In the thirty-four years since it was released, "The Poseidon Adventure" has become something of a camp classic, with its now-dated Oscar-winning love ballad "The Morning After," now-dated special effects and miniature sets, and an unforgettable role played by Shelley Winters that is either viewed as dramatic and auspicious or a laughing stock depending on who you talk to. For its time though, the film was state-of-the-art and, overall, still holds up fairly well today. Still, with visual effects and other technical credits advancing by leaps and bounds in the interim, the time was right to revisit the material and improve upon it.
Director Wolfgang Petersen, a veteran filmmaker who knows his way around the water after helming 1981's "Das Boot" and 2000's "The Perfect Storm
," does just that with "Poseidon." A loose remake of the 1972 original (its premise remains the same, but the characters have received an overhaul), this destined summer blockbuster knows how to deliver the goods in spades. Tight, taut and clocking in at a brisk 99 minutes, "Poseidon" gets right down to business, creating an authentically exciting moviegoing experience that becomes something of a spectacle.
The story is a straightforward one, and credit screenwriter Mark Protosevich (2000's "The Cell
") for not mucking up the proceedings with a lot of needless subplots and character filler. Just after the strike of the new year, a giant rogue wave strikes a luxury ocean liner, capsizing the vessel and all of the people onboard. With the ship slowly beginning to sink and the water rising around them, a group of surviving passengersRobert Ramsey (Kurt Russell), daughter Jennifer (Emmy Rossum) and her boyfriend Christian (Mike Vogel); suave bachelor Dylan James (Josh Lucas); single mother Maggie (Jacinda Barrett) and young son Conor (Jimmy Bennett); depressed, recently jilted gay man Richard Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss); stowaway Elena Gonzalez (Mia Maestro); kitchen worker Marco Valentin (Freddy Rodriguez); and smarmy gambler Lucky Larry (Kevin Dillon)join forces to make their way through the bowels of the ship and to safety.
Potential audience members with a fear of cruise ships or the water will find few moments to breathe and collect themselves during "Poseidon," a riveting big-budget disaster film that, if not quite equaling the harrowing heights of 1997's "Titanic," comes fairly close. Director Wolfgang Petersen spends just enough time introducing the ensemble of characters in the opening fifteen minutes so that the viewer gets an idea of who they are, and then promptly brings on the calamitous wave that sets into motion the picture's first awesomely conceived and frightening set-piece. The visual effects in this sequence and many othersa mix of CGI and practical effectsare exquisitely rendered and never less than convincing.
Despite having to abide by the constraints of a PG-13 rating, director Petersen refuses to shy away from the tragic horrors that would occur if an ocean liner really did capsize. From then on, the movie scarcely lets up, throwing one curveball after the next in front of the protagonists as they attempt to outrace the exceeding waters and reach the bottom of the ship floating atop sea level. Scenes involving an elevator shaft, a tight air vent, an intentional drowning in order for the water pressure to catapult them temporarily out of harm's way, and a very, very long underwater dash to the propeller room rustle up a heightened level of suspense and literal edge-of-your-seat thrills that rank as some of the very best action scenes of the year. As for those unfortunates who make the decision of listening to ship captain Michael Bradford (Andre Braugher) and staying put in the ballroom, they learn all too soon the grave error of their ways.
Most of the actors bring dignity and conviction to their stock parts, but they don't get a whole lot to do beside look scared out of their wits. That's as it should be, as these are virtual strangers brought together under terrible circumstances. Suffice it to say, there's not much time to waste with soul-searching moments and heroic monologues. Josh Lucas (2006's "Glory Road
") and Kurt Russell (2005's "Sky High
") are well-cast as the heroic leaders of the expedition, butting heads on occasion but sticking together when they need to. Emmy Rossum (2004's "The Phantom of the Opera
") and Mike Vogel (2003's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
") are fresh-faced and likable as lovebirds Jennifer and Christian. Jimmy Bennett (2006's "Firewall
") continues his reign as the most imperiled child working in movies as Conor.
As Elena and Richard, Mia Maestro (2004's "The Motorcycle Diaries
") and Richard Dreyfuss (2004's "Silver City
") are perhaps the most interesting and developed individuals of the group, playing, respectively, a stowaway trying desperately to make it to her younger brother and a man on the verge of suicide until knowledge of his own mortality makes him recognize the quality of life. At the other end of the spectrum, Kevin Dillon (HBO's "Entourage") is so insufferable and irksome as Lucky Larry that it's a blessing when he makes a swift exit.
"Poseidon" lays off the religious themes and Christian allegory percolating through "The Poseidon Adventure" and sticks strictly to being what it knows it is: a rousing, slam-bang, no-frills action extravaganza. If the climactic moments work themselves out a smidgen too tidily, that is a relatively minor price to pay for what is otherwise a rather smart and ultra-efficient display of mainstream cinematic craftsmanship. It's still only May, but "Poseidon" is the first outright satisfying summer movie of the year.