Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

"A handful of the passengers may eventually get out of the ship alive, but in this massive overhaul of The Poseidon Adventure (1972), nothing, it seems, can save them from Mark Protosevich's sinking script."

Viewed from beneath the water, beams of sunlight eerily penetrate the ocean's green, until a ship's keel cleaves the sparkling surface above. The camera climbs up over the ripples, revealing the enormous passenger liner Poseidon in wide shot, before moving in to sweep over its multiple levels, briefly following a lone jogger up a staircase, then rising over the upper decks and vast funnels until finally it catches up with the now stationary jogger and takes in the exquisite sunset vista over his shoulder.

If the two-and-a-half-minute single take that opens Wolfgang Petersen's Poseidon seems impossible, that is only because everything in it is computer generated (apart from Josh Lucas, jogging against a green screen and later integrated into the virtual ship). It is a breathtaking prologue, not only giving us an economic introductory tour of the film's larger-than-life protagonist (I mean the boat of the title, rather than Lucas' professional gambler Dylan), but also showing an individual engulfed by overwhelming scale - the sort of humbling perspective that has long been the mainstay of the disaster genre.

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It is New Year's Eve and shortly after midnight the sea borne behemoth will be flipped over by a gigantic rogue wave. This, however, is not all that will be turned upside down in the film, for, as we watch the spectacular mayhem unfold on board, it fast becomes clear that in Poseidon, the excellent CGI is far more convincing than the actual characters, in an unexpected inversion of the usual relationship between post-production fakery and human drama. A handful of the passengers may eventually get out of the ship alive, but in this massive overhaul of The Poseidon Adventure (1972), nothing, it seems, can save them from Mark Protosevich's sinking script.

"You know the disaster scenario", bellows the doomed ship's captain - and we do, all too well. While most of the wave's survivors wait vainly for rescue in the upturned ballroom, a small group decides to make a daring break for the surface via the vessel's propeller tubes. If the shafts, tunnels and ballast tanks leading to escape are a veritable maze of sink-or-swim perils, there is no risk of these folk getting lost provided that they cling to their over-familiar narrative arcs - and cling they do, like irksome barnacles on an old rust bucket's bottom.

Would-be loner Dylan gets stuck with a whole whining ensemble of fellow travellers and discovers his wet side with single mum Maggie (Jacinda Barrett) and her young son Conor (Jimmy Bennett). With more than a passing nod to Bruce Willis' storyline in Armageddon (1998), protective father Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell) cannot decide whether his headstrong daughter Jennifer (Emmy Rossum) is under greater threat from her boyfriend Christian (Mike Vogel), or the diminishing air pockets, before he learns at last to step aside and go with the flow.

Jilted architect Richard Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss) was about to commit suicide just before the wave struck, but then, in a brazen blend of chutzpah and irony, rediscovers the value of life amidst all the ensuing carnage; no doubt he wishes they had brought a bigger boat. Then there's unpleasant drunk Lucky Larry (Kevin Dillon), whose luck is clearly running out, while the class and ethnicity of stowaway Elena (Mia Maestro) and waiter Valentin (Freddy Rodriguez) pretty much guarantee their expendable status as flotsam and jetsam.

Apart from one or two curious touches, like the bizarre fact that any character whose hand comes into contact with Nelson's ankle ends up dead, everything in Poseidon is so overstated and predictable that it verges on parody, even if the film keeps a straight face from start to finish. It is not enough, for example, that Ramsey is a hero within the creaky confines of the ship; we also learn, in an absurdly obvious contrivance, designed to pander to post-9/11 sensibilities, that he is not only a retired firefighter, but also (and I am not making this up) the one-time mayor of New York City.

Maybe, with just a little less baggage, these ludicrously stereotyped characters would have a better chance of keeping Poseidon afloat. At least, it looks good as it goes down - and takes an hour and a half less time than Titanic (1997) to do so. Long films about rising waters are hard on the bladder...

Reviewed on: 02 Jun 2006
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Another cruise liner, another wet day at the office, another remake
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Read more Poseidon reviews:

John Gallagher ****
Angus Wolfe Murray **

Director: Wolfgang Petersen

Writer: Mark Protosevich, based on the novel by Paul Gallico

Starring: Kurt Russell, Josh Lucas, Richard Dreyfuss, Jacinda Barrett, Emmy Rossum, Mike Vogel, Mia Maestro, Jimmy Bennett, Andre Braugher, Freddy Rodriguez, Kevin Dillon, Kirk B R Woller, Stacy Ferguson

Year: 2006

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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