Anyone who understands the current copycat state of moviemaking shouldnt be surprised that nothing makes the Hollywood heart beat faster than success and, of course, the chance to build on that success by making something similar; only - hopefully - better.
Somewhere along the route to the new Poseidon, director Wolfgang Petersen must have been told that he was going to need a bigger boat. Which he got, and then some. In this new version of Paul Gallicos novel, an ocean liner is struck by a rouge wave, flips over, and a hardy group of survivors struggle to reach the surface of the sea. Familiar? Of course it is. The difference between The Poseidon Adventure and this Poseidon is not the story line, but the way the story line is delivered. Todays special effects are worlds away in design, technique, and power from what they were in the 1970s. In fact, the new Poseidon has some of the best special effects Ive seen.
Petersen and his cast members recently gathered in Los Angeles at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel to talk about his new version of the ship that flipped. The Buffalo Alternative Press Online was the only area website covering the event.
Taking into consideration his successes with Das Boot and The Perfect Storm, the German-born Petersen jokingly called Poseidon the third film in his water trilogy. But what he wanted more than anything else was real people doing real stunts that would be enhanced by todays digital technology. Petersen said that its important to be able to shoot close-up scenes and you can really only do that by having the actors perform their own stunts. Or, at least, 90% of the stunts.
Petersens actors are an interesting ensemble. Kurt Russell, Josh Lucas, Richard Dreyfuss, Jacinda Barrett, Emmy Rossum, Mike Vogel, and Mia Maestro play the band of survivors attempting to get out of the upturned ship. Importantly, for the sake of the plot and the audiences jangled nerves, some of them dont make it. All seven of the stars talked to me about the filming of Poseidon. And astonishingly, all of them told me that Petersen didnt ask them if they could swim. Massive water tanks and special effects flames were used to threaten the lives of the characters. The cast was endangered on a daily basis. Professional divers swan nearby; medical teams stood-by on the sound stage, but it was mostly these merry actors who battled crashing turbines, towers of fire, and had to work soaked to their collective skin. During the intense and draining shoot, all of the primary cast, except for Maestro, got sick or were injured. Sinus infections, walking pneumonia, and influenza took its toll. Standing, swimming, or sitting in water for hours on end, even lukewarm water (which eventually will get cold), does a lot more damage to the body than merely pruning ones skin.
Lucas, who plays the leader of the pack, said that during one tense underwater sequence, he was smashed in the right eye with a metal flashlight being held by Russell. The area around my eyebrow split-open and a lot of blood gushed out. Real blood. I looked at Lucas face and the scar from that ugly gash was testament to the risky shoot.
Russell plays a former fireman and ex-New York City mayor whose mission during the struggle to escape is to find his daughter and then get her to safety. As hes playing high stakes poker that New Years Eve, shes in the ships disco with her boyfriend. Rossum and Vogel play the young couple. Russell stressed that his characters concern for the welfare of his daughter and then his desperation to find and rescue her is perfectly understandable. Im just a loving father trying to do my best. This is about as sentimental as the new Poseidon gets.
Who plays the fondly remembered Shelley Winters role from the original? That task goes to Dreyfuss, perhaps by default, although the actor gladly accepts the honor. His Richard Nelson is older, wiser, and willing to give it the old college try, especially during the claustrophobic scenes in which the characters have to climb vertically through airshafts. Early in the movie he is contemplating suicide because of a lost love, but that changes. According to Dreyfuss, Nelson becomes a source of encouragement and humor to the other survivors. Hes injured, but he never gives up.
Poseidon is a contemporary take on its predecessor. Director Petersen stressed that a lot of the backstory (unseen information about characters) that might have been in early drafts of the Mike Protosevichs screenplay was jettisoned because todays summer movie audiences are eager to see the adventure and feel the excitement. He fully understands the differences in movie styles and changes in moviegoer savvy between 1972 and today. What he wanted to do was get straight to the 90 minutes of tension and thrills.
Petersen, who said that he would never get on a cruise ship, told me that water is the most destructive force on earth. Rogue waves are absolutely real. Many container ships have been struck by rogue waves and simply vanished. Its a nightmare to do a film with water. But with todays digital effects we can create amazing things. In fact, special effects today are so incredible that what can be done now makes what could be done nine years ago seem more like a century.
Over the years, The Poseidon Adventure has developed a large following, but mostly for its delightful kitsch factor. Theres nothing like watching Gene Hackman, Red Buttons, Roddy McDowell, Stella Stevens, Jack Albertson, Leslie Nielsen, Carol Lynley, Pamela Sue Martin, Ernest Borgnine, and of course, the glorious Ms. Winters ham it up for the camera. And that theme song, The Morning After, is Hollywood awfulness at its enjoyable best. The new version doesnt come up to the kitsch standards set by its predecessor. Its more serious and little time is taken to get to know the characters. And theres no truly memorable song. Somebody sings something, but its quickly forgotten.
What Poseidon has is contemporary pacing and eye-popping visuals and thrilling special effects. Thats certainly enough to satisfy the kid in all of us. If you can, see these FX on the IMAX screen. When that wave rolls in, well its why movies were invented. By Michael Calleri
ALT Online Movie Editor
Ah, the 1970s, and those disaster movies that were one of the highlights of the decade. Hollywood studio executives, especially producer Irwin Allen, decided that what people wanted to see was other people getting the stuffing knocked out of them. Thus the explosion (sorry, couldnt resist it) of special effects films including The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Rollercoaster, the Airport series, and The Poseidon Adventure, which most critics consider the most iconic of motion pictures in the disaster genre