Review: “Poseidon”

Visually interesting but uninvolving, the remake of “The Poseidon Adventure” is a no frills disaster movie that in some aspects departs from the genre, even as most of the important parts stick right to formula. The body count is high, the effects impressive, the action never really stops and there’s a refreshing refrain at first from sentimentality and unrealistic long-winded emotional speeches.

Sounds good right? Unfortunately not. Even more so than last week’s very ordinary MI3, such a focus on action has left “Poseidon” with practically no character development. So, even when someone unexpectedly dies, as an audience member you simply feel distanced from everything going on and consequently care very little about it all. There’s no-one to get behind, no-one that will elicit a feeling of guilty pleasure from seeing them get their comeuppance, these people are quite frankly candidates for the dullest reality show ever invented.

At 99 minutes the film is significantly shorter than Director Wolfgang Petersen’s other efforts like “The Perfect Storm” or “Troy”, and yet both of those were far more successful Summer movie spectacles. In ‘Storm’ we were emotionally involved with the crew and time was taken to get to know them before their plight. ‘Troy’, despite its pomposity and significant Hollywood makeover, still benefited from being based on one of the greatest stories ever told and had distinctive characters. Even the original “The Poseidon Adventure”, for all its 70’s cheesiness, gave us time to get to know the survivors, thus when a major one died it actually hit us pretty hard.

Here though, all we get is a rather awkward ten minutes of introductions to various one-dimensional characters before the big wave hits, after that it’s pure action/reaction with only the occasional ‘I love you’ moment giving these people any depth. Yet by the end, the only character with any dimension is Kurt Russell and all we know of him is that he’s a firefighting ex-Mayor of New York who likes to gamble, and is a prude when it comes to his teenage daughter – that’s it.

Dreyfuss, Maestro and Lucas try to add a bit more to their stock characters with little success. The first two manage to be the most sympathetic of the gang but undermine that goodwill in later scenes with some uncredible stupidity. Lucas on the other hand undergoes a character transformation that simply rings entirely false. Then there’s the likes of Barrett, Rodriguez, Dillon, Rossum, Vogel, etc. who are so underdeveloped and plain there seems little point in involving them when far cheaper pure unknowns would’ve sufficed.

At times its refreshingly realistic – in a situation like this people are selfish and out only to save themselves, thus the movie avoids the cliche of having the survivors sit around delivering long stories about their emotionally turbulent childhood or love life. Likewise there’s a bit of a mean streak as well here, especially in the first half, that when someone gets trapped or left behind they’re on their own and people aren’t willing to nobly sacrifice themselves for strangers. Unfortunately that goes away as the film progresses with the last half hour filled with acts of macho bravery and pointless self sacrifice.

The action at first is quite spectacular, same with the effects. The film opens with a truly glorious sweeping one-take shot that circles the massive ship, effectively displaying its size and opulence. The wave sequence itself is enthralling, blending strong CG effects with large scale real action and isn’t afraid to show bodies falling, being crushed or in one case undergoing some intense electrocution. After that it all becomes set pieces – some are quite well done such as a climb across fallen pipes over a water pit and one scene with a tightly spaced vent quickly filling with water effectively evokes claustrophobia.

However as the film goes in it becomes more confined, more repetitive and ultimately somewhat ordinary. The last 30-40 minutes feels like the set has been reduced to one or two corridors and people running around up and down along them with the occasional underwater dive to kill off one of their number. A disaster movie has to be either emotionally involving or a fun escapist adventure – this one is neither, far too serious to be any fun and yet far too lightweight to have any gravitas.

Technically its a very proficient movie with everything from the production design, cinematography and effects all at the top of their game. Yet despite its beauty its a cold fish, an experience you’ll walk away from with little to no memory of it. Early on in the disaster its quite enjoyable but it drags, even at a mere 99 minutes, and could certainly have substituted some of its action towards the end with time spent on developing these people we’re following. Neither engaging or particularly interesting, some eye-popping visuals at the start can’t cover up the boredom that builds towards the end. Ultimately very run of the mill average Summer entertainment – action packed but no heart, let alone any sense of fun.