Poseidon: A Flotilla of Action and Disaster

Ironically for a project based on the sheer size of its main story vehicle, Poseidon comes in at a short 90 minutes, barely meeting current norms for feature length films. This remains its primary shortcoming though also a blessing as in most other aspects it’s a passable, if not even remotely brilliant, foray providing viewers with sufficient frills but nothing much to retain in the longer run.

A remake of 1972 disaster flick The Poseidon Adventure, Wolfgang Petersen’s version lacks the sheer impact of its predecessor which, although no masterpiece in its own right, still heralded the onset of 70’s calamity-vision in a way the modern retelling could never hope to repeat.

There was also a made-for-TV edition a couple of years back but it seems few have had the pleasure of beholding it over this tight, $150 million gargantua. You’d be right to wonder where the money ended up considering they barely give out an hour and a half of movie, but then perhaps it would be enough to look at the totally Titanic-scuttling visuals to understand Poseidon’s expense account devoted itself to plastics instead of content.

In true rollercoaster-ride fashion, little time is wasted on introducing characters, backstory or any other such trifling matter. Petersen charges ahead like Achilles lunging at the Trojan army, probably pushed along by the looming specter of rolling credits.

Enter a New Year’s Eve ball aboard the world’s premier cruise ship, or at least presumed premier going on size, grandeur and behemoth dining area. It’s based upon real-world floating palace Queen Mary 2, with elaborate set designs and authentic-looking environments. Unfortunately, not enough time and space are devoted to exploring the ship and its voyage, with everything moving along too fast to linger on mood-building components.

The captain goes on a bit about how everyone’s lives will be better riding on Poseidon’s back into the future, when the conn detects trouble a-brewing. The god’s namesake finds herself confronted with a monstrous freak wave, a wall of water done well in impressive CGI but still ludicrously oversized, eclipsing the 200ft boat.

Following this brief preliminary segment, the bulk of the movie commences, pitting characters against a capsized luxury superliner where danger lurks at every corner. Unlike the original, in this rendition most of the passengers are cast aside early on, leaving the movie to center around a small group of survivors as they struggle to reach safety on top (now bottom) of devastated Poseidon.

Leading the charge are former NYC mayor Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell in one of his weaker roles recently), who also faces challenges from his semi-renegade daughter (Emmy Rossum), and gambling maestro Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas from Hulk and Glory Road). There’s very little tension between these two protagonists, with whatever conflict injected into the story coming from either the dying ship and ever-possible drowning, or Kevin Dillon’s badly-conceived character, an annoying lounge lizard that fortunately exists stage prematurely.

As do a few of the characters in a distinctly gory fashion, at least within the context of a PG-13 release. Overall, Poseidon’s quite emboldened in its depiction of miserable demises, with people falling, drowning, getting impaled and burning like there’s no tomorrow basically at every juncture. Together with smooth pacing and consistent effects, this trait buttresses Poseidon’s worth as a quickie indulgence.

Beyond acceptable sea-faring adventure and maritime visuals dwarfing anything we’ve seen thus far, the film has little of note. Even veteran performers like Richard Dreyfuss (portraying a broken-hearten socialite contemplating suicide just before disaster strikes) fail to save the day, resulting in a mix that doesn’t keep viewers entranced on the basis of acting prowess alone.

No, shorter than its precursor and lacking the heroic naivete so typical of big-budget adventure stories of that halcyon era, the new Poseidon comes and goes without leaving too much of a trace, good or bad. Scant character development and hard-boiled drama that seemingly just happens out of nowhere conform with an altogether different movie-making ethos, one reflecting events of latter periods, where audiences are presumed to possess shortened attention spans and a cynical palate. Gone are the long-winded romanticism and emotional import, instead this incarnation, stem to bow, steers closer to the flash-disaster method employed in similar contemporary projects.

And that’s a shame, because with that cargo in tow, Poseidon’s doomed to sink beneath the rippling waves of cinematic history like so much wreckage.

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