Poseidon (Two-Disc Special Edition) Review
The ocean-liner Poseidon crosses the North Atlantic slowly, low in the water as the sun rises one New Year's Eve. Onboard the ship, the passengers go about their business, enjoying the cruise and the fresh ocean air, with gambler Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas) taking advantage of the sun to relax with a run over various decks of the ship. Inside, Jennifer Ramsey (Emmy Rossum) and Christian (Mike Vogel) discuss their engagement in the living room of their lavish cabin but are interrupted by Jennifer's father, former New York fireman Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell). Not so much that Ramsey dislikes his future son-in-law but he remains unconvinced about Christian's intentions and worries if his relationship with Jennifer is built on as firm a foundation of love and respect as was Ramsey's with his wife. A love affair is also on the mind of Richard Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss), who frets about a recent break-up with his boyfriend whilst Elena (Mía Maestro), who has stowed away on the boat, worries about being caught.
But such worries are put to one side that night as a party gets underway, opened by Captain Michael Bradford (Andre Braugher), who welcomes the guests to his ship before nightclub singer Gloria (Stacy Ferguson, Fergie from The Black-Eyed Peas) entertains them. In the silence of another room, Dylan and Ramsey are playing poker with another passenger, Lucky Larry (Kevin Dillon), when Jennifer and Christian arrive. After telling his daughter to do up the top button on her dress such that it isn't quite as revealing, he wishes them a good night in the club as he turns back to his cards. Dylan, however, leaves soon after, bumping into a boy downstairs, Connor James (Jimmy Bennett), who has a habit or running away from his mother, Maggie. With Richard leaving his table to take in some fresh air outside, the night seems set to be a long but enjoyable one.
However, the brief festivities on the bridge are silenced when First Officer Chapman (Gabe Jarret) looks out over the sea and spots a rogue wave heading for the Poseidon. Chapman knows that the Poseidon will not survive a side-on impact and directs his crew to turn the ship but it's too late. With the wave almost on top of them, the crew ready themselves for impact but have no chance in the bridge. As the wave hits, the Poseidon is turned upside-down, rising again in the water but finally settling with the bridge furthest underwater and what was the bottom of the ship now above the waterline. With many of the passengers dead and most of them injured, the Captain orders the watertight doors to be closed and that they wait for help to arrive but Dylan and Ramsey refuse to do so, leaving the ballroom and beginning the long climb up to the lower levels. Joined by Maggie, Richard and Connor and guided by Marco (Freddy Rodriguez), a waiter on the Poseidon, they go in search of Jennifer, Christian and a way out of the ship.
I, like many, don't ask for much from a disaster movie. A suitable sense of scale perhaps - it helps immeasurably if hundreds, if not thousands, of people are placed in danger by terrorism, natural disasters or simply a folly of engineering on the verge of failure - as well as the feeling that anyone, no matter how famous they may be, can die at any time. In addition, of The Poseidon Adventure, I also ask that it offer the sight of Gene Hackman picking a fight with God, the big-lunged Shelly Winters clinging on to her swimming medals as though they had the power to save her and Pamela Sue Martin in a pair of hotpants. Unchanged over the years, The Poseidon Adventure offers all of these things. Actually, the older and more forgetful I get, the more I'm surprised at it - a precursor surely to the moment when remembering where I put the milk will bring a smile - finding that each viewing, if not adding something that adds to the overall experience, then becomes more enjoyable with each passing year. Several disaster movies may profess to be bigger - Roland Emmerich certainly surpassed Irwin Allen for size in his making Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, both of which saw the entire world put at risk - but there are none that are more enjoyable, which does beg the question, just what did the makers of this film think they were doing?
Rewriting it, I would imagine, not to mention adding a glossy sheen to a film that is rather grimy by today's standards. And, of course, making something new out of a story that even with its rather wonderful DVD release this year, can't quite be generating the kind of cash that it once did. Not to mention that the vast amount of money earned by Titanic must have caused several executives at Warner's to begin thinking about what other ship-bound disaster movies might endear themselves to an audience of millions. By rights, it should be dreadful, at least when one compares it to the 1972 original but no matter how obvious the reasons for making Poseidon and the intellectual arguments that one can make to dislike it, there's still some fun to be had as a plucky band of survivors attempt to make it out of the ship alive.
For a start, the cast is an even more deliciously obvious set of cliches than was even drawn up by Paul Gallico and Irwin Allen. With the age of the seaside revue now passed, there's no time for the comedy mismatch of big Belle Rosen (Shelley Winters) and the stick-thin Manny (Jack Albertson) whilst the odd, pill-popping health-freak James Martin (Red Buttons) is also gone. New York cop Mike Rogo has been rewritten for these post-9/11 times as New York firefighter Robert Ramsey, whilst his ex-prostitute wife Linda has been replaced by a beautiful college student. Brother and sister Susan and Robin Shelby are now mother and son Maggie and Connor whilst, and perhaps most depressingly - as sure a sign of godlessness as the dwindling church congregations - is how Rev. Frank Scott has been rewritten as a professional gambler. I'm not entirely sure that this tells us very much about the differences between 2006 and 1972 - marrying a prostitute is more frowned-upon now than then, that more people play poker than attend church and that a swimming medal isn't worth a damn in an age when kids earn them every couple of months. It may also have been that James Martin, in spite of his interest in Nonnie, was gay all along but simply too frightened to admit it to a Shelley Winters who obviously believed him to be the marrying kind. Looking back, "Running a store" may well have been Polari for, "I am gay!"
In spite of it all feeling unnecessary, when you first see that wave - now a rogue wave rather than a tidal wave - there's a flicker of adrenaline that says the ensuing pile-up of bodies, ship-parts and water may well be something to marvel at. The good points are those that make the most of underwater footage and stuntwork that is much more advanced than that managed in 1972. One particular death late in the film - of a major character, mind, that's on a par with that of 1972's Frank Scott - is quite brilliant, with the character's breathing in of water being, to my limited experience of drowning, entirely believable. Similarly, Kevin Dillon's Lucky Larry, who fails to live up to his name at a crucial moment, does much to fool the audience into thinking that they're watching an entirely different film than what it eventually becomes. Entirely the wrong kind of hero demanded by the film, being one who's clumsy, badly-dressed and in love with his own legend, he not only suggests that there will be some humour in the film but also that one's memory of the characters will survive as well as those who make it out of the ship alive. But no, the film rushes into the action so quickly that Wolfgang Petersen forgets to develop these characters, leaving one impressed with the action and special effects but tending towards forgetting who's who.
But note how I say there's only some fun to be had with Poseidon, not a lot. With the memory of the 1972 movie having never really gone away, I wanted this to be better but found that its 98-minute running time starves the film of characterisation whilst the effects, which tend towards the huge, threaten to swallow the cast whole. It's not a terrible film but it is disappointing, probably for no more reason that it's hard to imagine anyone still talking fondly of this film in 2040. Actually, I can't really imagine anyone speaking enthusiastically a year or two from now never mind thirty-four years from now, leaving it a film that enjoyed a commercial sprint in its week or release but not one with the legs to become a perennial favourite.
Given its recent release in the cinemas and how this would have come from a high-definition transfer prepared for the inevitable HD-DVD/Blu-Ray release, this looks very good indeed. Unfortunately, it isn't a great transfer as the disc doesn't always cope with water-spray and fire as well as it should, both of which feature heavily in Poseidon, and some of the CG effects are very obvious. But simply in terms of the actual transfer - assuming the problems with the CG effects were present in the cinema release - it does what one might expect of it but not a great deal more, suiting an average-sized screen rather than a big one.
However, the DD5.1 is often superb, using all six speakers to good effect, particularly in such moments as the wave hits, when the cast are in the ballast tanks and when they attempt to break out of the ship through the still-spinning propellers. In each case, the rear speakers are used to provide not only ambience but also a sense of actually being in the water with the cast and for the most part it works well, being fairly convincing throughout.
A two-disc edition, one might have thought there would be enough material on here to justify it but whilst there's a great quantity of material, there isn't very much that's particularly good, at least very little that concerns the film. The first disc contains only two special features, one of which is the Theatrical Trailer (1m44s) whilst the other, Poseidon: A Ship On A Soundstage (22m41s), is a brisk look at the making of the film from the Paul Gallico source novel through to the filming and the special effects that features interviews with the cast and crew and offers many short glimpses behind the scenes.
The second disc largely offers more of the same, beginning with Poseidon Upside Down (10m45s), which carries on from A Ship On A Soundstage with a specific look at the set design and the use of moving stages rather than a real ship for the filming. This is followed by A Shipmate's Diary (12m21s), a look at the production from the point of view of film school graduate Malona Voight. I'm sure she's talking down to us when she speaks about her surprise at there being so many people on set but, once again, what we have are a good deal of impressive figures about how much water is being briefly contained on set and not very much else. However, what is very good is Rogue Waves (28m3s), a documentary originally shown on the History Channel, regarding the kind of wave that not only did for the Poseidon but many other ships through history. What we have is a typically excitable documentary with experts, simulations in the labs and video footage coming together to prove that rogue waves do exist and that they threaten each and every one of us...so long as we're on a boat. Somehow, when this documentary takes time to mention the Bermuda Triangle, it feels complete.
Neither an impressive film nor a particularly impressive set, Poseidon does for a night's entertainment but hardly much more. Not the film to honour one's memory of the 1972 original but, again, probably not as bad as its failure at the box office might suggest. If Wolfgang Petersen listens to the box office, it would appear that his boat trilogy - a somewhat loosely-constructed trio of films - quite rightly ends here.