Poseidon (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Irwin Allen would be proud. Poseidon is a throwback - a 1970s-style disaster film made with 2006-era special effects. The movie delivers in most of the ways that matter for a motion picture of this ilk, with Poseidon never trying to be something it isn't. It's about a group of two-dimensional humans battling bad luck and Mother Nature in a sea-based disaster that makes Titanic look like a pleasure cruise. There's enough uncertainty about who's going to live and who's going to die to maintain a bit of suspense until the end, although it's more a question of mild curiosity than having a vested interest.

One smart move by director Wolfgang Petersen and his screenwriter, Mark Protosevich, is not to attempt to develop the protagonists. Each character in this film represents a tried-and-true disaster film stereotype - from the self-absorbed loner who finds redemption in helping others to the kid who doesn't listen to his mother. The film opens with a few brief scenes that equate each character with their respective type. We are not subjected to the too often obligatory "character building" sequences that serve little purpose beyond expanding the running length and providing unintentional humor (see Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Core, etc.).

The film is more a re-imagining than a direct remake of the 1972 feature, The Poseidon Adventure. Although the premise and basic setup are the same, the characters and their specific situations are new. That means no Gene Hackman or Shelly Winters. After a 150-foot high rogue wave capsizes the Poseidon during a New Year's cruise, a group of survivors struggles to escape from the ship before it sinks. The group is comprised of professional gambler Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas); ex-fireman and ex-mayor of New York City Robert Ramsay (Kurt Russell); single mother Maggie James (Lucinda Barrett) and her son, Conor (Jimmy Bennett); Ramsay's daughter, Jennifer (Emmy Rossum), and her fiancé, Christian (Mike Vogel); depressed businessman Richard Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss); and stowaway Elena (Mia Maestro). Leaving the "safety" of the upside-down grand ballroom, where most of the survivors huddle behind bulkheads waiting for rescue, these men and women face fire, water, and other perils in their struggle to take control of their own destinies.

When one considers a disaster flick, there are two aspects of the production that come under scrutiny. The first: How spectacular is that actual disaster? The second: How many surprises are there in the body count, and are the action scenes leading to the deaths convincing and exciting? Although Poseidon doesn't get top grades on either count, it does a respectable job in both areas. Some of the victims and survivors are evident from the start, but one or two aren't obvious. (No director in his right mind would kill a kid or a dog in a disaster film. There are no dogs here, but there is a kid.) The biggest special effects moment in the film occurs about 20 minutes in, when the huge wave blocks out the moon and horizon before crashing into the ship, tilting it over before turning it belly-up. We have seen more impressive disaster spectacles, but this one is good enough to be convincing. It's too bad that not all the effects work in the film is this effective.

Wolfgang Petersen is no stranger to thrillers at sea - he helmed both Das Boot and A Perfect Storm. In this case, his cast has to face not only water but fire, as explosions rock different parts of the ship. One can tell from watching Poseidon that this was a physically demanding shoot for the actors. If stunt doubles are used, they're not evident. And many of the most daring feats appear to have been done using a life-sized sound stage rather than through the magic of CGI. That often gives Poseidon a more organic, less high-tech feel.

In the wake of Titanic, there's probably a temptation to turn a sea-disaster picture like Poseidon into en epic romance/adventure. It's a temptation that Petersen thankfully resists. Poseidon is devoid of anything that might conjure up memories of the Winslet/DiCaprio coupling. Its straightforward action/adventure approach is both a strength and a weakness. Petersen sets out to give us a group of undeveloped stock characters and a bunch of cheap thrills, and that's what he delivers. If that's the kind of thing you want from a would-be summer blockbuster, Poseidon will not disappoint.

Poseidon (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2006-05-12
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1