You may remember that the 1970s were big on disaster films, what with sinking ships, crashing airplanes, and burning buildings, and Fox's "The Poseidon Adventure" from 1972 was one of the first and best of the breed. It was big, silly, escapist fun 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 affair, so I guess the studio wanted to give it one more try in 2006 by remaking the original. "Poseidon" falls somewhere in between the campy extravagance of the first movie 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 some experience in watery films like "Das Boot," still his best work, and The Perfect Storm," besides adventure in "Air Force One, "In the Line of Fire," and "Troy." This may be his weakest work yet, however, as no one seems to have provided Petersen with anything more than an action script and a special-effects team.
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 "We will be safe," they know it's time to make for higher ground. So with the captain trying to comfort most of 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 interfere with our enjoyment of this catastrophe (if "enjoyment" is the proper word for a film that capitalizes on the touchy subject of disaster). The first interference is the abundance 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.
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, could 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 an assortment 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 person you'll recognize is Richard Dreyfuss as a gay architect, despondent over his partner leaving him. However, virtually nothing is done with Russell's character being a former fireman and a onetime "mayor of New York"; nor is anything made 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. They're never really developed.
An actor you may or may not recognize is Josh Lucas, who actually 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." Fans of Ms. Rossum's heaving bosom will be pleased to note that they are not only generously in evidence but play 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 is given 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--it is only a brief moment. The rest 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. Gotta work out more.
I must be watching too much HD because despite the studio engineers transferring this movie to disc at a fairly high bit rate, with an anamorphic (enhanced for widescreen) picture, it still looked slightly fuzzy, dull, and blurred to me. The film's original 2.40:1 screen ratio is maintained in dimensions that stretch to about 2.20:1 across my television, so it retains most of the scope of its theatrical presentation; and grain, moiré effects, halos, noise, pixilation, and the like are practically nonexistent. All to the good, but because of the dim interior lighting of many of the scenes, plus the smoke and cinders, the image quality is never exactly allowed to look good. Even facial tones tend to vary between clear and natural and overly dark and orangish. It remains to be seen if high definition can improve upon the situation. It should.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack provides a big, dynamic impact, with a sometimes overly robust, occasionally even boomy, bass. The sound is all very flashy in the front channels yet subtly nuanced in the rears, so it seems mostly realistic without coming off as too overbearing. What with today's action movies being all sound and visuals, it's nice to see (or hear) that Petersen maintained some semblance of restraint at least in the audio department.
Because this was supposed to be WB's big, early summer blockbuster, they fitted out the DVD set with two discs. Disc one contains the feature film; twenty-two scene selections but no chapter insert; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English, French, and Spanish subtitles; a widescreen theatrical trailer; and a making-of documentary, "Poseidon: A Ship on a Soundstage." The documentary takes us behind the scenes for a twenty-two minute look at what the keep case calls "the complexities of making a modern adventure movie." Needless to say, it's mostly about set design and special effects, something one of the featurettes on disc two also covers. I don't suppose there's much else to talk about in a film like this.
Disc two contains another documentary and two featurettes. The first item is "Poseidon: Upside Down," a ten-minute examination of how the movie's budget was spent on CGI imagery, models, and full-scale sets, most of the sets built upside down, of course. The second item is a twenty-eight minute History Channel documentary, "Rogue Waves," which explores the nature of real such tidal waves. And the third item is a twelve-minute featurette, "A Shipmate's Diary," in which film-school intern Malona Voigt, a production assistant on the film, shares with us her own filmed experiences on the set.
The two discs come housed in a double, slim-line keep case, further enclosed in an attractive slipcover adorned with a hologram of the Poseidon and the rogue wave that engulfs it.
"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 couldn't help thinking as I watched this film 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.