Poseidon

A Film Review By The Mike

Starring: Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfuss
Directed By: Wolfgang Petersen
Rated: PG-13 for Violence, Perilous Situations, and Immense Teenage Cleavage
Review Posted: May 20 2006

Final Grade:

It has been said that faith is all a man or woman needs to survive in this world. That might be true. But it has also been said that faith does no good for someone unless they put that faith into action and, in doing so, put themselves in a position to survive this world.

That statement is the thesis for the 1972 disaster epic The Poseidon Adventure, a film that centered on the attempts of a few to free themselves from a sinking cruise ship while the majority sat and hoped for a miracle. By focusing its attention on characters like the jaded priest played by Gene Hackman, that film did more than just show its viewer a series of seemingly insurmountable obstacles that must be overcome. It gave us the chance to ponder what faith is, and made us think about how actions backed by faith can give a person power to succeed against these obstacles.

As you would expect in today’s society, that spiritual aspect is gone from this year’s remake with the shortened title, Poseidon. Like a Cliff’s Notes version, Wolfgang Petersen’s film focuses simply on the actions and not the thoughts behind them. A look at the scene that puts our heroes into action from each film will make this clear.

In the original version, Hackman’s character pleads with the entire ballroom in the recently overturned ship that they need to do something, or they will die waiting. He explains his plan to those who will listen, and does his best to convince people their best hope for survival lies in following his lead and working together. The people that do decide to follow him do so mostly for the same reason – because they want to try and put their survival in their own hands.

Skip ahead to this year’s version. Our lead, a professional gambler/hustler played by Josh Lucas, notices that everyone is trapped, but also notices that he should try and get out. So, he prepares to leave on his own, and would have gotten away with it had he not been approached by an ex-fireman/politician played by Kurt Russell, who begs him to help him get to his daughter (young Emmy Rossum, who continues to get the best push-up bras in Hollywood) and a little boy and his single mother who beg for help. Also a suicidal old man (Richard Dreyfuss) agrees to come along, as well as a latino waiter. The latter only wants to go along because he’s getting paid, but we know he’s an unimportant, minority character and won’t live to see that money anyway.

So the movie goes on, and the group picks up Rossum’s character, her fiancee (who of course doesn’t have dad’s respect, because that’s what happens with fiancees), a latina stowaway, and an annoying Kevin Dillon, who’s actually more annoying than his brother Matt, and a character who the viewer will probably be rooting for to die early. I was.

Where’s the heart? If Petersen wants to make a film that will be more than just effects shots, why doesn’t he give us less superficial characters? Maybe it’s because he forgot how during the decade plus gap between the present and the last time he made a good movie. Or maybe it’s because he really just thinks viewers will be coming only for the series of connected perilous scenes, and don’t really want to know the characters. Hey, maybe if it was a horror movie that would work, and maybe that’s how we should treat this version of Poseidon. But there’s so much more that could be there.

Poseidon does pitch the father/daughter/fiancee angle (think Armageddon), and that’s probably where it wanted to get the viewer involved dramatically. But it doesn’t work, because it doesn’t push it hard enough in the midst of attempts to have people almost die or die in cool effects shots. And the rest of the characters are built up only wo we know who they are, all within 10 minutes before the accident, with little explanation of what they’re doing there or why they’re not waiting in the ballroom with the rest of the passengers and the captain.

This is probably as angry I’ve been at a movie while writing a review in a long time. On a plus, some of the scenes of the group in peril are really well staged (Russell gets to reenact his prison escape scene from Tango & Cash!), and the over-talented cast does a great job with the little bit of material they have. But Petersen’s dumbed down version of what was once a interesting and dramatic thriller adds up to so much less than it could have, and in the end is a good example of both why remakes often are a very bad idea and of how unintelligent Hollywood thinks most audiences are these days.

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