The disaster movie is tricky. You either bring out the disaster early to try and gain the audiences interest soon or you wait while building tension towards the threat. This outrageously expensive remake of a 1972 film, Poseidon Adventure, is one that runs out of steam early by giving audiences what they want far too early. All that’s left is for clichéd, dull, uninteresting characters to discover a way out of their predicament.
As if on cue, things begin to go south at the 15-minute mark. After establishing the characters at a most basic level, a rouge wave slams the side of a cruise ship (rather obviously named Poseidon), knocking it upside down in the middle of nowhere. Thanks to their cell phone carriers lack of underwater service, no survivors are able to call for help. If they were lucky, family could help get them out of this movie before it gets any worse.
Most of the films budget was obviously spent on this extravagant sequence, brutal and spectacular to watch. Some of the people falling to their death land harshly on what have now become the main floor. A few certainly challenge the MPAA’s PG-13.
Even at a brisk 90 minutes, the film is over after this point. If you’ve ever seen a disaster movie before, you can pick out the victims early, aside from one surprise late in the film. The characters slowly prowl through the overturned ship, and of course their paths only become deadly when the last person is trying to make it past a section. It’s amazing how the ship can hold together when the main characters are progressing, yet falls apart the minute an unknown makes a move.
Their journey is rife with standard plot devices, from the overbearing father to the annoying attempt at comic relief. Dialogue breaks down into standard “yes” and head nodding as they put simple plans of escape into action. When they do talk, it’s simply to let the audience know what the plan is in plain English. It’s always good to have someone on hand to explain any technicalities regardless of the situation.
Poseidon is over once the escapees decide to take along a kid too dumb to know when to get out of danger. If there’s a golden rule with disaster movies, it’s that the kid is never the smartest choice for your party. The second rule is to not spend mounds of cash making them unless they’ll try something unique.
Poseidon makes solid use of the format. Set details are gorgeous, and the extra effort spent setting them up pays off in higher resolution. Black levels are pristine, along with rich color. The only noticeable problems come from a light grain, noticeable mostly in the opening 15 minutes, though it does tend to creep up on occasion later. It’s a minor flaw at its worst, though it’s definitely there if you’re looking.
Presented with a high end Dolby True HD mix, the film simply couldn’t sound any better. The wave sequence alone is the worth the entry price for audiophiles. The boat rocks and sinks throughout, providing flawless audio cues to its status. Audio volume is significantly high, and makes a huge impact during action scenes, though it can make quieter dialogue difficult to decipher during downtime.
Warner releases this HD disc with their new In-Movie, hosted by star Josh Lucas. These rather annoying although informative features run concurrent with the movie via picture-in-picture window, and are unavailable elsewhere on the disc. Outside of the film, the History Channel provides an informative look at Rogue Waves, the phenomenon, and what scientists are doing to learn about them to prevent future problems. Generous clips from Poseidon fill some of the running time.
Poseidon: Upside Down is an 11 minute look at the films giant sets and trouble constructing them upside down. Ship on a Soundstage further looks at the issues the crew had assembling the film from all aspects. It’s a lot of praising and talking heads over some nice behind the scenes footage.
The best feature on the disc is Shipmates Diary following a young film student on her trek through her first Hollywood feature. Her comparisons to her school projects in terms of scope and money are priceless. If you’re wondering why these Hollywood epics cost so much in the end, this shows a lot of the reasons from food down to the lowliest jobs on the set. It’s a shame this is only 12 minutes.
Director Wolfgang Peterson wraps up a trilogy of water/ship movies with Poseidon. 1981’s Das Boot, a super long (nearly five hours) submarine epic is by far his best work, following that up almost 20 years later with the George Clooney vehicle Perfect Storm in 2000. He should have quit while he was ahead.