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Back when disaster flicks were the newest craze, the producers (almost invariably Irwin Allen) had two things to sell their movies on: big, expensive spectacle and huge, colorful, all-star casts. The reason there was so much cornball character development and overripe speechifying in the older disaster flicks is a simple one: Each performer wanted their fair shot at an Oscar nomination.
There are no such aspirations to be found in the new-fangled Poseidon, which kicks in with the high-end mayhem less than 19 minutes after the movie begins. If the goal was to jettison all the painfully prosaic back-stories and the yawn-inducing "eventual victim development" found within all the old-fashioned disaster epics, then Poseidon director Wolfgang Petersen has done a fine job here. The remake really does feel like a 98-minute action sequence, with each death-laden set-piece firmly gridlocked together. Frankly there's an enjoyably tense sense of urgency to Poseidon that the original Poseidon Adventure didn't have.
This ship is sinking fast - and it's not about to hold off for a few minutes so someone can deliver a mega-weepy anguish-speech about Jewish grandkids in Israel or the role that God plays within a capsized ocean liner. (Old-school disaster flicks are notorious for their over-bloated dialogue volleys and sadly under-written melodrama. Try sitting through the first hour of Earthquake to understand what Petersen and screenwriter Mark Protosevich are trying to avoid in Poseidon.)
Nope, all the emotional baggage is promptly tossed overboard once the Poseidon tips over, which some will see as callous and soulless ... while others will choose to see Petersen's remake as a big-budget horror flick; an upside-down nightmare in which you care about who lives considerably less than you care about who's going to die next. And taken as a gritty, dangerous, semi-unpredictable survival thriller, Poseidon works well enough ... provided you don't think about it too closely. (The last 45 seconds of the movie are particularly moronic, but I won't go into the specifics.) It's full bore "popcorn material" through and through, but it's well-crafted silliness all the same.
Cruise liner flips over; people try to escape. Period. If you need more of a plot synopsis than that, I'd highly recommend you give the original Poseidon Adventure a fresh rental; it sure isn't brain surgery, but it is a lot of white-knuckle fun. This time around our survivors include a former fireman / former mayor (Kurt Russell), an outrageously obnoxious lounge lizard (Kevin Dillon), a doe-eyed pair of gorgeous young lovers (Mike Vogel & Emmy Rossum), a suicidal old gay guy (Richard Dreyfuss), a young mother and son (Jacinda Barrett & Jimmy Bennett), an unlucky waiter (Freddy Rodriguez), a comely stowaway (Mia Maestro), and a grizzled ex-Navy man (Josh Lucas) who ends up saving the day. We're given just enough character development to give everyone a brush-stroke and then, flip, we're off. And for all its narrative road-blocks, pot-holes, and speed-bumps, when Poseidon sticks to its checklist of tightly-conjoined action scenes, it's a pretty enjoyable affair.
So what Petersen loses in depth of character and emotional investment, he seems more than happy to make up for in tension, claustrophobia, and the omnipresent sense of sudden death. That we don't get to "know" these characters is not all that important; they're human enough to make us hope they survive, and they're certainly human enough to make the death scenes dark and memorable ... for the most part, anyway.
While one could call both Poseidon adventures "guilty pleasures," I'd happily stick with the original film's semi-meandering pace and day-glo character development over the remake's "shake & bake" pacing and high-speed presentation. They're both fun flicks, though, and I suspect they'd make for a pretty entertaining double feature ... provided you can live without the use of your brain for four consecutive hours.
(Review reprinted from eFilmCritic.com)