Maybe it was because I lived in a city where a walk through the only captured U-Boat was the highlight on school field trips to the Museum of Science & Industry, but I loved submarine movies. Whether it was Cary Grant at the periscope in TV reruns of "Destination Tokyo" or Clark Gable in "Run Silent, Run Deep," I held fast to my position on the couch in rapt attention, as if I were onboard those claustrophobic "tin cans" myself. Years later, films like "Das Boot" and "The Hunt for Red October" would have a similar effect on me, so I was actually pumped when I popped "USS Poseidon: Phantom Below" into my DVD player. But while some of the cat-and-mouse battle sequences were expectedly taut, the interior action, sets, and performances absolutely screamed MADE-FOR-TV MOVIE.
Even before I realized that the Brian Trenchard-Smith film aired as "Tides of War" on American TV in 2005 (and played abroad in reportedly less tame versions), I recognized the symptoms:
1) A set that looks so new, with everyone dressed so flawlessly clean, that you have a hard time believing that they're uniforms and a sub interior, not costumes and a set, with every hairdo maintaining its gel-hold no matter what the activity level.
2) Actors in the background who seem as lost at their instrument panels or positions as the rest of us are on a first day at a job.
3) An absence of believable conditions (no step-over thresholds between rooms and compartments to contain flooding, for example, and a Con room that looks awfully big).
4) No believable emotions—not one person looks overly concerned during perilous moments, no one even breaks a sweat (though we see the commander sweating like a pig in an exterior scene when he's golfing), and not one swear word—not even a mild or euphemistic one.
5) A script that serves up a heaping portion of clichés and horrible lines (As the showdown begins, the commander says, "Murray, are you a religious man?" while at the end we hear, "We need more people like you.").
6) Cheesy, drum-machine driven music that shouts