Before “The Matrix”, “Avatar” and “Avengers: End Game”, with their stunning computer-generated special effects, there was “The Poseidon Adventure”.
The 1972 film about an aging ocean liner knocked over by a tidal wave was made using practical effects involving a 22-foot replica ship submerged in a tank, upside-down and manually tilted sets, and actors and stuntmen and women diving into real boiling water or dodging real bursts of steam and fire.
“They were considered state-of-the-art at the time,” said Jared Case, curator of the film exhibit at the George Eastman Museum, of these pre-digital techniques, even though they sometimes produced results that we seemed “a little less than real”. now.”
However, for a variety of reasons, pre-CGI features are something to celebrate, and the museum’s Dryden Theater will do so starting July 5. “It’s a Disaster: Spectacle Before CGI” includes screenings of nine analog or largely analog disaster films dating from the early 1920s through the mid-1990s, including “The Poseidon Adventure.”
The series coincides with the summer, a time when Hollywood tends to release its most escapist fare, but the museum’s main focus is exploring how pre-CGI filmmakers helped audiences suspend disbelief, which which Case will talk about when he introduces each image.
For example, the most dramatic shot in 1970s “Airport,” which is also on the program, involves a character played by Van Heflin being sucked out of a hole ripped from a 747 by a suitcase bomb. “They kind of ripped it up there with wires, or they ripped a stuntman with wires,” Case said. Ouch.
“Earthquake” (1974) and “The Towering Inferno” (1974), which like “Poseidon” used scale models, carefully choreographed stunts and live fire, will also be screened. Case identified the latter film as his favorite of the disaster genre, not only because its effects were exceptionally good and still held up – “When they try to get out of the glass elevator, it’s always incredibly effective” – but because of the movie’s massive star cast, which was an epic feature of ’70s disaster and something you don’t see anymore.
“You never had Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, let alone Fred Astaire, in one movie again,” Case said, speaking of “Inferno,” also starring OJ Simpson and Mike Lookinland (Bobby Brady of ” The Brady Bunch” from television). “It was really a who’s who of the time.”
“Inferno” was actually nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, just like “Airport,” and both were box office hits.
The 1970s was a time when blockbuster films were also acclaimed, Case said. “People remember that time with reverence. Popular movies were also very good. They were well made and well considered.
Well considered to some extent, anyway. “The Poseidon Adventure” has an 80% fresh rating on rotten tomatoes (versus the 2006 remake at 33%). But some critics criticized it, including Roger Ebert, who pointed out that in the New Year’s party scene, “Everyone is in the ballroom, neatly divided into key ethnic groups, life walks and former Oscar winners.” Bernard Drew wrote in the Democrat and Chronicle that director Ronald Neame tried to “capture every cliché ever attempted” and lamented the characters he rejected as actions, including a “hip minister” (Gene Hackman), “a hysterical tic” (Carol Lynley) and “pair of annoying children” (Pamela Sue Martin and Eric Shea). Shelley Winters, by the way, was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of a doting wife and a convicted grandmother/former swimming champion.
The Dryden series also includes 1995’s “Apollo 13,” which surprisingly used minimal available CGI trickery and relied more on old-school set pieces and projection techniques to recreate the real-life space disaster. For the floating footage, Tom Hanks and his co-stars flew on a NASA plane known as the “Vomit Comet,” which climbs to 30,000 feet and then dives, creating 23 seconds of weightlessness.
“It’s a very fluid amalgamation of digital and practical effects,” Case said of Ron Howard’s finished film.
“It’s a Disaster” ends September 3 with a screening of “Airplane!” 1980s! The classic comedy pokes fun at the disaster movie craze and, like the originals it parodies, features a great all-star cast, including Leslie Nielsen, who plays a laughing doctor in a way that evokes his Deadly serious ship’s captain in “The Adventure of Poseidon.
“It’s a lot of fun and it’s really well done,” Case said.
Movies start at 7:30 p.m. and tickets cost $5 to $11. For a full list of titles and dates, go to eastman.org.