When we all heard that The Poseidon Adventure was getting a huge remake with Wolfgang Petersen at the helm, expectations were sky-high given the source material and Wolfgang’s previous sea movie form. Whilst a battle of movie studio wills meant that Wolfgang stormed away from the project afterwards saying his vision was heavily neutered, I personally thoroughly enjoyed the remake. Will it earn awards for big character arcs and heartfelt moments? No – but Poseidon is a beast all of its own.
The disasters faced
A rogue wave, a falling elevator, lots and lots of water and fire, electrical wiring and a ship that is busy literally ripping itself to pieces. All the while, possibly the most frightening things is watching Fergie try to look smouldering whilst crying…
Poseidon is upside down on the fifteenth minute of the film – and that includes a two and half-minute credits sequence which was, at the time of release, the longest single shot effects sequence to have been made for film to date.
Robert is on a cruise with his daughter Jen and her boyfriend Chris. Incredibly protective of her and mistrusting of Christians intentions, Robert is as subtle as an old school 1950’s father. Jen and Chris are on tenterhooks because they are newly engaged but aren’t sure when will be the best time to tell them.
Robert, an ex Mayor, decides to let off steam by playing poker on New Years Eve alongside ‘Lucky Larry’ (you know he won’t last long with that name) and Dylan. Dylan is a professional gambler who also has a charm and an eye for the ladies. That is until he bumps into Maggie who gives as good as she gets on the flirting scale. She is on the cruise with her young son Conor who has a PSP so I automatically approve of him. Then, without warning, a rogue wave hits the ship and turns it almost 360 degrees over before it rolls back to being capsized. Explosions rip through the ship and carnage is widespread.
When the rogue wave hits the SS Poseidon just after the New Year chimes in, Robert, Dylan, Maggie, Conor and the recently dumped architect Nelson are all trapped in the dinning room with the Captain and singer Gloria. Nelson was busy about to jump off the boat as a lonely man when he spot the rogue wave and came to his senses. Meanwhile, two floors below them, which is now above the dinning room, Larry, Jen and Chris were in the disco when the ship turned over. Chris is trapped under some lighting equipment and Jen enlists the help of Elena to get him free. Elena had stowed away on the ship to see her sick brother.
The Captain wants everyone to stay put but Dylan doesn’t fancy his chances. What he wasn’t expecting was for Maggie, Conor and Nelson to come along for the ride. Robert then joins the group on the condition that they go to the disco to rescue Jen & Chris on the way to rescue. Dylan then enlists the help of Valentin, the ships waiter with whom Elena was hiding with to be Dylan’s map to get them through the carnage.
As team dinning room make it toward team disco, the Captain, Gloria and the rest of the dinner party stay behind to wait for help. The problem for all three groups? The SS Poseidon is dying – ripping itself apart, buckling under pressure and then drowning under its own weight. Will anyone make it to the propellers to make a bid for freedom and will rescue arrive in time?
Why is it worth watching?
I think people who will come into Poseidon with the preconception that the movie will have a similar tone to the original will be sorely disappointed. You need to almost rinse the original from your mind. Mia Maestro tugs at the heart-strings but not in the same way Shirley Winters will, the blossoming romance Maggie and Dylan is sweet but modernised and not as pristine as Nonnie and Mister Martin. There is no camp element to the remake and the heart, while there in the background, has been torn out and stamped on. This is a mean film and therefore will not satisfy anyone waiting for a Linda Rogo put down!
Instead, under the expert guide of Wolfgang Petersen and the effects teams, Poseidon relishes in throwing the cast into real sets full of water and fire. Whilst green screen and CGI was used, the film was largely made from practical effects and it shows. The cast shield from the heat of the fire and look genuinely worried when it bellows near. The water is real and watching the cast swimming around, gasping for breath and struggle across the sets of carnage makes the movie gritty. Particularly in the first two thirds of the movie, there is a lot of really good camera cuts that show short one or two seconds of various characters reacting to what’s going on around them. It makes the film feel fast paced and fluid and I really enjoyed this way of cutting across the different challenges the survivors face. You can also see that the cast did their own stunts too as its a hugely physical movie and the camera shots you get show the actors doing the things in both wide and close up. I really appreciate all the effort involved.
Sadly, where the film does lack is in the characterisation and story beats. Wolfgang said after he finished that the film that was released was missing at least 20 minutes of character driven scenes that would have fleshed out the characters. Depending on when and how they would have been placed in the film, I think that this could have only benefited the film no end. Some characters barely get any screen time and so it is more difficult to care for them if you are less invested. That being said, one of the films strengths is also its relentless assault of problems thrown at the survivors so if the character arcs weren’t evolving as they were escaping maybe it would have slowed the film down.
The opening credits was at the time, the longest continuous CGI effect produced. Sadly, you can also tell its CGI even though it is impressive. Everything’s a bit too clean. Aside from that however the effects are absolutely stunning. The capsizing has people flying everywhere, as does the flooding of the dinning room. It looks impressive as its full of real water and stunt actors. As the actors all appear to do their own stunts too – swimming, jumping, running around fire and being swept away, it enabled Poseidon to make the most of stunning wideshots and gritty close ups. There is no need for wobbly cameras to distract you when you have the real thing happening on set! The sets were all made to tilt and be submerged into water. That means the water is genuinely pouring in everywhere and that is why the actors aren’t acting – they are reacting.
Lucky Larry aside, the cast are on the whole quite likeable and that helps the movie speed along. The Robert, Jen and Chris story line shines all of them in decent lights and takes a somewhat predictable but gruesome end. Nelson is gay but in a great piece of underplayment (which is now a word), it is barely mentioned nor made alight to except for a somewhat symbolic moment in an elevator shaft with Valentin. Elena is the Latino mashup of Nonnie and Belle from the original and whilst Maggie is reduced to shouting ‘Conor’ a lot, they are both given moments to shine. The character who really carries the whole thing is Dylan though. Josh Lucas puts in a fantastic performance as he – just like Reverend Scott in the original – slowly loses faith. Instead of it being about God, this time it is in himself and his escape plan. His gambit of emotions across the whole film are captivating.
‘Oy vey – that would be ironic….’Nelson when Elena passes him a crucifix to try and unscrew a bolt.
Three favourite moments
- The whole capsizing is absolutely superb cinema.
- The section in the metal shaft for being so claustrophobic and tense.
- Conor and Maggie trapped either side of a metal grating as the water rises up.
The obligatory weirdest moment
I did enjoy how Christian’s leg heals like a miracle charm. He goes from pinned to being the monkey boy across the broken scenic elevator in about ten minutes. My other weird moment is just how much of a cartoon character Lucky Larry was. It completely goes against the entire tone of the rest of the movie. It isn’t even that he is comic relief either because he is an utter tosser so I felt like he was there just to be killed off in an impressive way. Thankfully – he is.
The drinking game
There is a computer game called Heavy Rain and in it one of the main characters loses his son Jason. You play as the father looking for his son and you can repeatedly press a button to make him shout JASON! I feel like Maggie was a precursor for this game as she shouts Conor throughout the entire movie constantly. Watch as it becomes more and more Irish as the film goes on too.
I’d love to see the original cut with all the character development back in as if it was important to Wolfgang to fight for it, I feel like it should be worth seeing. Whilst I wait for a directors cut, the current version of Poseidon is a visceral masterpiece of technical wizardry and actors literally being dragged through hell and back. For that, it’s worth every popcorn munching minute of your TV time. Superb!
Rating: 5 / 5 – My Personal Favourites
If you liked Poseidon then you may like…
- The Poseidon Adventure – The original is still untouchable in my humble opinion.
- The Last Voyage – The 1960 classic boating disaster is still a stunning movie.
- Cloverfield – For me, the two films share a visceral reactionary DNA.
This review was updated on 24/05/20 to comply with ILDM’s new review format.