It seems to me that German-born Wolfgang Petersen has become complacent in his old(er) age. Admittedly, the blockbuster veteran has directed some pretty big films over the past decade (Troy, The Perfect Storm, Air Force One).
These are movies that seem to enthral the masses (and obviously do well enough that he can keep making them) but there’s something about his work that has often left me feeling… uninspired. Petersen’s films are decidedly safe and predictable – often about watery disasters – and upon viewing his latest effort, Poseidon, I feel he might just be the most insipid director working in Hollywood.
It’s not that he doesn’t have it in him to make a movie with some balls. 1993’s In The Line of Fire is a tightly constructed, multi-layered film that shows he has what it takes. Heck, even Outbreak is better than some of the stuff he’s produced recently. Unfortunately, it seems that by playing it safe the studios will continue to throw money at him because of his track record.
Poseidon – a $160m remake of the camp 1972 disaster flick Poseidon Adventure – is your standard Hollywood action-blockbuster that does what it has to to keep viewers happy but never does more (although it’s box-office disappointment in the States may show that audiences are fed up with paint-by-numbers movies). It’s big on visual effects and low on character development and largely devoid of any unique or interesting scenarios.
Kurt Russell plays a loving father (who just happens to be an ex-fireman) struggling to come to terms with the fact that his daughter (Emmy Rossum) has become a woman. There’s also an easy-on-the-eye adventurer/entrepreneur type (Josh Lucas) who happens to know his way around a ship; a mother and her small child; a stowaway and numerous throw-away characters. They are all introduced before things – excuse the pun – go decidedly belly up.
The set-up works well enough but it’s what the characters do after the ship capsizes that annoyed me. Human life outside this select group has no value; if you’re in the group then you can be guaranteed that someone will cry for you if you don’t make it but if you’re outside… don’t count on it. Why should the guy who dies right at the beginning not get as much attention as a person who dies near the end?
The only character that shows a glimmer of originality is Richard Nelson (Richard Dreyfus), an older gay man just coming out of a bad break up. Before the ship flips over we see him ready to throw himself overboard. We are not directly told he is gay or that he has broken up with his ex; this is all implied in subtle ways that work because you’re required to use your brain to become involved. The film needed much more of this.
Poseidon is a pointless wreck of a re-make that should have stayed underwater. Wolfgang Petersen is an accomplished director who shows that he knows how to direct action sequences and stunts but who also reveals that he is almost entirely unwilling to take any creative risks – both in this film and in choosing his projects. If I had to use a water-related metaphor to describe Poseidon, I guess I’d sadly call it ‘a floater’.