Film Reviews


By • May 12th, 2006 •

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Warner Bros. Picturesin association with Virtual Studios, Radiant Prods. / Next Entertainment / Irwin Allen Prods. / Synthesis Entertainment
MPAA rating PG-13

I didn’t much like the original, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (on DVD from Fox Home Entertainment), which saved Hollywood in 1972, ending a long slump at the Dream Factory. I spent some time with Ronald Neame, the film’s director, in his house hanging over a cliff in LA, damaged from the earthquake and feeling somewhat precarious – the ideal counterpart to the film he’d helmed – and I don’t know that he felt much different than I did about his disaster landmark. “However,” he explained, cavalierly tossing ice cubes into a scotch glass, “it gave me my ‘fuck you’ money.” When asked to elaborate, he explained that the film made so much money so fast that 20th Century Fox didn’t have time to hide it, so after decades as David Lean’s producer, then as director of some powerful art films starring Alec Guinness, he finally broke free of the rat race and achieved financial freedom for the rest of his days.

I didn’t see the other recent version of Neame’s film, a same-titled, made-for-TV, 2005 production with Rutger Hauer essaying Gene Hackman’s role as the scout-leader priest, but I did see a little straight-to-DVD ‘B’ called USS POSEIDON: PHANTOM BELOW (on DVD from SONY), an entertaining trifle about a troubled submarine, starring Adrian Paul and Catherine Dent. I liked it, and it was absolutely serviceable, but in these deluged-with-DVD-release times, it’s hard to recommend.

Now comes POSEIDON, a faithful remake of the original by obvious-choice director Wolfgang (DAS BOOT – hence the ‘obvious’ reference) Peterson. Not that his earlier film had any of the logistical problems that this must have had, but they were both about ships in trouble. Come to think of it, maybe that wasn’t quite enough of a connection to make him the logical choice. But his ability to make the people and the film sympathetic under disastrous conditions was a good reason to put him at the helm, and he does a yeomen job with the material.

The story really is comfortably similar to the orig. Characters are updated – eg, we now have a gay passenger on the climb – Richard Dreyfuss, excellent in the part, as a jilted middle-aged man contemplating suicide during the New Year’s Eve celebration on the voyage. Climbing onto the railing to jump, he sees something a few miles away which diverts his attention from his own maudlin problem.

Kurt Russell, always reliable, solid, willing to take on ostensibly unsympathetic characters and make something out of them, was not only good in his role, but he was sitting four rows in front of me in the IMAX theater on 68th and Broadway, which was fun. Emmy Rossum, good but a bit lacking in terms of scripted material, is the ethereal turn-on of the new century. At a screening of her recent PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, I dropped my camera lens cover and watched it roll away across the screening room floor; a woman’s hand picked it up, I looked up, and it was her, coming over to me to return it, with a look of both innocence and amusement, and my jaw hung to the floor like a Tex Avery cartoon character’s, she was so ravishing. I told her I knew Dario Argento and she’d make the ultimate heroine-in-danger in one of his films, and she said she’d love to meet him, though I felt she wasn’t that familiar with his work.

Josh Lucas as the hero-in-spite-of-his-normal-instincts is compelling as well. It’s a good, solid cast, and I just wish they hadn’t performed the perfunctory sentimental scenes near the end, but then every major Hollywood production has succumbed to the temptation that I can remember except for Ridley Scott’s BLACKHAWK DOWN, and that accomplishment grows in my estimation with each passing season.

The rogue wave scenario, now given weighty resonance in the wake of the recent tsunami , is symptomatic of what this film has over the original. George Lucas’s facility, and several other Effects houses, give the sequence so much more detail, and so many more opportunities for extended footage. It’s a breath-taking experience…as it was 34 years ago, but now more so, in keeping with the technology.

Likewise the goings-on in the bowels of the ship, as the intrepid group makes their way upside down, is about as phenomenal a physical production ($140,000,000 estimated spent) as ever has graced celluloid. It’s worth mentioning at this juncture that the one superb aspect of the original was its art direction: sets where everything hung surrealistically from the ceiling (I remember particularly a bathroom set, the toilets like obscene chandeliers, their seat covers hanging open). That is the one aspect of the new adventure that doesn’t live up. The frames are so cluttered with water and fire and falling debris, and so much of the film is shot in tight shots, that the art direction gives way to special mechanical and optical effects. Fine. No problem. Only it’s a very different film on that level…perhaps justifying eventually owning both, each for their distinct virtues.

All fat has been trimmed from the film; it’s a lean, loud, chaotic 97-minutes-long, and an IMAX wet dream, and of course I don’t mean that in a sexual sense. The constant bombardment of the audience with water and fire on that vast visual vista probably stirs primeval instincts in the audience, though we wouldn’t know what to do with them, other than sit back and shout. IMAX has opened the film in 125 theaters, and that’s the way to experience this rollercoaster ride. The mammoth image is clean and sharp, and the sound mix is brilliant. Good as Home Theater systems have gotten, I can’t imagine this working half as well in a living room. In fact, after theaters have slipped into disuse, after they’ve finally been outmoded due to the virtues of the at-home experience, I still envision IMAX as the one experience that will remain worth paying for a baby sitter, high ticket prices, and a meal out. POSEIDON will convince you that I’m right.

Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Screenwriter: Mark Protosevich
Based on the novel by: Paul Gallico
Producers: Wolfgang Petersen, Duncan Henderson, Mike Fleiss, Akiva Goldsman
Executive producers: Kevin Burns, Jon Jashni, Sheila Allen, Benjamin Waisbren
Director of photography: John Seale
Production designer: William Sandell
Music: Klaus Badelt
Co-producers: Todd Arnow, Kimberly Miller, Chris Briggs
Costume designer: Erica Edell Phillips
Editor: Peter Honess
Visual effects supervisor: Boyd Shermis
Special effects supervisor: John Frazier

Dylan Johns: Josh Lucas
Robert Ramsey: Kurt Russell
Richard Nelson: Richard Dreyfuss
Jennifer Ramsey: Emmy Rossum
Maggie James: Jacinda Barrett
Christian: Mike Vogel
Elena: Mia Maestro
Conor James: Jimmy Bennett
Captain Bradford: Andre Braugher
Lucky Larry: Kevin Dillon
Valentin: Freddy Rodriguez
Gloria: Stacy Ferguson

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