Film & DVD Review: Poseidon

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

  • MPAA: Rated PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of disaster and peril.
  • Runtime: 99 min Country: USA
  • Language: English
  • Color: Color
  • Sound Mix: DTS / SDDS / Sonics-DDP (IMAX version) / Dolby Digital
  • Certification: Canada:14A (British Columbia) / Malaysia:U / Portugal:M/12 / UK:12A / Canada:PG (Ontario) / Ireland:12A / Canada:14A (Alberta/British Columbia/Manitoba) / USA:PG-13 (certificate #42617) / Canada:13+ (Quebec) / Singapore:PG / Finland:K-11Poseidon has had a lot of criticism on the Internet. The Poseidon Adventure (1972), starring Gene Hackman has a minor ‘cult’ following and it was perhaps inevitable that it would be compared to and contrasted with this. Personally I was more influenced by Paul Gallico’s novel, published in 1969. I liked the ‘camp’ earlier film but Poseidon is a movie in its own right and that’s how we should judge it.

    Poseidon takes ‘disaster movies’ to a new technical level. It sets a new standard. Stanford University’s computer graphics department worked with a 100-member team of software developers to create a new technology – computational fluid dynamics. This simulates how water interacts with objects which creates a realism which is unmatched. Special effects supervisor, Kim Libreri, also looked at reflected light. He said:
    The computer needs to understand that when a light source strikes an object, some of that light bounces off and hits another object and so on.”
    The subtlety of detail is impressive. The underwater shots of the ship were extraordinary. The rendering of debris and parts of the ship breaking away seemed authentic. Visually the movie is great.

    Special mention for Stacy Ferguson (Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas). She appears as Gloria, the ship’s headline entertainer and performs the traditional Auld Lang Syne as well as two original compositions: the ballad Won’t Let You Fall and the Latin-tempo dance number Bailanos (Spanish for ‘Let’s Dance’).

    Poseidon also avoids many of the cliches of ‘disaster movies’. I used to try to guess who was going to be the next character to die and it was usually obvious. Not with this film. I asked Director Wolfgang Petersen if he had weighed-up whether killing off some of the central characters might shock and alienate sections of the audience. He answered that it “had to be done”. I was also struck not just by the selection of victims but the sheer number. Very few survive.

    Where I agree with some of the critics of this film concerns the script. I don’t have a problem as some do with how sudden the disaster strikes (Poseidon Adventure had quite a long build up). I liked the way the atmosphere on board suddenly switches from folk enjoying an extravagant New Year’s Eve Ball to fear and panic as a ‘rogue wave’ hits. A matter of personal taste I guess! But the critics are right that the script could have been a lot tighter and more psychologically intense. Don’t get me wrong, there are intense moments and certainly a sense of suspense. Poseidon plays with our fears of confinement, of fire, of drowning and of relinquishing control and having to rely on the decisions of others. Yet more could have been done.

    Wolfgang Petersen said:
    “disasters are great equalizers. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, if you’re the richest person in the world or if you’re working in the kitchen; you’re all in it together.”
    Yet the film doesn’t follow this logic. The Staff of the Cruiser are passive and deferential. Their survival instict seems to be switched off. I wondered how realistic this was. I would have liked to see at least one of them switch from a deferential job role to a more selfish, assertive character.

    The potential for tensions arising within the group were not really explored. Leadership roles switched with very little conflict. Recriminations and accusations were not to the fore. Even when one character causes the death of another little is said.

    Go see this movie because despite some of the reservations I’ve expressed it’s well worth the admission price. Forget the original and go with an open mind. It is spectacular, the acting (particularly from Josh Lucas, Richard Dreyfuss and Jimmy Bennett is strong). Poseidon maintains your interest and involvement and does not follow the usual ‘disaster movie’ formula. Director Wolfgang Petersen is a man of great depth who makes bold decisions. It is a very good, entertaining film with spectacular effects which with a tighter script might have been a great one.

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