The Who’s Who of San Francisco is gathering for the grand opening of the Glass Tower, the world’s tallest building. The architect, Paul Newman, is disturbed by what appear to be corners cut in the electrical installations by Richard Chamberlain, and sure enough, a fire starts on the 81st floor. Fire Chief Steve McQueen is soon on the scene, but the situation deteriorates rapidly, and hundreds of celebrants on the top floor are at risk of fiery death.
Producer Irwin Allen’s follow-u… to The Poseidon Adventure is perhaps the best of the disaster movies. Its 164-minute running time flies by with a wealth of incident and fiery death. The spectacle still holds up by today’s standards, and the film’s willingness to incinerate characters puts most of the new wave of disaster flicks to shame. But let it also be remembered that this is a huge, malodorous helping of High Cheese. The dialogue is quotably awful, and the characters are paper-thin cliches straight out off a checklist used by the most shameless 70’s potboilers. But the clunky aspects of the film are no small part of its charm. If the movie were any better, I wonder if it would be as well loved.
This is the HUGE disappointment of this release. The original DVD came in both 2.0 and 5.1. Its 5.1 was superb (the movie’s 1974 vintage being taken into consideration): loud and enveloping. On this release the choices are between 2.0 and 4.0. Say what? Furthermore, the 4.0 is weak, tinny and thin, with very little by way of surround. The 2.0 is far and away the better choice here. It, at least, delivers in terms of energy and surround, and is much richer, though there are still some missed opportunities when it comes to the rear speakers. How difficult would it have been to use the same audio mix as on the previous release? This is unforgivable.
Here there is improvement. The original disc was not anamorphic, and that oversight has been corrected. The opening is a bit dirty and grainy, but after the credits the picture improves markedly (though the grain never goes away completely). The image is very sharp, and the colours are great, with excellent contrasts and blacks. Edge enhancement is present, but not severe.
The wealth of features here ALMOST makes up for the audio disappointment. Historian F. X. Sweeney handles the commentary, and he does a good job, though the film doesn’t always give him a lot to work with. Mike Vezina (FX director for X3) and Branko Racki (stunt coordinator for The Day After Tomorrow) discuss the FX and stuntwork, respectively, for 8 and 9 scenes.
Disc 2 kicks off with an AMC Backstory episode about the movie. The feature is plenty informative, if a bit worshipful, finding a positive spin for the most unlikely elements (Faye Dunaway’s role is offensively ornamental, but here we are told that her role makes up in sizzling sex appeal “what it lacks in depth”). There are then 9 featurettes, each with a separate focus. Most concentrate on the impressive technical aspects of the film, but the spotlight also shines on producer Irwin Allen, writer Stirling Silliphant, and the cast. The vintage promotional material section has the NATO presentation reel, two featurettes from 1974, a 1977 interview with Allen, the original teaser and trailer, and the trailer for The Poseidon Adventure.
Onward. There are 33 (!) extended/deleted scenes, which were part of the TV airing of the film (it wound up being split over two nights). These scenes were not, unfortunately, in good enough shape to be included in the actual cut on the DVD. There are three very long American Cinematographer articles, five still galleries (Shot Composition, Publicity, Behind the Scenes, Conceptual Sketches and Costumes), and six storyboard/scene comparisons. The menu’s main screen is animated and scored.
This would be an absolutely terrific release were it not for the step backwards in the audio quality.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Scene Specific Commentaries
- 9 Featurettes
- Deleted and Extended Scenes
- Vintage Promotional Material
- American Cinematographer Articles
- Still Galleries
- Storyboard-to-Scene Comparisons