Sunday, August 20, 2006

Poseidon sinks
Review by Sombrero Grande

I honestly don’t know why I even watched this movie. In a few months I’ll be embarking on a New Year’s Eve cruise and I certainly didn’t need the kinds of images and situations this film conjures up residing in my noggin as I step onto that giant boat.

I’ve had the same basic problem ever since I started watching Lost. Now every time I’m waiting to board a plane I start looking around the boarding area, trying to figure out who would be the “hunter” of the group, the “leader,” the trouble-maker, the feuding couple, the chubby comic relief guy, etc. Not to mention the fact that as soon as we’re airborne and hit any kind of turbulence I immediately go pale recalling the shot from the pilot where the whole tail section completely breaks off.

I’ll interpret as a protective measure (to ensure that people would still indeed be willing to pay for expensive cruises) that the filmmakers behind Poseidon intended to make their ship look as fake as possible so as to accent the fictional nature of the story. The opening shot of the film sends the audience flying under, over, around and through the ship in one unmistakably computer-generated sequence. Had the virtual camera actually behaved or moved in a way an actual camera might physically be able to do (even strapped to a helicopter), I might have actually bought off on the idea that this was a real ship. Perhaps the special effects crew was just so darn pleased with all the fine, intricate detail work that went into making their computerized model that they just really wanted to show it off. All of it. And, to be perfectly honest, it is a very impressive and detailed digital model, it’s just that this shot really, really shows it to be nothing else and that instantly pulled me out of the world of the film. Sadly, very little that happened afterwards seemed to care much about trying to pull me back in.

Poseidon’s plot isn’t very complicated. The giant cruise ship Poseidon is out on a New Year’s Eve cruise when it gets struck by a rogue wave that capsizes the boat. A bunch of people are killed instantly, but a few stalwart individuals take it upon themselves to try and find a way out by trudging up through to the bottom of the ship. These are the folks we get extremely brief introductions to in the first few minutes of the movie. We don’t learn much about them (I guess Poseidon is into the “less is more” theory of character development) so they all end up being little more than bodies to be killed or spared with the audience not really giving a damn either way. Their adventures through the upside-down ship follow this basic outline: they enter a room, the room begins filling with water, their only way out is blocked, they hold their breaths just long enough to make into the next room and the process repeats. There are a few variations on this, but by-and-large this is how each scene in the movie unfolds until it ends.

The film doesn’t waste time getting quickly to the rogue wave toppling the boat, and then doesn’t waste time in getting to the task of offing protagonists one by one. With the pace at which things happen, you’d think the movie had somewhere else it had to be and was anxious about finishing up quickly so it could beat traffic to get there.

Something that kept me from ever feeling as though any of this was real is that fact that the ship never stopped blowing up. For the entire hour plus that the boat sinks or floats upside down, it is constantly exploding. Every establishing shot of the boat underwater is peppered with more explosions than a Michael Bay movie trailer, and inside the ship nearly every other scene seems to have taken its inspiration from the Backdraft fire effects show at Universal Studios Hollywood.

The ending of the film really cheesed me off. (Look out, mateys; Cap’n Spoiler advises ye thar be minor spoilers ahead!) After the few characters who survive escape the sinking ship and get spotted by rescue helicopters, the credits begin to roll. That’s it?! The movie effectively says, “here’s who escapes, that’s all you need to know, we’re done here,” and leaves it at that. I was actually holding out some hope that we’d see at least a few minutes of what happened after these people got back to shore and resumed their lives. But no, Poseidon has to make the entire ordeal merely about who lives and who dies. Sheesh. If those details are all you need to know, you might as well just read the spoiler-filled Wikipedia synopsis of the film and save yourself the time and headaches of sifting through this shipwreck.

After the survivors jump off the sinking ship they find a miraculously placed raft waiting for them to hop into. The rest of the movie seemed to rely very heavily on Murphy’s Law, so was this super convenient raft fate’s way of making it up to them, or just lousy writing?

Only one character strands out in my mind and that’s because of how incredibly offensive he was. “Lucky Larry” (played by Kevin Dillon) spouts chauvinistic, bullying, sexist drivel whenever he opens his mouth, but that’s not what’s offensive about him. The offensiveness of his character comes from how blisteringly moronic the filmmakers apparently think their audience is to even try and pass him off as a human being. First off, it looks like Kevin borrowed his brother Matt’s costume from There’s Something About Mary, only minus the giant buckteeth. He looks like a cartoon character and from the moment he appears on screen, grabbing a waitress’ butt, it’s painfully obvious he’s dead meat. I was shocked to see his character name in the credits wasn’t “Sleazy McAsshole” as that’s how painfully shallow his character is. (Then again, the name “Lucky Larry” probably only took the writers about two seconds to come up with.) When other characters are saving his life, what does he do? He begins a monologue, berating and belittling everything about the people who are trying to help him survive. His death isn’t even worth all of this painful setup. In the blink of an eye he’s gone, just like my interest in anything the clods who thought he’d be a good character to put in this film also decided to include in Poseidon.

Speaking of moronic characters, I can’t forget to mention the stereotypical single mother character whose child is constantly in peril. Pretty much every disaster movie has one of these, and Poseidon is achingly no exception. When the ship first capsizes, this woman goes nuts trying to find her child. When she finds him, apparently she immediately stops paying any attention to him because the next time we see him he’s been allowed to wander off on his own again. The only thing in this movie that happens more often than a room flooding or something blowing up is this neglectful mother letting her brainless offspring wander off by himself into yet another dangerous predicament that slows down the rest of the party. It’s funny how Dylan (our hero, ladies and gentlemen) actually encourages Richard to cause Valentin to fall to his death to save the rest, yet he’ll risk everything over and over again to save bratty little Connor.

But the movie isn’t utterly worthless; there are a couple of bright sparks along the way that make Poseidon not completely unwatchable. Richard Dreyfuss, up until the point where his performance becomes merely limited to running and swimming, tries his best to give depth and interest to his character. It’s Dreyfuss’ performance that made his character one that I wanted to see live for a few scenes just in case he’d get another opportunity to do some acting later on (say, after being rescued?). Also, the score by Klaus Badelt (who previously impressed me, and many others, with his score for Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl) is quite good. The film makes sure Emmy Rossum’s cleavage is ever present but unfortunately it’s not very remarkable.

Poseidon comes in single disc and double disc DVD sets. The single disc includes as bonus content the movie’s trailer and a “making of” documentary. The double disc set tosses in three more documentaries (a feature about set design, an intern’s very overly-produced “personal” set diary, and a History Channel special on rogue waves which appears to be little more than a long ad for Poseidon, edited together by someone with A.D.D.) and a holographic cover (which immediately earns the film 3 points at badmovies.org) that will likely just get thrown out. All three documentaries are just mindless fluff material, so if you absolutely insist on owning this film on DVD and you don’t know anyone in the crew, the single disc will be more than enough.

Ultimately, Poseidon is not a film I’d recommend anyone planning a getaway cruise should see. Fortunately for them, it’s not a film I’d recommend anyone else see either.


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