Back in the early 1970s, major movie studios were undergoing a sea change. With the
demise of the "studio system," they no longer had a stable of actors they could slot into
projects. Also, social changes were being reflected in the films -- everything from EASY RIDER
to I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW) were altering the landscape. At the time, the idea of an
all-star film about a disaster was an anomaly, so when THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE was
released in 1972, it was a big deal. Boasting a cast that included five Academy Award winners,
the film proved popular at the box office and led to several imitators like the inferior
EARTHQUAKE and THE TOWERING INFERNO (both 1974). Is it any surprise that as
studios face another crisis -- dwindling receipts from theatrical releases -- that they would turn
to a similar project?
POSEIDON is not a remake of the 1972 version (that dubious honor fell to the 2005 Hallmark
produced television remake) but instead is a re-imagining of the now-classic genre movie. Times
certainly have changed. The '72 version was released by Twentieth Century-Fox while this new
take on the Paul Gallico novel is a Warner Bros release. Gene Hackman, fresh off his Academy
Award win for THE FRENCH CONNECTION, led the cast and acted alongside fellow Oscar
winners Red Buttons, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, Jack Albertson and three-time nominee
Arthur O'Connell. The 2006 version is headlined by Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell, Emmy Rossum
Jacinda Barrett, Mia Maestro and Oscar-winner Richard Dreyfuss.
Wolfgang Petersen is clearly the go-to guy for directing films set in and around the ocean.
Having made his mark with DAS BOOT in 1981, he also earned plaudits for helming the screen
version of THE PERFECT STORM. His direction of POSEIDON is exemplary; he handles the
effects-heavy sequences and the more intimate dramatic moments with aplomb. There are a
few missteps, though, partly because James Cameron set the bar so high with 1997's TITANIC.
Overall, though, POSEIDON proves to be a helluva ride.
On board the luxury liner en route to New York are a disparate group of characters. It
is New Year's Eve and there's a celebration afoot. Gambler Dylan Johns (Lucas) is out
to fleece whomever he can until he literally bumps into single mother Maggie (Barrett) and her
precocious son Conor (Jimmy Bennett). Sparks fly and the potential of a shipboard romance
suddenly becomes a possibility. Meanwhile, the former mayor of New York (Russell) is
confounded by the behavior of his 19-year old daughter (Rossum) and her boyfriend (Mike
Vogel). In another part of the liner. Richard (Dreyfuss) is mourning the breakup of his longtime
relationship -- his male lover has left him for another. Throw in a stowaway (Maestro), an
overeager galley mate (Freddy Rodriguez), the ship's Captain (Andre Braugher), a drunken
gambler (Kevin Dillon) and a lounge singer (Stacy Ferguson of the Black Eyed Peas, who
co-wrote and sings the movie's anthem "Won't Let You Fall") and the stage is set.
Screenwriter Mark Protosevich attempts to infuse audience interest in the characters,
but the dramatic situations he has crafted are paper-thin at best. It's a pitfall of the genre:
the characters tend to be underdeveloped and it rests with the actors to flesh them out.
The entire cast tries gamely to make the lame dialogue work, with some succeeding more
What salvages the film are the action sequences and the special effects. Petersen
eschewed the use of stunt doubles for much of the film, so you actually see the actors
diving, climbing, swimming, etc. That verisimilitude is a rarity in feature films and it adds
to the audience's rooting value. When one character got stuck underwater, several of
the people around me audibly gasped. Petersen manages to ratchet up the tension in
these sequences and it's a tribute to the actor's skills that we come to care about them
despite the poor writing.
I have to say that watching the film and how disparate individuals pull together in the face
of disaster, I could not help but recall the recently released UNITED 93, the men and women
trapped in the towers at the World Trade Center, those who survived the tsunami and the
various hurricanes. While POSEIDON doesn't achieve the grand-scale emotions that
real-life does, it may stir some to think. If so, it will be worthy.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of disaster and peril
Running time: 99 min.
Viewed at the AMC Loews E-Walk, 42nd Street
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.