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05/30/2006 - POSEIDON

POSEIDON by Tom McCurrie

Let's face it, movie remakes are both a sign of Hollywood's creative bankruptcy (why do all the hard work creating something fresh and inventive when it's so much easier to steal an old idea from the studio vaults) and a sign of total greed (remaking an already successful film is seen as close to a "sure thing" as possible in Hollywood circles, a way to cash in on an audience's nostalgia for a beloved movie from the past). But just because the motivation behind remakes is bad, doesn't mean the remakes themselves have to be. For living proof, take a look at director Wolfgang Petersen's POSEIDON, the mega-budget remake of the granddaddy of all disaster films, 1972's THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE.

Written by Mark Protosevich and based on the novel by Paul Gallico, POSEIDON follows the broad brushstrokes of its predecessor's plot -- a giant wave capsizes a luxury liner, forcing a small, intrepid group of survivors to climb their way to the bottom (now really the top) of the ship so they can escape through the propeller shafts. But the remake improves on the "Me Decade" version in several ways. The most striking is in the quality of the visual effects. In THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, the S.S. Poseidon looked like a bathtub toy (which as a 70s-era miniature it practically was) and the giant wave more like spray from someone's garden hose. However, the GGI (Computer Generated Imagery) in POSEIDON, along with thirty years of improvements in sound design, make the capsizing of the liner much more real, and much more frightening. POSEIDON is also much more streamlined than its forebear, coming in under 100 minutes while the original was nearly twenty minutes longer. In Petersen's film, the capsizing occurs sooner, giving the picture a faster pace, and once the survivors start their climb to the propeller shafts, there are few of the dead spots in the previous version, as Kurt Russell & Co. jump from one frying pan to the next with breathless abandon in their attempt to survive. The deathtraps POSEIDON's characters must overcome tend to be more ingenious as well -- in one terrifically suspenseful scene, the survivors must flood their chamber with water, nearly drowning themselves, in order to create enough pressure to open a hatch. Finally, the performances of Kurt Russell, Josh Lucas and Richard Dreyfuss are much more subtle than those of Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine and Shelley Winters in the original. The 70s cast often put caricature above character, with scenery-chewing the order of the day. In fact, Shelley Winters chewed so much scenery that it's surprising she didn't chew her way directly through the hull to freedom.

Unfortunately, like so many recent Hollywood blockbusters, POSEIDON sacrifices character for pace, memorable personalities for spectacular action. The main reason the performances are subtle in POSEIDON is because the characters are so bland and underwritten there is nothing there for the actors to be over-the-top about. So whether they live or die has very little emotional impact. The characters might have been caricatures in THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, but they were vivid and engaging caricatures, and that kept us rooting for them.

No matter how much money POSEIDON ends up making, it would have made even more had we actually cared about the people in it.

Responses, comments and general two-cents worth can be E-mailed to gillis662000@yahoo.com.

(Note: For all those who missed my past reviews, they're archived on Hollywoodlitsales.com. Just click the link on the main page and it'll take you to the Inner Sanctum. Love them or Hate them at your leisure!)

A graduate of USC's School of Cinema-Television, Tom McCurrie has worked as a development executive, story analyst, screenwriter and teacher of screenwriting. He lives in Los Angeles and is currently working on his first novel.


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