"War of the Worlds"
(The DVD)
Cinema Signal:
The Poseidon Adventure
A DVD of the 1972 original with Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine.

. "Poseidon"

An ocean cruise, a palatial liner, a carefree bunch of travelers, and a rogue tidal wave that turns it upside down. Let's not waste too much time on preliminaries.

As the ship sinks, a disparate group of survivalists do what we wish we would do under similar circumstances: anything to stay above the rising sea. The film is awash in valorous attempts to defeat impediments and gaps in a topsy turvy orientation. High tension wires, and boiling-in-oil threats hinder the search for a way out.

Titanic effects and cleverly designed sets make it harrowing for the stalwart bunch of unrelated travelers who fall in behind Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas), a high stakes gambler who doesn't see drowning on a sinking ship as his preferred wild card. Covering his back is an attractive young mother who has a few cards of her own to play in a flirtation with an eligible guy. Johns increases the likelihood of a liaison later by taking a liking to her son (Jimmy Bennett) despite his non-stop questioning.

The movie's singeing femme is up-and-coming star Emmy Rossum who fills the role voluptuously, thank you, and steps up her career path after a brief appearance in "Mystic River" (Sean Penn's daughter who is murdered early on) and "The Phantom of the Opera" (the central role). The two men in her life are the boyfriend (Mike Vogel) and dad, Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell), ex-firefighter, ex-NYC mayor, who provides a father's concern about his little girl's virtue and choice in a suitor. He calso comes up with a cabin fit for royalty.

An older man... we need an older man! Okay, we're floating Richard Dreyfuss for that element of the piece and, after the thinnest of indications why he is about to put himself on the precipice of suicide (at the rail when the wave upset his plans) he runs into stowaway Mia Maestro who endears herself to him to provide a reason to go on living.

What's a voyage like this without a bad guy? For that we have the hot-head miscreant Lucky Larry (Kevin Dillon) who seems to have sourness and stupidity in his DNA.

Too concerned with mautical rules to join the breakaway band is Captain Michael Bradford (Andre Brouwer) who thought it more appropriate to stick to the dining room and await a rescue together with his doomed passengers rather than look for a way out. His role is brief.

The simple, single motif leaves just the few basics to talk about. The attempt to find a path through the ship's maze before the encroaching sea drowns everyone is made cleverly realistic through good set design and emotive acting, though the specifics of cast choices and types is purely arbitrary and may have had more to do with affordability than the depth of anyone's acting talent.

The anxiety level is buoyed up long enough for the required feature length and not a moment more is spent in contemplating the fate of characters we never really get attached to. The traps and slowdowns are realistic and credible, justifying the occasional surge of near-panic and the relentless desperation to try last chance methods. Highly unrealistic is everyone's breath-holding ability underwater.

The creation of physical reality demonstrates what digital technology has made possible since the original film made in 1972, "The Poseidon Adventure" from the novel by Paul Gallico. (The exteriors of the ship are composed of pixels, not iron). It also must have been a hoot for director Wolfgang Petersen to dig his anchor deeper into stories of oceanic adventure after "Das Boot" (1981), and the more recent "The Perfect Storm," both recipients of a lifeboat full of awards and nominations, The guy's got the credentials.

However limited in a storytelling sense, the well-executed action thriller is likely to find a wide audience. I, myself, fell into it to the extent of feeling glad that I was able to stay dry and continue breathing. I took solace from the fact, also, that it wasn't my $150 million that went into the elaborate production, though you never know. If a simple idea floats enough boats, it won't scuttle a perfectly respectable recovery of the bottom line.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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The cast of survivors
Looking for their way out.
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