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'Poseidon' recalls tense 'Das Boot'

By Mark Moorehead

May 13, 2006

Donít see Poseidon if you plan on spending time on a holiday cruise ship this summer.  That would be like watching United 93 just before your next flight. Both films underscore the horror of being a captured audience when things go very bad. 

Like most disaster flicks, Poseidon begins serenely as Director Wolfgang Peterson (Das Boot) takes the camera and makes a 360-degree pan of the stunningly beautiful open sea surrounding the majestic and solitary ship.

What follows, before the big splash, is a 20-minute exercise in character development. This is the part of the film where you get to know a little something about the group that survives the initial dunking and begin making those unconscious decisions of who you like and donít like.

Thatís important because the only guilty pleasure in watching a ship going down is guessing which passengers will make it. Unfortunately, the personality sketches are thin at best, and the downside of inadequate character development is that audiences donít feel much regret over those who do die. 

Itís New Year's Eve on the North Atlantic and everyone is partying in the main ballroom. Professional gambler Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas) is playing poker with the former mayor of New York (Kurt Russell) and a poster boy for sexism and bad suits (Kevin Dillon).

Later, all three of these guys gamble that the odds of surviving a capsized ship are better if you climb to the bottom.

Other characters that surface in Poseidon include a suicidal gay man (Richard Dreyfuss looking very old), an illegal alien (Mia Maestro), a cook on the ship (Freddy Rodriguez), the mayor's self-centered daughter and her whining boyfriend and a mother and her young son. Oddly enough, the two most likable and selfless characters are Latino (Maestro and Rodriguez), and they are unceremoniously purged from the group in this script.

At the stroke of midnight a 150-foot ďrouge waveĒ (where did they get that expression?) smashes into the luxury liner and sends it topsy-turvy, causing the deaths of hundreds in a slow-motion, tension-filled sequence that includes explosions, fireballs, electrocutions, elevators jettisoning passengers and a swimming pool emptying its contents. 

Shortly after the mayhem, gambler Thomas decides to leave the safety of the ballroom and climb up to the bottom of the boat. He is soon accompanied by the motley cast of characters identified earlier in the film as they make their perilous journey through the bowels of the ship.

Death and danger lie around every corner. The short 90-minute duration of this film is tightly packed with nail-biting suspense and hold-your-breath anxiety. Warner Brothers chose the right person to direct this thriller.

Peterson knows a thing or two about tight quarters on the high seas.  If you saw his film Das Boot, you may recall those claustrophobic scenes in the German submarine that made your skin crawl just imagining what it would be like trapped in that tin can deep underwater.

Peterson creates a similar scene in Poseidon by herding the surviving passengers into the ship's duct system while water within the narrow vertical shaft steadily rises up their legs as they struggle to ascend to the next level.

In more ways than one, the duct-shaft scene was the high-water mark in Poseidon. There is one other memorable drowning scene involving one of the stars of the film that was a surprise and made me queasy.

However, the balance of the film is predictable and the brief, tense thrill ride is soon over. The unremarkable characters are soon forgotten. What I do remember after seeing Poseidon was checking my watch while timing how long I could hold my breath (about 45 seconds). I probably wouldnít have made it.


Mark's Movie Meter

General Audiences: B-

This remake of the 1972 The Poseidon Adventure disaster movie takes us down a familiar trail with a new cast of characters. Technically light years ahead of the original and visually impressive. No sex, nudity or language.

Family Audiences: C+

Big wave flips cruise ship upside down causing instant death to hundreds of passengers and crew. Countless drowning scenes and an excruciating near drowning scene of a young boy make this film inappropriate for children 13 and under. Rated PG-13 for intense, prolonged sequences of disaster and peril. 


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