CGI? Check. Actors? Check. Marketing? Check. Script? No...but Judge Brett Cullum says we can bang one out by Friday.
"Whoa! What a feeling, when we're dancing on the ceiling!"
In the heat of the summer of 2006, Warner Brothers studios began to cry that two movies were sinking their ship. They had spent hundreds of millions on Superman Returns which did okay. They also invested a hefty chunk of change on Poseidon, which tanked at the box office. Of course the film was a "reimagining" of the novel and '70s b-list cinematic thriller The Poseidon Adventure, featuring better special effects and a contemporary twist. With a lackluster, rag-tag crew of barely there characters, Poseidon dazzled but hardly thrilled. It missed the boat where the original succeeded: it had no personality.
Facts of the Case
Big wave hits boat on New Year's Eve, and the cruise ship is suddenly upside down. Stock characters fight their way out of the ballroom to escape the doomed ocean liner. The cast includes:
• Kurt Russell (Big
Trouble in Little China) as an ex-firefighter turned politician. The man
escaped from New York and LA, so I'd follow him anywhere.
Poseidon encapsulates everything about modern movies that irks me when compared to the '70s, or any era where narrative cinema actually existed and was practiced. Irwin Allen's original 1972 disaster film was far from masterful, but it boasted a fully memorable cast of washed-up famous actors along with a good bit of story. In the first movie the ship is on it's last voyage, which gives the story an air of melancholy from the start as you know it's out to be destroyed anyway. It was our favorite faces from movie history endangered by an old ship on its last legs suddenly turned upside down. Yet in this 2006 update we are given no details about the ship; it appears merely as a computer-generated monstrosity that has more electronic gadgets that explode than any ship I've ever been on. It's calculated, designed, and completely without a soul. Is it any wonder the rest of the movie follows suit? The 150 foot "rogue wave" that hits the boat does so inside of fifteen minutes of the start of the feature. Despite an arsenal of electronic equipment, the crew is taken by surprise. Dreyfuss's gay architect spots the threat first, right before he's thinking of throwing himself overboard (was that a character move, or the actor hoping to escape the next hour and a half?). We don't know any of the players well enough to be invested in their fates. They are merely pawns in the way of getting to the next spectacular, stylish computer action sequence engineered by ILM.
Wolfgang Petersen of Das Boot fame is the captain of this doomed remake. He also made The Perfect Storm and Troy which have similar problems to Poseidon. He knows how to make claustrophobic, suspenseful action sequences, but nothing in the movie feels fleshed out other than the sense of danger as the passengers rush to beat fire and water. It's pretty, but vacant. Petersen claims the studio cut twenty-five minutes off the film after test screenings (which included the back stories of the cast). As a result he sinks the actors. Dreyfuss and Russell are men we naturally like, but giving them nothing to play other than "get me out of here!" strips them of pathos and intention. Hell, it strips them of anything beyond a swagger or the disturbing homage to Shelly Winters (of the original The Poseidon Adventure) when Dreyfuss gets the indignity of being stuck in an air vent. The rest of the D-list cast are simply there as they get killed or sacrifice themselves for the good of the rest of the survivors.
Poseidon comes in what is subtitled a "two disc special edition," which is a misnomer and simply a marketing gimmick. The DVD comes to us within twelve weeks of the show being in cinemas, and the extras feel hastily put together. There are none of the fabled deleted sequences that Wolfgang claimed sabotaged his movie, and there is no commentary either. Instead there are unimaginative "making of" featurettes which seem straight from the studio to pimp the film, and a History Channel documentary on the dubious idea of rogue waves. I'm not sure why they had to spread this out to two discs when it easily could be contained on a single. There are no look backs at the original, no great in-depth interviews with anyone other than the guy who made soup on the set. The whole thing reeks of fluff and no meat, just like the feature it supports.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The good news is that Poseidon delivers an incredible technical experience. It sports an aggressive surround mix that uses every speaker to great effect. It transforms your living room into a doomed ocean liner. This is one of the best audio tracks to come along. It is filled with ambient creaking as well as appropriately jump worthy stings when things go wrong. The visuals are solid, if not perfect, with a bit of clarity sacrificed in the translation to pixels for the small screen. Still, Poseidon should qualify as a demo level disc to show off your home theater system. The CGI sticks out more on the small screen, which hurts the film.
If you pop a big bowl of fluffy, white, buttered corn and lower your expectations, Poseidon makes for a fun Saturday night. The action is nonstop, and the pace is merciless. Even if we don't know these guys and girls well when 900,000 gallons of water rushes at them, it's impressive. The CGI is too obvious, but water and fire make for an entertaining flick no matter how hollow it rings. I'd say this one is worth a rental in the right circumstances, and it is a family friendly adventure that should entertain teens easily since it rarely gets bogged down with character study.
Poseidon has no soul, and we hardly mourn it's sinking. The ship has no personality, and neither do the passengers and crew. It's a computer generated action film with a monster movie bent. Huge waves, rising water, fire balls, and even mechanical parts of the ship all jump out to create boo moments like Samuel Jackson's demise in Deep Blue Sea. Where Titanic masterfully married an overblown romance with a tragedy, Poseidon merely offers trajectory as a device to make us engaged. It doesn't work, and the ship doesn't sink fast enough to match the falling script—even at a scant ninety minutes.
Guilty of being the hollow blockbuster everyone assumes is killing Hollywood. Poseidon is an action sequence looking for a movie.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Making of Featurette
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