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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past six months, you already know that Poseidon is more or less a remake of Irwin Allen’s The Poseidon Adventure, the film that jump started the whole disaster film craze of the 1970s. That picture went on to be the biggest hit of 1972, and its success opened the floodgates to a number of movies that followed its formula of throwing together a large cast of well known actors, giving them their own complicated storylines, and placing them all in some sort of life and death situation by the end of the first act.

Poseidon
Pictures such as Allen’s own The Towering Inferno and Universal’s Earthquake continued to set box office records, but by the close of the decade the end had finally come for the big budget disaster epic. With movies such as Beyond the Poseidon Adventure and the killer bee thriller The Swarm among the last produced in the decade, the genre seemed to burn itself out as the box office receipts dwindled and the quality of the films diminished.

If movie history has ever taught us anything though it’s that everything comes and goes in cycles, and the big budget disaster epic has certainly seen a resurgence of sorts over the past ten years. Movies such as Independence Day, Dante’s Peak, Daylight, and The Day After Tomorrow have all borrowed from Allen’s formula with mixed results, and even reigning box office king Titanic owes a bit of its success to the genre. When you take into consideration the current Hollywood trend of attempting to remake just about everything under the sun, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that someone would eventually revisit the movie that arguably started it all.

What is surprising—for better and for worse—is that while Wolfgang Petersen’s Poseidon is at its core a disaster flick, it also doesn’t exactly go by the book either. Instead of taking a third of the movie to introduce and develop each character, Mark Protosevich’s script basically tosses out what would constitute the first act of any other film in the genre by diving right into the thick of the things before you’ve even settled into your seat. No less than fifteen minutes in, a gigantic rogue wave capsizes the titular luxury cruise liner in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on New Year’s Eve, leaving a number of partygoers stranded in the ship’s ballroom. Card shark and loner Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas) decides that staying with the rest of the survivors isn’t his safest bet, so he reluctantly leads a small group of passengers—among them ex-fireman and former mayor of New York Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell), his daughter Jennifer (Emmy Rossum) and her boyfriend Christian (Mike Vogel), single mother Maggie (Lucinda Barrett) and son Conor (Jimmy Bennett), and suicidal architect Richard Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss)—onwards and upwards through the ship in the hope of finding a way out.

Poseidon
For the rest of Poseidon’s breezy 98-minute running time the group must navigate a number of obstacles, and in the hands of a lesser director the entire exercise might have degenerated into absolute tedium. No stranger to action or water, Petersen does his best to keep everything exciting and the suspense relentless with more than a couple of intense and well choreographed sequences that come one right after another. The effects work—both digital and practical—is also top notch with the early capsizing of the ship and a trek across its upside down lobby among the standouts, and along with the picture’s impressive set design Poseidon has plenty of sweet eye candy to go along with its waterlogged fireworks.

The only real problem with Poseidon lies within the very same script that does such a great job when it comes to placing its protagonists in peril. There’s so much invested in getting the characters moving towards the next calamity that it leaves little room for the actors to interact or express any emotion other than either shock or fear, and the result is a picture that’s about as shallow as a kiddie pool and a washout dramatically. Some of the characters are fleshed out a bit along the journey and enough depth is created over the course of time that you get a sense of who they are, but not enough to really feel for them in their situation. On one hand it’s quite refreshing that the filmmakers chose to go this route seeing as how many other disaster films choose to lay the schmaltz on a bit thick, but on the other the right amount would have given it the gravitas it sorely lacks.

I guess when it comes right down to it your enjoyment of the movie will depend entirely on what type of flick you’re in the mood for. As an action piece, Poseidon does just what it intends to buy delivering some thrills and exiting stage left before it’s worn out its welcome, but those looking for something more balanced in the drama department will find it lacking.

Poseidon
Video
Warner Home Video has given Poseidon an anamorphically enhanced widescreen presentation at its theatrically exhibited aspect ratio of 2.35:1 for its DVD debut, and the resulting video transfer is excellent. The movie is often times dark and murky, but the transfer features nice black levels and handles contrasts between light and dark very well while keeping any grain virtually non-existent. There’s also a lot of constantly moving environmental effects such as water and smoke that require a higher bit rate so that compression artefacts and pixilation are kept to a minimum, and the transfer excels in this area as well. The source print used for the DVD-video is also free of any artefacts such as dirt and debris, which is to be expected seeing as Poseidon is a recently released, major production. Overall, Warner has certainly done right by the film as far as the video department is concerned.

Audio
Poseidon contains Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio tracks in English, French, and Spanish along with optional subtitles for each language, and the audio on the disc will certainly put your home theatre system through the wringer, but in a good way. The sound design makes it abundantly obvious you’re on a sinking ship with lots of ambient effects during the quieter moments in the film, and when the bigger action sequences kick in all the channels are put to good use. Dialogue is clear coming from the centre channel even when competing against the sounds of rushing water or explosions, and there aren’t any noticeable dropouts or a trace of distortion to be found. Overall, the only knock I have against the audio is simply the lack of choice on the disc; as far as Dolby 5.1 tracks go this one is about as good as it gets, but it would’ve been nice to have had the choice of selecting an alternate DTS track or a more advanced ES or EX one instead.

Poseidon
Extras
The single-disc edition of Poseidon I received for review contains the movie’s effective theatrical trailer and a making-of featurette entitled ‘Poseidon: A Ship on a Soundstage’ that has a running time of right around 25-minutes. The featurette is rather broad in scope and mainly showcases how certain special effects and stunts were pulled off for the film with many of the main participants from both behind and in front of the cameras contributing blurbs throughout. The most revealing aspect of the featurette is a look at how the opening shot of the film was created, but other segments such as the destruction of the ballroom and Josh Lucas’ brush with fire are quite interesting as well.

These two features are all fine and dandy, but what the disc really lacks is a commentary track, preferably one recorded by the film’s director, Wolfgang Petersen. I’ve always found Petersen to be quite insightful and definitely among the best when it comes to recording director commentary, and I suggest that anyone who hasn’t already done so give him a listen on either The Perfect Storm, Das Boot, or Air Force One. Even a cast commentary would have been great to hear with the always enjoyable and candid Kurt Russell as one of the participants, but much like Warner Home Video’s release of Petersen’s underrated Troy the exclusion of such a feature is a major disappointment.

Poseidon
Overall
If you’re looking for a typical disaster film loaded with all the trappings of the genre then Poseidon might not be your bag. Wolfgang Petersen’s movie pretty much discards a lot of what’s expected from such pictures, and besides some nice action set pieces and great effects offers little else in between all its water and explosions. Still, I enjoyed it for what it is and found myself entertained much more than I expected to be when I first popped the disc into my player. On the technical side of things, Warner Home Video’s DVD offers up both a great picture and good sound, but the supplements lack in both quantity and quality. Overall, I wouldn’t call Poseidon a must own disc, but I’d definitely recommend a rental with the thought of a purchase stowed away in the back of your mind.


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