Add this one to your list of movies that nobody needed to remake.
Just because a film like 1972's "The Poseidon Adventure" was popular and made money doesn't mean it was particularly good or needed an update. In the case of the 2006 remake, "Poseidon," reviewed here, it lost money big time, earning back only about a third of what it cost to make. I mean, why don't studios just ask people ahead of time what they want to see? They could take a poll at their Web site. Or, better yet, they could just ask me. "Do you think a remake of "Citizen Kane" as a romantic comedy with Jennifer Aniston and Jason Statham would be a good idea?" "Um, let me think. No."
Anyway, this was my third go-round with "Poseidon," first on DVD, then on HD DVD, and now on Blu-ray. The best thing I can say is that the high-definition renderings definitely improved my appreciation of the film. The movie is a visual-effects extravaganza first and foremost, and in high def, at least parts of it can be rather fun.
Getting back to the original, you may remember that the Seventies were big on disaster films, what with sinking ships, crashing airplanes, and burning buildings, and Fox's "The Poseidon Adventure" was one of the first and better of the breed. It was big, silly, escapist fare with people like Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Stella Stevens, and Shelley Winters scrambling for their lives. The 1978 Warner Bros. sequel, "Beyond the Poseidon Adventure," was a dreadful outing, so I guess WB wanted to give it one more try by making the first movie all over again. "Poseidon" falls somewhere in between the campy excesses of "The Poseidon Adventure" and the sheer boredom of the sequel.
To ensure at least a modicum of success, Warners hired director Wolfgang Petersen to helm the new venture, Petersen having had some experience in watery films like "Das Boot," still his best work, and "The Perfect Storm," besides doing up adventure in "Air Force One, "In the Line of Fire," and "Troy." Never mind that "Poseidon" may be Petersen's weakest movie yet; although no one seems to have provided him with anything more than an action script and a special-effects team, for fans of high definition, that might be enough.
The story follows the pattern set by the 1972 movie and Paul Gallico's novel. It's New Year's Eve aboard a super luxury liner at sea when a huge rogue wave (formerly known as a tidal wave) hits the ship and turns it over. Most of the passengers are at a party in the main ballroom as the disaster strikes, and when some of them hear the captain say those famous last words, "We will be safe," they know it's time to make for higher ground. With the captain trying to comfort the passengers in the ship's ballroom, a small group of people decide to forego the warnings and escape on their own by making their way to the bottom of the ship, which is now the top of the ship because it's upside down, and get out through the propeller openings before the ships sinks.
Two things interfered with my enjoyment of this catastrophe (if "enjoyment" is the proper word for a film that capitalizes on the touchy subject of disaster). The first problem is the overabundance of special effects, which are both a boon and a hindrance. Obviously, today's CGI can produce some startlingly realistic results, and the computer-generated graphics here are fairly good. However, things do not get off to the best start when the first shot we see is a 360-degree pan of the luxury liner that looks too good to be true, too perfect to be real. In short, it looks like a computer-generated ship, even though the animators seamlessly integrate a real actor running around its decks. From then on, the CGI works better, in a "Titanic" sort of way, but that and the continuous, noisy action rather take over the movie, leaving the characters to hang in the wind (or sink in the water, or whatever).
Which brings us to the actors. In the original movie, we tended to care about them. Here, we hardly get to know them and, therefore, couldn't care less about what happens to them. The first movie also established a tradition of using big-name actors in main and even minor roles. Here we get only two well-known faces and a collection of sort of familiar, maybe, kind of recognizable faces.
Two people you will recognize immediately are Kurt Russell as an overly protective father on a cruise with his nineteen-year-old daughter. The other is Richard Dreyfuss as a gay architect, despondent over his partner leaving him. However, the film does very little with Russell's character being a former fireman and a onetime mayor of New York; nor does it make much of Dreyfuss's character being gay. OK, perhaps the fireman part helps Russell's character in the heroics department, but the oblique reference to his being a mayor and Dreyfuss's sexual orientation seem like one-shot gimmicks that the filmmakers never really explore.
An actor you may or may not recognize is Josh Lucas, who gets top billing in the credits, as a professional gambler. As for myself, Lucas's biggest claim to fame is reminding me of the Wilson brothers, Luke and Owen. Otherwise, he's not exactly a well-known face. From there on, the actors will probably get a little more obscure for many viewers. Emmy Rossum plays Kurt Russell's daughter, and viewers may remember her from "The Phantom of the Opera." It will no doubt please fans of Ms. Rossum's heaving bosom to note that it is not only generously in evidence but plays a part in the film early on.
Moving forward, Jacinda Barrett plays a single mother, and Jimmy Bennett plays her little boy; Mike Vogel plays Ms. Rossum's character's boyfriend; Mia Maestro plays a beautiful stowaway; and Kevin Dillon plays the movie's designated slimeball. Any bets on which of the group is the first to go?
Here's the thing: Director Petersen uses a couple of minutes to introduce these characters to us, and then it's off to the races. The big wave hits, the special effects take over, the characters fight to get to safety, and it's over. If we didn't recognize at least a couple of the actors in the lead roles, we wouldn't even care about them. Viewing "Poseidon" is a little like watching a documentary in that we feel detached from any of the people in it, overcome by the sights, sounds, and action.
So the characters get lost amid the elaborate sets, the flying debris, the explosions, the fireballs, and the surging waters. The movie is only ninety-eight minutes long, but the action is so repetitive it feels a lot longer. Moreover, some of the derring-do is so preposterous and the coincidences and hairbreadth escapes so far-fetched, they significantly destroy any semblance of believability. Although there is one harrowing moment in a ventilator shaft, the characters up against a grate with the water rising, and another with the characters trapped in a ballast tank, these are only brief moments. Most of the action is simply redundant.
Let me just say, too, that it's a lucky thing all the characters in the story are good swimmers and have really good lung capacities, or they wouldn't have lasted a second. Perhaps that was my problem. The last half hour or so of "Poseidon" is such nonstop noise, I found myself quickly tiring of it, despite the fine DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Still and all, if you're into high def, the movie may be a treat, especially in the audio department.
When I first watched the standard-definition edition of this movie, I found that despite the studio engineers transferring the movie to disc at a fairly high bit rate with an anamorphic image, it still looked slightly fuzzy, dull, and blurred to me. The Blu-ray high-definition picture looks, as expected, much better focused, although it is still never quite crystal clear in every scene. Nevertheless, the picture is easy on the eye most of the time and makes watching the film in high def a pleasure. You can count every hair on Richard Dreyfuss's chinny-chin-chin.
The video engineers maintain the film's original 2.40:1 screen ratio using a VC-1 codec and a dual-layer BD50. Yet, because of the dim interior lighting of many of the scenes, plus the smoke and cinders, the transfer seldom allows the image to look great, even at a 1080p resolution. The picture is expectedly dark, and facial tones in particular tend to vary between clear and natural and overly dusky. I can only assume this was the condition of the original film print. So, yes, this is about as good as it gets; but, no, it's not exactly perfect.
The SD disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack provided a big, dynamic impact, with a sometimes overly robust, occasionally even boomy, bass, the sound very flashy in the front channels yet subtly nuanced in the rears, so it seemed mostly realistic without coming off as too overbearing. By comparison, the Blu-ray disc's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 goes it better by providing more clarity, more dynamic range, more smoothness, and more naturalness, with a tighter, room-shaking bass to boot. It's also more dimensional, especially in frontal depth, offering up clear, red-blooded sonics, very dynamic and very wide ranging. The surrounds do everything they can to add to the excitement, too, filling in an enveloping 360-degree radius around the listening area. Very impressive.
The Blu-ray disc contains almost the same bonus items as the two-disc SD edition and HD DVD, with the exception of the HD DVD's "In-Movie Experience," here omitted. What we do get are the featurettes. "Poseidon: A Ship on a Soundstage" gives us a twenty-two minute look at what the keep case calls "the complexities of making a modern adventure movie." Needless to say, it's a making-of segment with the cast and crew on set design and special effects and such. After that is "Poseidon: Upside Down," a ten-minute examination of how the studio spent the movie's budget on CGI effects, models, and full-scale sets, most of them built upside down, of course. Another item is a twelve-minute affair, "A Shipmate's Diary," in which film-school intern Malona Voigt, a production assistant on the film, shares with us her own experiences on the set. And the final featurette is a twenty-eight minute History Channel documentary, "Rogue Waves," which explores the nature of real such tidal waves.
The disc also comes with twenty-two scene selections; English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Portuguese spoken languages; French, Spanish, German, Italian, Danish, Dutch, Portuguese, and other subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
"Poseidon" is loud, noisy, and often frenetic, its characters getting lost in the hustle and bustle of a script that leaves them completely at the mercy of the special-effects department. I remembered as I watched this film the first time that Petersen had spent almost the first half of "The Perfect Storm" developing the movie's characters, while here he spends about ten minutes. I think that says it all.
Be that as it may, I couldn't help admiring the craft that went into the building of all the fancy sets and the development of all the elaborate special effects. If you liked the original movie, you might like this remake as well. With its high-definition picture and sound, the movie on Blu-ray comes off better than I would have expected.