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Poseidon

Movies | In our post-9/11, post-Hurricane Katrina world, disasters have lost most of their entertainment value.

Issue: "Soldiering on," May 27, 2006

Back in the 1970s, disaster movies were all the rage. Airport (1970) was about a bomb on a plane. Earthquake (1974) imagined "the big one" that would destroy Los Angeles. Towering Inferno (1974) was about a deadly fire in the world's tallest building. But the defining example of the genre was The Poseidon Adventure (1972), in which an ocean liner capsized and a small band of survivors struggled to make their way through the upside-down vessel.

But now, in our post-9/11, post-Hurricane Katrina world, disasters have lost most of their entertainment value. Nevertheless, we have a remake of The Poseidon Adventure simply called Poseidon (rated PG-13), perhaps because the word "adventure" has too many fun connotations for a movie about the deaths of thousands of people.

A killer wave interrupts a New Year's Eve party, rolling the ship completely over. A vast air bubble keeps survivors breathing for awhile, as they stand on the ballroom ceiling, but a handful of passengers realize that their only chance of getting rescued is to climb through to the upended hull and get out through the propeller holes.

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The movie shows some acts of self-sacrificial heroism, but Poseidon is mostly a sensory onslaught of dead bodies-falling, burned, piled up, floating. Also explosions, falling equipment, drownings, and crawling through claustrophobia-inducing passages as the water keeps rising.

Director Wolfgang Petersen first made a name for himself with Das Boot ("The Boat"), the tale of a German U-Boat during World War II. It was a gripping drama, with complex characters, an intense plot, and thought-provoking ideas. Das Boot did not, however, have a big budget for special effects, which, in the case of Poseidon, so engulf the story that the whole movie sinks.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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