There have been many nautical disaster films—everything from Abandon Ship! to Speed 2: Cruise Control to Titanic—but the granddaddy of them all, the one that started the disaster movie craze of the 1970s was The Poseidon Adventure. It spawned a series of catastrophic calamity movies with names that usually featured an exclamation point, like Earthquake! and earned producer Irwin Allen the title Master of Disaster.
The new version of the film, Poseidon, not only streamlines the title down to the bare essentials, it also cuts the running time from 117 minutes to 98. Also lost is most of the character development. Director Wolfgang Peterson returns to the watery milieu he knows so well, having made Das Boot and The Perfect Storm—this guy has spent more time underwater than David Blaine—but apparently left any well-rounded characters ashore. He dispenses with any sort of character study in the first twenty minutes of the movie, perfunctorily introducing us to the ensemble cast of stock characters before he gets to the main attraction—the ship flip. Once the wave capsizes the ship the movie takes on a video game tone, with a small band of generically stubborn passengers trying to find a way off the sinking ship.
With dialogue that reads something like this, “Wait! I think there is a way out over here! You’ll have to trust me if you want to get out of here alive!” it’s no wonder that the characters disappear, becoming little more than damp counterpoints to the special effects. The Poseidon Adventure starred five Oscar winners, including Ernest Borgnine and Shelley Winters—the remake can only boast one, Richard Dreyfuss—who chewed the scenery and made the best of the corny dialogue. The new cast, anchored by Josh Lucas and Kurt Russell with supporting actors who seem to have been chosen by who looks best when wet, play it straight, clichés and all. The camp value of the original is lost and with it, some of the fun.
As uninvolved with its characters as Poseidon may be the devastation is masterfully realized. The real star here is the special effects. The giant wave, the topsy-turvy ship and the claustrophobic vertical climb through an air conditioning shaft are worth the price of the popcorn.
Character wise Poseidon is little more than a wet t-shirt contest—I’ve played video games with better characters than we find here—but the special effects do offer some thrills and after watching 98 minutes of underwater action you will be grateful to have dry clothes to wear.