interference in vain, the heroism of some of the passengers and crew, and more.

Gene Hackman leads an all star cast, playing a confused priest who leads a collection of survivors to safety after the luxury liner on which they're traveling is capsized by a tsunami at the height of the passengers' New Year's celebrations. He's joined by Ernest Borgnine as a cop with a bad attitude, Roddy McDowell, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Stella Stevens, Shelley Winters, Pamela Sue Martin and many others as crew and passengers who try to cope first with the aftermath of the spectacular "ship tipping" and then with the horrible realization that the capsizing was only the beginning of their danger: the ship is now sinking slowly, flooding deck by deck and the only way out is to head toward the engine room (which is now at the top) and try to get through the hull at its thinnest part.

The upside down sets are terrific, and even though the dialog at times borders on "camp," the performances from this cast of pros are all very believable.  In fact, it could be argued that both of these films, despite their terrific production values, are ultimately saved by the power of their casts – who are not only all stars picking up a paycheque but who are also good actors.

Homage must be paid to the special effects, which are quite spectacular considering this was before today's digital technology made such things as matte lines a thing from the past. The flipping of the ship looks good, as do the shots afterward of it hanging upside down on the ocean surface. And the effects inside the ship, of people and things in the process of going topsy turvy and afterward, are also very well done.

Except that we were disappointed that at the end we don't get a shot of the whole Poseidon floating upside down as the survivors leave. Oh, well.

Needless to say, The Poseidon Adventure was a huge hit, so it seems only logical that Irwin Allen would want to do it again, and even bigger and better, for his follow up.

The Towering InfernoThat, of course, is The Towering Inferno, a tale of a fire breaking out in the world's tallest building on the night of its dedication. This movie is not only bigger than Poseidon, we think it's also better, if for no other reason than we found it easier to identify with a skyscraper, in which we've spent many an hour, than an ocean liner, the closest to which we've gotten was a tour of the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California (which, apparently and coincidentally, was used as a stand in for the Poseidon in some shots).

Paul Newman and Steve McQueen lead this all star cast, which also includes William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Jones, O.J. Simpson, Robert Vaughn and Robert Wagner (who makes a surprising quick exit). Again, for the most part these aren't just stars, they're seasoned pros and that comes in handy.

The script, by Stirling Silliphant, is better than Poseidon, though in both movies the real villain isn't fire or water but corporate greed (gee, you'd think the movie studio heads wouldn't want people to think about that in their pursuit of mega profits, would you?), in this case via cost cutting in building materials. At least the builder (Holden) comes off as not a bad guy, with most of the blame going to his unscrupulous son in law (Chamberlain).

The movie opens with Doug Roberts, Architect extraordinaire (Newman), returning to San Francisco for the premier of his skyscraper, the Glass Tower. It's basically his swan song in Frisco, 'cause he's about to chuck it all in favor of some rural gig, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend (Dunaway). But much to his chagrin, he discovers that his wiring specifications have been messed around with and he begins to freak out at the potential disaster in the making (he must have read the script).

Naturally, fire breaks out (otherwise it would be a darn short film), and the rest of the movie is a roller coaster ride of danger and derring do that ends up being a paean to the fire fighters of the world, chief spokesman for whom is Steve McQueen as the chief on duty when the alarm comes in – from a building far too tall for them to have a decent chance of saving it.

It's neat stuff, with great stunts and action sequences and special effects that, save for a few obvious blue screen shots, are spectacular and breathtaking. The worst plot hole concerns a deaf woman saved from the blaze who from that point onward seems to disappear from the rest of the film, though her kids keep right on getting into harm's way with bigger stars (Jones and Newman) at their side. And O.J. Simpson disappears partway through the movie, after he rescues a sweet little pussycat, only to reappear at the end safe and sound, pussy in tow.

And the movie packs a post-September 11, 2001 punch when people plummet from the burning tower in a way that seems eerily prescient considering the manner in which some desperate people met their deaths on that infamous day.

Both movies are presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and as mentioned at the top the picture quality for the most part is very good indeed. There are some hints of graininess in some shots, but overall we're very pleased with the presentation.

The audio isn't particularly remarkable; Poseidon's box says it's in Dolby Digital Stereo and Inferno says it's DD 5.1 surround. Both sounded pretty much like mono for the most part, but the quality is pretty good.

Then there's the array of extras.

Poseidon includes two commentaries and an interactive "follow the escape" featurette on disc one. Disc two comes with 9 new featurettes, an AMC Backstory episode about the film, storyboard to film comparisons, an interactive article from American Cinematographer, photo galleries and more.

Inferno comes with commentaries on disc one and a plethora of programs on disc two. They include another AMC Backstory and a bunch of interesting featurettes (well, most are interesting). There's also a selection of extended and/or deleted scenes, storyboard to film comparisons, a NATO presentation reel, three American Cinematographer interactive articles, an old interview with Irwin Allen, stills, and more.

A bit of trivia: both films feature excellent John Williams scores (though Inferno's is better).

In all, 20th Century Fox has done a very nice job with these collector's editions.

The Poseidon Adventure, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
117 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital stereo
Starring Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowell, Shelley Winters
Produced by Irwin Allen
Written by Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes, Directed by Ronald Neame

The Towering Inferno, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
164 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Fay Dunaway
Produced by Irwin Allen
Written by Stirling Silliphant, Directed by John Guillerman

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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