The world has changed radically since Paul Gallico's novel The Poseidon Adventure was first adapted in 1972 by Irwin Allen. The film's success kicked-off the modern-day disaster genre to full force, resulting in other films like The Towering Inferno, Earthquake and The Hindenburg. The genre eventually faded at the end of the 70’s with a brief revival in the late 90’s, but after the real life doomsday scenario of 9/11 the thought of making these sort of spectacles into mindless popcorn entertainment have proven to be a major challenge for Hollywood.
German director Wolfgang Petersen's ("Das Boot" and "The Perfect Storm"), 2006 remake, simply titled Poseidon is a homage to the 1970s-style disaster film genre made with modern CGI technology and with an evident lack of sensitivity towards character development. Anyone with the faintest memory of its 1972 predecessor will wonder where has the plot gone? Petersen's stripped-down version disposes the old script in favor of one that re-imagines new characters, scaling down their personal stories to almost nothing resulting in a poor excuse of a drama made for short attention spans.
This $160 million production boasts more than a few spectacular set pieces but lacks dramatic drive and the playful Love Boat-kind of fun of the original. And although the premise and basic setup are still the same, this new Poseidon plays it predictably straight, lacking the original's existential themes and bigger than life characters, as in Gene Hackman’s Moses-like minister and Shelley Winters’ swimming champ Yenta.
A rogue wave hits a massive luxury liner on New Year’s Eve capsizing it. The ship's captain demands everyone stay in the upside-down ballroom until help arrives, but an odd bag of guests decide to go on their own, heading upward toward the hull hoping for rescue. The group is comprised of a professional gambler (Josh Lucas); an alcoholic lounge lizard (Kevin Dillon); ex-fireman and ex-mayor of New York City (Kurt Russell); single mother (Lucinda Barrett) and her son, (Jimmy Bennett); Ramsay's daughter, (Emmy Rossum), her fiancé, (Mike Vogel); gay millionaire (Richard Dreyfuss); a waiter (Freddy Rodriguez)and a Hispanic stowaway (Mía Maestro).
The original 1972 film didn’t have state of the art digital effects and massive rotating sound stages to dazzle the audience but greatly benefited from Irwin Allen’s genius. Allen was able to bring spectacular clarity to the fantastic action sequences with an impeccable sense of timing, pacing and clever trick photography in which you never lost track of what was happening or who was involved. Even with his limited budget he was able to provide some spectacular classic moments that this new Poseidon can only hope to approximate, as in the 1972 capsizing sequence, in which many guests clinging to the nailed ballroom tables, now part of the ceiling, fall to their deaths, leading to the spectacular fall of a guest into the ballroom's skylight (now on the bottom) ending in total darkness. The 1972 film also offered a memorable cast who knew how to milk the situation and also had Academy winning writer, Stirling Silliphant's engaging script filled with grand themes and effective character conflict that created more tension than any special effect in the world. The actors looked like real people; and the disaster at hand was entirely a matter of well-earned drama, effective humor, real sets and stunts, but most important real gravity.
The new Poseidon feels like one extended chase sequence from the very beginning. There is hardly any character development or any build up to the disaster and we immediately jump into the action scenes which will be the only focus of this remake. Petersen has assembled an impressive team of artists and technicians to accomplish this and his approach works to a certain degree. The devastation sequences are masterfully rendered, with the seamless integration of outstanding production design and GGI technology. From the two-and-a-half-minute opening sequence that tracks around the Poseidon from below, above and round about, to the capsizing sequence, in which the huge wave blocks out the moon and horizon before crashing into the ship; this new Poseidon is filled with spectacular images and action scenes. In a torrent of carnage and debris, the rogue wave tosses the giant cruise ship upside down resulting in one of the most violent and gut wrenching disaster sequences ever. Lots of things blow up, burn up, corpses abound and there is never a quiet moment. In another sequence Kurt Russell has to swim 150 yards underwater to turn off the ship's engines, and you may find yourself holding your breath in suspense.
But all this adrenaline driven audiovisual artistry is not enough. After a while, the flood of conspicuously computer-generated images become redundant, diminishing their full impact. And thanks to the uninspired excuse of a script by Mark Protosevich (The Cell), without any characters to care about or a compelling narrative to engage us, the action sequences become distant, alien, repetitive, lost at sea.
Even worse, this new Poseidon seems to be haunted from the very beggining by the ghosts of the 1972 film. I tried very hard to judge this film on its own but unfortunately I just couldn't do it. An example of this was with Klaus Badelt's music, that although competent enough, seemed to pale in comparison to John Williams’ original Poseidon score with no “Morning After” love song in sight either to win any future awards.
All of the actors are as effective as they can with what they have to work with but none have as much fun as the original cast did in the 1972 movie. Josh Lucas has the most accomplished role, as Dylan Johns, a professional gambler. He cuts a dashing figure, and his male bonding scenes with Kurt Russell are just about the most effective dramatic scenes in the entire film. Richard Dreyfuss, as a heartbroken gay millionaire who's about to commit suicide when the monster wave appears, has some very effective scenes with Mia Maestro playing the Hispanic stowaway. Also worth noting is Kevin Dillon's over the top performance as an alcoholic/womanizer lounge lizard named Lucky Larry. The rest of the cast barely registers due to the lack of anything resembling a script, but that won't matter to audiences craving a meaningless disaster thrill ride.
While watching Poseidon I found myself drifting in more than one occasion, longing nostalgically for Irwin Allen’s theatrical panache and the original characters of the 1972 film. If you haven't seen the original you may actually enjoy this spectacle. Otherwise, the new Poseidon’s truncated running time (less than 20 minutes from the original) will doubtless come of as a blessing.