Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
Written by: Mark Protosevich (screenplay)
Paul Gallico (novel)
Starring: Kurt Russell, Josh Lucas, Richard Dreyfuss, and Emmy Rossum
“Have you seen Poseidon yet?” This was the first thing out of a friend’s mouth about a week ago. “I looked through all your reviews, but I didn’t see one for it.”
I told her, “No, I didn’t get a chance to see it, but I saw the original.”
She looked puzzled. “Original? There was an original?”
“The Poseidon Adventure,” I told her. “It was a 1972 film. Poseidon is a remake of it.”
“1972?” She rolled her eyes. “That’s before my time!”
And then it occurred to me that she was in her early twenties and had not yet been born when The Poseidon Adventure first flooded the silver screen. Ask any Hollywood mogul why they want to go and remake classic films like Psycho, The Omen, and War of the Worlds, and they will probably tell you it is to expose these stories to a new generation that is either unaware of the original version, or will not watch it because it is “old.” What a pity. Instead of watching a thrilling fight for survival with people who we grow to know and care about, this new generation is offered a hollow shell of a special effects movie. It’s no wonder they dropped Adventure from the title.
Both films tell the story of a grand ocean liner, Poseidon, that is struck by a tidal wave on New Year’s Eve and turned upside down. Some are killed instantly as they fall and have things fall on them, others survive the initial catastrophe and must now climb their way to the top…er, bottom of the ship to escape. In between the ships Grand Ballroom and safety lies flooded passages, fires, and explosions. It’s a race against time as the ship takes on more water and slowly sinks.
And that’s really it. Simple enough, right? No way to really screw something like that up, is there?
The first film stayed afloat because it spent close to an hour letting you get to know its characters. For example, there was the priest (Gene Hackman) who had lost his faith, the pig-headed cop (Ernest Borgnine), and an overweight woman (Shelley Winters) who used to be an award winning swimmer. We know their hopes and dreams, and we know who to cheer for, who we want to see live through this night of terror. Poseidon sinks because there is almost no character development. We have less that fifteen minutes to learn who everyone is and why we should care before the wave hits. The problem is, we just don’t care.
I don’t know which was more horrifying, seeing people burned alive in the flash fires that rock the ship, or watching great actors like Richard Dreyfuss and Andre Braugher drown in the horrid dialogue and laughable situations of Mark Protosevich’s screenplay. When they aren’t stating the obvious (“We’ve got water in here” and “Looks like a hallway.”), they’re spouting the most cliched lines imaginable. And a drunken jerk named “Lucky Larry” (Kevin Dillon) should go down in movie history as one of the worst characters ever conceived.
That’s not to say everything in Poseidon deserves to be scuttled. The special effects work is marvelous to behold, and Wolfgang Petersen’s underwater photography is top notch. Petersen knows a thing or two about boats and waves, having directed both Das Boot and The Perfect Storm. Here, he shows us every detail of the disaster: the ship rolls in the waves, tiny people and debris fall overboard and sink, windows shatter and water rushes in to flood whole compartments. Huge engine parts drop through floors, spilling burning geysers of fuel that threaten these people who are supposed to mean something to us. It all looks like it should be very exciting, but unlike his earlier seascapes, it just isn’t.
And what of this younger generation? The ones who had never seen the original?–the ones this film was aimed at? They sat in the row in front of me, laughing at lines of dialogue that were intended to be dramatic, checking their watches and cell phone messages, and when it was over, they even staged a round of mock applause, leaving the theater complaining about the impossibility of people holding their breath long enough to break world records (and yet able to function perfectly well in the very next scene).
Well, I can now tell my friend that I saw this new Poseidon. Perhaps I can save her from doing the same.
2 out of 5 stars.