The summer season is upon us, but it sure doesn't feel like it. "Mission: Impossible III," which actually kicked ass in more ways than one, opened to a less-than-stellar box office. One week later: "Poseidon" opens amidst scouring reviews, a "what was the point of this remake?" feel about it, and a $20 million opening weekend gross, which, for a May blockbuster that cost anywhere between $140 and $200 million to make, is absolutely inexcusable.
Surprisingly, "Poseidon" isn't the flop it's cracked up to be, and ranks up there alongside any other standard disaster flick - a bit mindless, a bit of a stretch, but fun nonetheless.
Emmy Rossum, who escaped a tidal wave in 2004's "The Day After Tomorrow," falls victim to the wave again, this time while on a cruise ship with her boyfriend and father, both played by Kurt Russell. Okay, Russell only plays her uptight father while Mike Vogel plays her boyfriend, but we can pretend, can't we? To the point, I bring up "The Day After Tomorrow" for a very specific reason. That disaster flick, while boasting much better graphics, suffered from a lack of suspense and a non-existent ending. "Poseidon" keeps you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end, or at least near the edge of your seat as much as a standard disaster flick where it is pretty clear who will live and who will die can. "Poseidon" isn't the most phenomenal action movie ever, nor does it beat out the original - which warrants the very good question of why, other than making money, should Warner Brothers have remade such a classic - but it holds your attention and even your breath at times. The scene where everyone is crossing the elevator shaft on a metal plank makes you nervous, even if the result is shown in the previews. When every single character is stuck in a vertical shaft as the water rises quickly around them, you feel the dread. And the movie certainly doesn't shy away from showing death, as it takes its time displaying countless people drowning, falling to their death and being burned alive. Yes, it is still PG-13.
Even if the film is a bit mindless, it never really waves any blatant logic holes in your face. Furthermore, the dialogue, which was one of the things other critics were latching onto as a sore spot, really isn't all that bad. Sure, the screenplay is far from winning an Oscar, but aside from a few stupid lines here or there, it does its part to hold a bunch of action scenes together.
Wolfgang Petersen, whose best movies are years behind him, does a decent job of creating a claustrophobic environment, but I think he could have taken it another notch. There are moments where the characters are forced to crawl through piles of dead bodies, yet he never slows for even a minute to truly capture the emotional impact that such a sight would inflict upon his players. On top of that, one of the biggest weaknesses of the film is that Petersen, especially near the end, starts to flash away from his group of characters to show the ship sinking from the outside, and to show the ballast tanks filling with water one by one. In the scheme of things these moments seem rather minor, but they add unneeded information to the story. We already know the ship is sinking, so there is no need to show the ballast tanks filling with water. What we don't know is whether there are rescuers outside - that is, until Petersen shows us that there isn't. Had he kept the camera focused on his characters and put us in the same situation that they were - not knowing whether they would find help even if they reached the surface - the film could have been a lot more intense and emotional.
The other weakness of the movie is the special effects. While the camera is inside the ship, the movie looks fine, but the external shots beg the question, "Where did all the money go?" The tidal wave that hits the ship is incredibly cheesy looking, and the whole initial disaster sequence could have been done better. "Titanic" was much more effective, and that was ten years ago.
"Poseidon" won't win any awards and if anything it makes me want to watch the original again, but it is a surprisingly fun and entertainment disaster movie that maintains a decent level of suspense. It may be drowning at the box office, but don't let it drown in your heart. That's my cheesy saying for the day.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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