Wolfgang Peterson's 2006 remake of The Poseidon Adventure is, like the original film and the novel that it's based on, set on a massive ocean liner which sets sail on New Year's Eve. As the vessel heads out to see, it's smacked by a massive rogue wave and it capsizes killing many of its passengers and crew members.
The captain of the boat (Andre Braugher) wants everyone who is in the ship's massive ballroom to stay where they are, insisting that the GPS system will alert rescue crews to their location and telling everyone that there's enough air in the boat to keep them afloat until they arrive. Of course, a few passengers decide to branch out on their own. A former fireman named Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell) wants to get his daughter out of the nightclub that she and her boyfriend, Christian (Mike Vogel) were in before the ship turned over. With some help from a playboy type named Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas), a gay architect named Richard Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss), a crewmember named Valentine (Freddie Rodriguez) and his stowaway girlfriend, Mia (Elena Morales) they decide to make a break for the stranded kids. A mother and her young son, Maggie (Jacinda Barrett) and Connor James (Jimmy Bennett), are along for the haul as is an obnoxious gambler named Lucky Larry (Kevin Dillon).
Of course, as this group makes their way towards what they hope will be safety, the ship continues to sink which causes more than a few problems for our survivors. As they climb through the ship, now completely upside down, they have to deal with fire, electrical problems, debris of all kind, and of course, the rising water and not everyone will make it out alive...
Peterson has assembled a pretty solid ensemble cast for his 'update' of the original film and he's used all the technology at his disposal to provide plenty of spectacle. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way someone forgot to actually bother to develop the characters and so the talented actors and actresses who appear in the film are essentially wasted in very basic roles that are almost entirely interchangeable (surprisingly the only one who really stands out is Kevin Dillon, simply because he's essentially there for comic relief). The script tries to tug at our heart strings fairly consistently throughout the film - Connor is almost constantly in jeopardy and we can feel for his understandably concerned mother, but we can also see all of this coming. Once the kid enters the frame, before the ship even sinks, you know he's going to wind up in constant danger and while there was a similar character in the superior original film, that character played a more important role to the survival of the crew as a whole, whereas here he's nothing more than a plot device meant to evoke our sympathy. Russell is decent enough as the tough old guy of the bunch, but Josh Lucas feels like he's aping Matthew McConaghy here and not doing a particularly good job of it at that. Dreyfuss' character is given very little to do and could have been played by anyone, while Rodriguez gets so little screen time that you'll have forgotten all about him by the time that the movie is over.
Keep that in mind as you go into Poseidon. If you go in knowing that the film is little more than a showcase for some admittedly very impressive special effects and some rather spectacular set pieces and keep your expectations in check accordingly, it's not a horrible film at all. It looks absolutely gorgeous and while some of the CGI that was cutting edge a few years ago is starting to show its age, Peterson has done a pretty impressive job creating a spectacle. He's given us a lot to look at here -t here are plenty of explosions and waves and scenes of water levels getting higher and higher and some amazing sound design work at play here. There is a solid atmosphere in the film and some good tension worked in among the scenes of sappiness and melodrama. For some this may be enough to give the film a pass, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. The picture is entertaining enough as it stands, but you can't help but feel it should and could have been a whole lot better.
Warner's 2.40.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p high definition presentation of Poseidon look pretty decent even if it makes the already dated CGI scenes look exceptionally phony. The famous opening shot in which our hero runs across the deck of the massive boat, done entirely in green screen, may have once looked amazingly realistic to less discerning eyes but here looks like the digital effect that it is. That complaint aside, the transfer is otherwise quite good. The underwater scenes look surprisingly clear and there aren't any obvious authoring issues like edge enhancement or compression artifacts to complain about. Detail levels are noticeably improved over the standard definition release and color reproduction looks great. There are a couple of spots where shadow detail isn't quite as strong as it could be and things get just a little bit murky but overall this is quite a good looking picture we have here.
More impressive is the film's English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. Right from the beginning scene we know that there's going to be a lot going on in terms of surround activity and we get plenty of detail to listen for throughout the movie. The scenes in the ballroom where Fergie is performing sound great with all the different instruments easy to pick out, while the scene in which the wave first hits the boat has all the power and punch you'd expect it to as it delivers a nice, low end rumble. As the boat starts sinking, all manner of eerie creaking sounds surround you from all sides and really put you in the middle of all the chaos. If there's one fault here it's that the dialogue can periodically get a little buried in amidst all of the chaos. Thankfully this doesn't happen too often but it can be an occasional problem.
Optional Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mixes are supplied in Parisian French, French Canadian, and Spanish while subtitles are offered in English SDH, French and Spanish.
All of the supplements that are on here have been carried over from the DVD release and are, unfortunately, presented in standard definition. Basically, we get four featurettes that relate to the movie, the first of which is Poseidon: A Ship On A Soundstage (22:42) which is an interesting look at how Peterson and his crew went about creating the sets that were used for the boat, many of which were being worked on before the script was even finished. There are some standard interviews with the cast and crew in here, all of whom seem impressed with the project. It's interesting to note how many of the cast did their own stunts whenever possible, even young Jimmy Bennett.
A Shipmate's Diary: A Film School Intern's Experiences On Set (12:22) is just what it sounds like, a series of video diary entries made by Malona Voigt who worked as a production assistant on the film and who is able to provide a moderately interesting fly on the wall look at a few specific aspects of the production. Getting back to the boat itself, Poseidon Upside Down: A Unique Set Design Chronicle (10:45) explains how and why the crew had to build two different sets for the boat to represent the ship before and after the wave hit it. It's quite interesting to see the challenges involved in putting this together and how they managed to make it all work.
The last featurette is Rogue Waves (28:37), which is a fascinating History Channel documentary that explores how rogue waves, such as the one that hits the ship in the feature, form and the kind of devastating impact that they can have on ships that get caught by them. Rounding things out are the requisite menus and chapter selection, though puzzlingly the film's theatrical trailer has not been included.
Poseidon lacks the heart that the original film had and eschews the personal relationships between characters that made the first film interesting in favor of flash and spectacle. Peterson's film may deliver a lot of high tech effects work, but it fails to bother even fleshing out its characters and more often than not they come across as entirely disposable. That said, it's a brainlessly entertaining way to kill an hour and a half and Warner Brothers has done a fine job on the film's Blu-ray debut. Recommended to those who already know that they like the film, a solid rental for the curious.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.