Various things can influence filmmakers as storytellers, but when certain themes or plotlines repeatedly show up in their repertoire, it's worth examining what might be the root cause. For both director James Cameron and Wolfgang Peterson, it's obvious that they have a fascination with people in peril in watery environs. After all, Cameron put a host of characters under the H20 in "The Abyss" and has dealt with "Titanic" in both fictitious and documentary films.
For Peterson, he first made his global splash with "Das Boot" (the German U-boat flick) and then went on to box office success with "The Perfect Storm. He now returns to the genre with his remake of "The Poseidon Adventure," now truncated to just "Poseidon."
For those not familiar with the 1972 film, based on the novel by Paul Gallico (just like this effort), it was a fairly well-made if occasionally campy thriller where an ocean liner gets turned over by a wave and the survivors must go down (inside the ship) to go up (toward the surface) in hopes of finding a way out as the flood waters continue to rise around them.
Featuring the likes of Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Roddy McDowall , Shelly Winters and the Oscar winning, but quickly grating Maureen McGovern song "(There's Got to be) The Morning After," it made quite an impression on yours truly (at the ripe old age of 8) and is probably one of the films that got me interested in screenwriting. The first of producer Irwin Allen's disaster flicks, it was an example of simple but effective storytelling.
Simplified even more -- thanks to the barebones adaptation by Mark Protosevich -- this film would seem to have the same thing going for it. Most of the characters are barely personified and the money shot -- the rogue wave "attack" on the cruise ship -- occurs within minutes of the start. Yet, while it might be technically adept (set and production design, editing, cinematography are all first-rate), it flounders when it comes to engaging the viewer.
And that's why Cameron was introduced into this review. Say what you will about the dialogue in "Titanic" or the disappointing ending of "The Abyss," the peril and action sequences in those movies are about as good as they get, and the inevitable comparisons to what's offered here don't favor this film. Simply put, you don't care about any of the characters (some of which have tiny tidbits of back-story -- a failed mayor, a former Navy man, etc.) and whether they literally and figuratively sink or swim.
Yes, some of the sequences are fairly riveting, but without any sort of attachment to the characters, they're just empty moments of peril. And unlike the first film where you easily followed the path taken by the survivors, everything here feels disjointed at best, as if all of those big set pieces and sequences of peril could have been rearranged without any ill effect (as long as they followed the catalyst and wrapped up before the conclusion).
What are also missing are the memorable moments. Who can forget the Christmas tree scene from the first film where the characters use the massive structure as a climbing tower to get up/down to the next level, or the scene where Hackman's character jumps out and grabs the scalding hot valve wheel to insure the others' safety? One can also cite similar examples from Cameron's watery films, and the lackluster results here make one ponder what the long overdue feature filmmaker could have done with this story.
The performances are okay but unremarkable among the cast that sometimes exudes -- appropriately enough, I suppose -- a certain B-movie quality. Kurt Russell and Josh Lucas vie for the take charge leader, while Emmy Rossum, Jacinda Barrett and Mia Maestro play variations of the damsel in distress character.
Richard Dreyfuss' character is portrayed as gay for no apparent reason, and isn't allowed what would have been the coup de grace bit of dialogue upon being the first person to see the enormous wave -- "You're gonna need a bigger boat." Others, such as the terrific Andre Braugher (as the captain), are completely wasted, while the rest are present simply to make you wonder who's going to make it and who won't.
The only problem is that you likely won't care. Reportedly sporting a budget that only makes it feel more bloated than it already is, the film may work on a technical level, but it sinks when it comes to the human element, both on the screen and how we react to what we're being fed. It's clearly no "Titanic" and certainly not as much fun as the original.