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.
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.