Thursday, May 25, 2006

Movie Review: Poseidon

(picture curtesy of

I think that I can vaguely remember watching the original “Poseidon Adventure” on local TV while I was growing up. If I’m not mistaken it was one of the disaster movies that they show on TV sponsored by a brand name cigarette company back when they were allowed to sponsor shows on air. I distinctly remember watching it, “Towering Inferno” and “Earthquake” in the same week but now cannot recall why I was so excited about it. I guess it was one of those things that I got excited about as a child that just doesn’t make sense why anymore years later. Other that the basic premise about a cruise ship getting hit by a big wave and turning upside down so some survivors need to make their way out of the doomed ship, there was nothing much that I could recall to compare it to the recently released shorten titled remake.

I have to admit that I was fairly impressed by the opening shot of Wolfgang Petersen's “Poseidon”. The use of the seamless shot that follows a jogger’s morning run from one end of the ship to the other was really successful in conveying both the geography of the ship as well as the immense size of the soon doomed ship. Audiences were quickly introduced to the setting of the movie as lovingly as any leading character within this short sequence. I found it to be one of the more pithy and memorable opening scenes that I have seen in a movie this past year and it really helped to set the mood for what was about to follow.

Introductions to the main characters whose adventure the audience will be following were also dispensed in a fairly expedited manner. The jogger that we first saw in the opening scene was ex-Navy Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas) and within minutes, every other principal character is accounted for. This includes the former firefighter and ex–NYC mayor Robert Ramsay (Kurt Russell), his head-strong daughter, Jennifer (Emmy Rossum), and fiancé, Christian (Mike Vogel); the recently dumped gay architect, Richard (Richard Dreyfuss); the plucky single mom, Maggie (Jacinda Barrett) with the spunky kid, Connor (Jimmy Bennett); the good-hearted Hispanic waiter (Freddy Rodriguez) and his stowaway friend (Mia Maestro); the ship's captain, Captain Bradford (Andre Braugher); Stacy Ferguson from the Black Eyed Peas playing Gloria, the shipboard chanteuse and Kevin Dillon playing a jerk who calls himself Lucky Larry. Given the short time that they took to introduced these characters, these simplified stereotypes were all the audience had to go on at this point of the movie.

A scant 15 minutes into the film, the characters’ world are already turned topsy turvy as an enormous rogue wave hits the ship causing it to roll into the water. Suffice to say that it was an morbidly exciting sight to watch as pandemonium ensues following the capsizing of the boat in the wake of the wave. Death by drowning, fires, electrocutions, impaling and crushing speedily dispatched the legion of faceless extras not lucky enough to be listed in this film’s main credit title. Once things settled down, the film really starts as the core group of survivors decide to take the risk of traversing the ship to get to the hull which is now above them to escape the doomed vessel against the orders of the captain. By this time, audiences could predictably expect that anyone who is not in the group leaving the room where they were in would shortly become fish-food and true to form, the Captain and Gloria meet their fate heroically posed when the water broke through the ballroom ceiling surrounding the location where they were left behind.

Spared of the others’ fate, the remaining group of survivor tried to make their way through fires, claustrophobic crawlspaces and endless water logged hallways to escape to the hull of the boat. As in every disaster movie I’ve seen, not everyone would survive the journey. While it is an inevitable occurrence in the genre, I had hoped that their deaths would have had some meaning in terms of groups dynamics and character development in the remaining survivors. Unfortunately for this film, group dynamics and character development apparently was not high in the list when they scripted this soulless feature. At times it felt like the characters were mechanically following a set path and the deaths that happened along the way felt like it was ticked of from a predetermined checklist. While it could be argued that in a real life situation, character development is the last thing you would be concerned about but the omission of a character arch for the survivor that audiences were suppose to root for in this move left me feeling unmoved by their plight.

While it must have been physically demanding for the actors, “Poseidon” doesn’t feel like a film that would vigorously test an actors dramatic range. Most lines were either proclamations of the obvious ("We gotta keep moving up!" ) or expository backstory dialogue that left little impact on any of the characters. Fortunately the script was not unlike the rest of the movies in this genre. I do have to admit that I found the story direction to be fairly straightforward and somewhat uninspiring as these survivor make their way out of the bowels of this doomed ship. There were several key story points that I found to be exciting, notably how they have to nearly drown to go though the ballast tanks, but unfortunately it was too far in between to sustain the excitement.

In the end, “Poseidon” is a short and well executed film that clocks in at a mere 99 minutes of screen time. While at times there is the sense of just going though the paces and a widening gap of emptiness that seemed to grow after the rogue wave hits, the film is fairly serviceable as a summer release. It does look technically accomplished but I would have liked to be able to empathized with the characters more. Unlike the titular ship, I don’t think that “Poseidon” would bowl anyone over too much after a viewing.

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