Movie Review – Poseidon

Call me nit-picky. I wanted to be swept away by this remake of The Poseidon Adventure, a smash hit in 1972 and up for several Oscars; it walked away with one for music and second for special effects. I even accepted the challenge of reviewing The Poseidon Adventure (hereinafter known as ‘the original’) and the current remake, Poseidon, and comparing them.
Poseidon’s impressive opening cinematography got my full attention and made me tingle at the promise of what lay ahead. Like every other movie buff, I wanted to be part of the disaster without getting hurt, bruised, or even a little bit wet. I wanted to experience the terror of being trapped on a luxury cruise liner on New Year’s Eve that is capsized by an enormous rogue wave. And what a wave it was! I was transfixed as the 900-foot monster came rolling ever closer, taller than the S.S. Poseidon itself.
The ensuing chaos is appropriate to the calamity but, alas, I was a spectator and not a participant. There was lots of screaming. People were tossed about like rag dolls before being dropped from what was first the floor, now the ceiling, many plunging to their deaths. Just the thing to take your mind off your own problems--the special effects were mesmerizing. My nerves tingled as I imagined what those poor souls were going through during the filming of that sequence.
Poseidon has a great ensemble cast, working together so well that it’s almost believable. The fault lies with the screenplay. It begins with great promise but a third of the way through becomes your standard disaster concoction; people in danger, trying to triumph over adversity, and we already know what the outcome will be.
Kurt Russell shines in his best role since ‘Backdraft.’ He’s also aging very nicely, thank you. His underwater scenes made me hold my breath as if I were there alongside of him. He has one of the most memorable scenes in the picture, beautifully acted and photographed. I wish I could tell you where it happens, but that would spoil the surprise.
Richard Dreyfuss as an elderly, retired, suicidal architect rings true in his performance, but is given nothing outstanding to do with his enormous talent. His character is reputed to be gay and jilted, but I wonder if the writers put in the gay nod to attract the gay crowd expecting to see another high-profile actor portraying a gay male. If so, it was all for naught. It’s such a fleeting mention of gay that it’s innocuous, and it’s not germane to the story. It almost whizzed right past my gaydar.
Stacy Ferguson as the female singer is reminiscent of Michelle Pfeiffer in ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys.’ It would be nice to know more about her, but her character simply fades away as the movie progresses.
On the subject of music (sort of): the original had an award-winning score and hit song of the day. Poseidon missed out on both counts. Both song and score were forgotten before I got as far as the lobby. In my opinion this is a huge marketing mistake, given the mass consumption of music these days.
The other female cast members are new to me. Each is a gifted actor but they all seemed to be cut from the same cloth, the cloth being woven of strength, stamina, endurance, sensibility, and dark hair. The dark hair makes them blend into one. There is no distinctive look to them as individuals. The background stories of each are markedly different from the stories in the original. There is no Shelley Winters role, which is probably a good thing: any actress trying to play the role Miss Winters did would be hard-pressed to out-act her.
Now I get really nit-picky. There were points where I felt my sense of credibility was being undermined. Imagine: A primary character’s legs become trapped under massive debris so heavy it takes three others and a mechanical device to remove it. Amazingly, the character begins walking without so much as a limp; climbing, jumping, swimming, not the least impaired. Gimme a break!
It’s New Year’s Eve. Men dress in tuxedos or suit and tie. Females are in evening gowns. I surmised they wore high heels with those gowns. Then a brief underwater scene disclosed ladies wearing black, flat shoes. For the record, in the original a prime character wore gold lame clodhoppers throughout, even while climbing ladders and swimming underwater.
When the Atlantic Ocean breaks through and floods the grand salon the scene is woefully short. It did not create the horror, conflict, and emotional torment we should have felt. It was a missed opportunity to heighten my sense of doom. However, those with a fear of drowning, claustrophobia, fear of heights, swimming in oil-slick flaming ocean water, or being torn from your loved ones will have ample opportunity to confront all of these in Poseidon.
Another inexplicable story point involves the use of a desperately needed tool to take the place of a screwdriver, which works at the last second before all perish. It’s a simple piece of jewelry that saves the cast; yet, early on they lovingly lay it back upon the corpse after the character drowns. Surely someone among them has heard the Boy Scout Motto, “Be Prepared.” This, to me, is just bad story telling—something we’re asked to swallow all too often in the pictures Hollywood is turning out. The audience sits back and witnesses a disaster at sea, rather than feeling the emotional glue that makes us forget we’re in a theater.
Director/producer Wolfgang Petersen and the makeup department seem to have overlooked the fact that people clawing their way out of a shipwreck would have dirty fingers--my manicure is ruined just eating barbequed chicken-- yet Poseidon’s characters remain perfectly manicured, with close-ups to prove it.
Therein lies the difference between Poseidon and the original. The original relies on acting to pull us into the story and make us feel a part of the adventure; Poseidon is more interested in special effects than in convincing us that we, like the characters, are in danger of losing our lives. Which is better? It’s too close to call. Each appeals to a wide audience for its time. The original is dated by 1972 standards and Poseidon has what everyone expects in today’s movie market. Each (nit-picking aside) is enjoyable, and both are masterfully done in their own way.
I give it three stars out of five. It’s a big budget summer disaster movie not unlike those past and those being written as you read this review. Colossal coin went into the making of it, and it shows on-screen.
I suggest that you see it at a theater comparable to the AMC Olathe Theater on 119th and Strang Line Road with the big screen, exceptional sound, comfortable seats, and true stadium seating with no annoying heads in your way.

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