Say what you like about Wolfgang Petersen’s directing (“more often mechanical than emotional”, for example), the man knows about creating peril at sea. He’s made his name with waterborne action dramas ranging from the brutally effective and affecting Das Boot to the wannabe-worthy, yet overwrought The Perfect Storm. And now he’s back in the wet stuff, overhauling a ’70s disaster epic by tearing out the camp finery, applying a coat of glossy ILM effects paint and giving the plot a 21st-century retool for the Scream generation.
Yes, forget all opportunities to really care about our rag-tag bunch of drowned rats. Petersen, Protosevich and the many writers who’ve cranked out drafts instead use the first 20 minutes (and one or two instances later on) to merely sprinkle in the personals. And it’s off-the-peg stuff, namely Russell’s tension with his daughter’s boyfriend/secret fiancé Mike Vogel and Richard Dreyfuss’ forlorn, suicidal gay architect – a man who surprisingly doesn’t see the crashing wave as a chance to end it all, but instead discovers that he really, actually, would like to live, thanks. And unlike Gene Hackman and Shelley Winters in the original, they’re simply not memorable: stars with distinctly lower wattage playing a bunch of stock-work characters lumbering through the motions.
Yet, when the film concentrates on delivering the almighty blockbuster goods, it works remarkably efficiently with some impressively epic set-pieces. There’s a tense, window-cracking build-up to the ballroom flooding and some decent, Titanic-alike, ensuing chaos. And a scene where the leads try to cross a lift shaft, with the car inching free of its moorings, ready to crash down upon their heads, is notably suspenseful. The cast may not have a lot of depth – that’s left to the water – but you can tell they were at least made to work for their money, the camera edging up close and personal when they’re gasping for every breath. Indeed, putting even the superb CGI ship to shame, Petersen’s reliance on practical effects work makes the leads seem less superheroic, more human – a smart move that boosts the survival drama.
For the vast majority of its running time, Poseidon is an action shark; sleek and unapologetically designed to do one thing: put these people into life-threatening situations and watch them scream, grunt, shove, kick, bleed and die. After the overblown epic that was Troy, Petersen’s back where he’s clearly happiest and his blatant enthusiasm for the genre is once again evident. Just don’t watch it on a cruise.
Poseidon is like a ride at a water park. It's fast, it's fun and while it's utterly forgettable, it's still worth taking for a dollar.