In this 2005 remake of The Poseidon Adventure we get a prime example of how not to do a remake. This was a TV movie made with the hopes cashing in on Wolfgang Peterson’s big summer remake and resulted in an absolutely dreadful version of Paul Gallico’s book (to make things more insulting they name the captain after him), so don’t expect to see anything even remotely close to the 1972 Irwin Allen movie. Some shots are even lifted directly from Allen’s version, but done with cheap looking CGI effects. The biggest change from the original story is the terrorist angle, instead of a rogue wave capsizing the S.S. Poseidon it’s the explosion of a bomb, set off by your generic Middle Eastern bad guys, that causes the ship to roll over. I didn’t see this change adding any dramatic tension to the survivor’s escape, aside from the stupid inclusion of one of the terrorists in the group of survivors trying to escape the doomed ship, which I just found completely unnecessary, and was barely even dealt with. I swear the writers forgot about his existence half the time. In the first scene we are given a raid on a warehouse that contains a group of Middle Eastern terrorists who are plotting three major strikes on “soft” American targets. Places outside the Continental U.S. but still big enough cause a major bloody nose to the American people. The raid is only partly successful because they can deduce that the targets were for land, sea, and air, but the information on the sea target has been destroyed. Three guesses on what that target is, and the first two don’t count.
Now let’s meet our cast. First we have the Clark family, and the head of this family is Richard Clark (Steve Guttenberg) a failed novelist who is supported by his very successful wife Rachel Clark (Alexa Hamilton), we have the hot daughter Shelby (Amber Sainsbury), and the annoying son Dylan (Rory Copus), who runs throughout the whole movie with his video camera, thinking he is a Spielberg in the making. This is a very dysfunctional family, and the fighting and bickering tells us all one thing…that this disaster tonight will bring them all closer together. (Blech) The fact that Steve Gutenberg’s character is so unlikable, and has you praying for him to go down with the ship, doesn’t help. He ends up in the arms of the ship’s onboard masseuse in one of the worst written onscreen affairs that I’ve had the displeasure of witnessing.
But where is our hero? Oh look people it’s Adam Baldwin as Mike Rogo (kind of the role played by Ernest Borgnine in the original but not really), trying hard to lose whatever affection we may have had for him in Firefly. Rogo is a Sea Marshal, and is working for Homeland Security. When he is told by Captain Paul Gallico (Peter Weller) that this is the safest ship in the world we are treated to a sample of Rogo’s sharp wit, “It’s safe until it isn’t.” Wow, he should give up marshaling, and write fortune cookies for a living.
Okay let’s quickly sketch out the rest of the cast; there is Bishop Schmidt (Rutger Hauer in the Gene Hackman role), Belle Rosen (Sylvia Syms filling in for Shelly Winters) who I guess for budgetary reasons is a widow in this version, and then there is the Doctor Ballard (C. Thomas Howell), who has aged so much I barely recognized him, and when he starts hitting on the Clark girl it just made my skin crawl. Last and certainly least is Bryan Brown as some producer of a “Pop Idol” show, who is traveling with his new wife and third prizewinner of said show.
Somehow fooling the background checks of the cruise line the terrorists have infiltrated the S.S. Poseidon as members of the kitchen staff, and have smuggled aboard two bombs hidden inside beer kegs. A murdered crewman has Rogo hot on their trail, but he is only able to prevent one of the bombs from going off, and the blast from the portside bomb causes the ship to roll over. Due to his affair being exposed by his hotshot videographer son, Richard Clark has moved in with the masseuse, and is in bed with her when the bomb goes off. So with new girlfriend in tow they make their way down to the ballroom to find his family. Meanwhile things haven’t gone all that well in the ballroom, as everyone was tossed ass over teakettle as the ship was capsized. The stunts for the most part were decent but nothing to write home to mom about, and only the cheap CGI duplication of the man’s fall into the skylight is really offensive. As for the CGI effects of the big boat itself…let’s just say they’re as bad as expected and move on.
As in the original there is a division on what course of action to take. The Chief Purser insists they all stay and wait for rescue, while others think the best bet is to climb up through the ship, and hopefully make their way to the hole the bomb made in the hull. Quite a sensible plan, and I can’t see how anybody could possibly argue with it, yet the purser actually threatens to have Bishop Schmidt fired when he decides to join the group that is leaving. I had no idea a ships purser had that kind of pull with the Vatican. The group that leaves is lead by Rogo who insist on bringing the one surviving terrorists with them. Now dragging along a suicide bomber along while the ship is sinking around you has to be one of the worst ideas of all time, up there with New Coke.
The makers of this version now shoot themselves in the foot, by removing all possible suspense. Shelby Clark decides she must stay and help the doctor (he nastily broke his arm) with the injured. She tells her mother to take Dylan and go, but to leave markers along the way that her and the doctor can follow at a later time. Say goodbye dramatic tension folks, it never returns. In the original film the group barely make it up a makeshift ladder (the ships Christmas tree, duplicated here as well), before the ocean pours in killing all those who stayed behind with the purser. This TV version has the people in the ballroom last for about six hours, and only meets their fate after Richard and the masseuse finally arrive, and take the daughter and doctor with them. Yes, just as the second group leaves (I’m guessing due to the sunrise we saw earlier that at least five or six hours has elapsed), the ocean finally bursts in. The movie’s cutting back and forth between the Navy Operation headquarters, their search for the missing liner, and the survivors onboard, has further destroyed any possible tension. The isolation and doomed atmosphere that existed in the original is completely missing here.
This version even removes the “noble sacrifice” on two separate occasions. In the 1972 version Shelly Winters dives in to save the reverend from drowning, she frees him from being pinned underwater by collapsed wreckage, then tragically dies of a heart attack, and providing one of the most powerful scenes in the movie. In this remake Mrs. Rosen just grabs the rope and dives in to lead the way, the Bishop quickly follows, and gets to have the touching moment of watching her die. Did the writers of this remake actually think this made any dramatic story sense?
Miraculously the two groups then meet up! So I guess the first group was really lollygagging along, giving the second bunch plenty of time to catch up. This just makes my head hurt. They finally make it to the where the bomb blasted a hole in the ships side, but too much wreckage blocks the way. Navy Seals have arrived and try to blast their way through the blockage, but they of course fail. On to the back-up plan! The second bomb that Rogo prevented from being detonated can be used to blow another hole, and allow them to escape. The problem is that the bomb is located in the engine room, which currently holds a lake of fire, and a rickety catwalk is the only way across. Now we get to the loss of the second “noble sacrifice” In the original after Rogo’s wife (no wife in this version, she’s at home with the kids) is killed, Gene Hackman had to jump to a valve to shut off a jet of steam that blocked their path, and after succeeding he dropped to the flames below. A very powerful moment that Hackman really sold. In this version we get Steve Gutenberg giving his family “If I don’t make it know that I’ve always loved you” speeches, but he makes it across with no problem. The masseuse on the other hand, who had the misfortune of sleeping with this loser, falls to her death. I’m not sure what kind of family values message this film was trying to make. Oh, I almost forgot about the terrorists (as did the writers for most of this film), during the crossing of the lake of fire Rogo has a scuffle with him, and the terrorist plunges to his fiery fate. Glad they brought him along. The Bishop volunteers to activate the bomb because Rogo has a family and yadda-yadda-yadda, so do we finally get our noble sacrifice? Not a chance, the bomb goes off, the Bishop dusts himself off, and everybody jumps out of the hole, and into the waiting arms of the Seal team. The kid sits in one of the zodiacs and records the ship sinking beneath the waves. When the credits roll you thank god this ordeal is finally over.
So if you really want to see a film about a group of people trying to make their way through the bowels of a capsized ocean liner I urge you to run out and rent or purchase the Irwin Allen versions or if you must watch something with modern CGI go ahead and watch Poseidon the Wolfgang Peterson remake with Kurt Russell and Josh Lucas, either one is a better way to spend your time.