Proving that it wasn’t just horror movies that got noticeably shiny remakes during the noughties is Wolfgang Peterson’s redo of the classic 70’s sinky ship thriller The Poseidon Adventure – but then I guess the disaster genre and the horror genre aren’t that different when you get down to it.
Both feature their casts getting remorselessly pruned one by one for our entertainment as they relentlessly fight for their very lives against enthusiastically traumatic deaths that they blatantly don’t deserve as we witness their misery with all the callousness of a greek God. Needlessly to say, I love ’em but after their original explosion in the 70’s and their resurgence in the 90’s, things had dried up a little since despite the occasional effort from modern disaster master Roland Emmerich. Re-enter the S.S. Poseidon, surging in on a wave that no one really asked for in an attempt to kick start a genre that, thanks to films like Titanic, had evolved beyond the “greet them, yeet them” approach of the genre.
It’s New Years eve and the RMS Poseidon is making a transatlantic crossing while all on board are partying like it’s their last night on earth – it’s a good fucking thing too, because hurtling their way is a huge rogue wave that’s literally going to turn their worlds upside down. But before it hits, we get to meet a random cross section of the passengers who’s destined to play a fatal game of Total Wipe Out throughout the ruined sections of an inverted ship.
There’s former firefighter/former New York mayor Robert Ramsey who is overly protective of his daughter Jennifer despite the fact that she’s on the verge of getting engaged to her boyfriend Christian, then there’s cynical professional gambler Dylan Johns who is also a former Navy submariner (there’s a lot of formers in this film), suicidal architect Richard Nelson, Maggie James and her typically annoying moppet Conor and waiter Marco who has smuggled aboard stowaway Elana who is trying to gain passage in order to see a sick relative. All band together after the luxury liner rolls over like a puppy playing dead and try and pick their way to freedom despite the demands of the overconfident Captain. On their way up to the bottom of the ship to hopefully escape through the propeller shaft they’ll have to negotiate flash fires, copious flooding, claustrophobic ducts and the overacting of Kevin Dillon’s dice rolling sleezeball, Lucky Larry; but the further they go, the more their number gets whittled down by regular acts of tragedy.
Will the survivors make it while Robert and Dylan, their two “leaders”, bicker about the best way to save them all or are they all destined to end up crushed, burnt or have their lungs filled with more water than a sodden sponge as the huge vessel slowly sinks into the ocean depths.
So, to get my more blunt remarks out of the way early, the biggest problem Poseidon had to face is the crushing depths of apathy that many people seem to have for remakes in general, and it’s honestly hard to dispute their point as the orginal 1972 movie isn’t really something that needed to be revisited.
The starry cast and renowned director (After Das Boot and The Perfect Storm, Peterson has as much restraint from staying away from the water as Ariel from The Little Mermaid) don’t manage to add anything particularly new to the genre except more complicated action sequences and impressive sets and visuals – the Poseidon almost rolling a full 360 degrees only to lurch back to being upside down is a genuinely neat touch – but overall it doesn’t really add anything new.
Still, the cast is fun enough – I mean you can’t go that wrong with casting Kurt Russell – but it’s somewhat telling that Richard Dreyfus came out of retirement to play a kindly, gay architect only to go right back into it the moment filming wrapped. After all the running time tells you everything you need to know as it clocks in at a shockingly brief ninety nine minutes, around twenty minutes or so shorter than the original which all but confirms that this remake doesn’t have much to say.
Still, it’s fairly wise in it’s decision to not rejig any of the characters or situations from the original directly into this update – I mean, they’d have no chance topping the heart breaking end of Shelly Winters’ Mrs Rosen anyway – but it does sort or recreate some of the character types, like Dreyfus’ character mirroring Red Button’s quietly spoken nice bachelor or the yelled debates between Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine being riffed on by Russell and Josh Lucas.
However, I do have to admit that it’s treatment of it’s non-white characters is fairly alarming, as (Spoiler Warning) not only do Freddy Rodriguez and Mía Maestro’s characters fail to make it to the end credits but play a waiter and stowaway respectively while all the white characters are all relatively well-off guests. You could argue that Brooklyn 99’s Andre Braugher typically uptight Captain breaks that streak but then again, he gets obliterated by cascading water while he comforts Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas in their final moments (no, really).
And yet, despite the fact that it has no real reason to exist, when watched randomly in a vacum, Poseidon is really no better or worse that most of it’s ilk and while it sinks from the memory far quicker than the titular boat itself, things are perfectly fine while the adventure is in full flow. It even has a moment or two that jar a genuine reaction, such as an over zealous Nelson getting his bridge work rearranged by a burst hatch or the truly upsetting sight of (spoilers again, gang) one of the main cast performing a drowning scene in the last act that’s freakishly realistic looking and it’s only because this actor has turned up in stuff since that I believe that Poseidon isn’t a snuff film with a budget of $160 million.
Exciting enough while it’s going through the motions, Poseidon nevertheless is hardly an essential entry in the ranks of a genre that’s always worked overtime when trying to put the fear of god into people when it comes to basic pleasures such as cruises, tall buildings and the earth’s crust maintain it’s basic integrity…