Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Poseidon: The One Movie That's Bothered Me for Five Years

Poseidon cost approximately $160 million, was filmed on adjacent soundstages at Warner Bros. (One as the ship right-side up, the other upside down) and at Staples Center (as the ship's dance club), and was considered a flop with only $60.6 million earned domestically.

Every few months, I watch clips on YouTube, disappointed that Poseidon missed a major storytelling opportunity that could have possibly saved Warner Bros. some money and produced a much better movie. Obviously, as a remake of The Poseidon Adventure (of which I'm a fan and which was my reason for seeing this), Poseidon has to feature a cruise ship being capsized by a rogue tidal wave. With special effects far more advanced in 2005 than they were in 1972, it could be a ship with more capacity than the Titanic, more to show than The Poseidon Adventure. Once the new Poseidon capsized, bodies could be shown floating in the water along with deck chairs and other vast detritus of a cruise ship. In the ballroom, where the central action takes place, dead bodies could look more eerily real, and they were in this remake.

The screenwriter, Mark Protosevich, is better at writing special effects than characters. His career began with The Cell, starring Jennifer Lopez, which was outstanding because the artistic special effects were handled by an incredibly talented director in Tarsem Singh. The journey through the serial killer's mind was much more fascinating than anything that could be revealed about Lopez's character, properly presented as a tour guide through this twisted mind.

Protosevich also wrote I Am Legend and contributed the story for Thor. Future projects, according to his IMDB page, apparently include an American remake of Oldboy, directed by Spike Lee, Jurassic Park IV (though that project is always in so much flux that it's never certain who wrote it until the movie is made and the credits are concrete), and Freakshow, based on a comic, for which he wrote the screenplay and will direct. The failure of Poseidon obviously didn't hurt him since what he wrote on the page had to be brought to life by others, including director Wolfgang Petersen, who made a much better movie in the depths of the sea with Das Boot.

Protosevich's characters in Poseidon are only mildly interesting on the surface, since they're at the mercy of the special effects, with explosions throughout the capsized ship, the gas tank falling through the floor of the lobby, which is now the ceiling, and killing one of the members of the group trying to get out of the ship, and lots of rising water. To start, there's Kurt Russell as Robert Ramsey, an ex-firefighter and ex-mayor of New York City whose administration sounds like it was under a cloud, from the very little we learn. Emmy Rossum plays his daughter, Mike Vogel plays her fiance, Mia Maestro plays a stowaway helped along by a steward (Freddy Rodriguez), Josh Lucas plays a gambler, Jacinda Barrett plays a single mother (with Jimmy Bennett playing her son), Richard Dreyfuss plays an architect devastated by his boyfriend's breakup with him, and Kevin Dillon plays Lucky Larry, who isn't so much lucky as obnoxious, and is exactly the kind of role Dillon's Johnny Drama would have been seen playing on Entourage.

Think about this. This Poseidon holds over 2,000 passengers. The ship capsizes. The ballroom eventually floods, killing Captain Bradford (Andre Braugher) and hundreds of others, including Fergie (credited as Stacy Ferguson), playing a singer named Gloria. At the end of the movie, the survivors get into a raft as the ship begins to right itself, and then sinks. All that remains are these survivors. More people died on this ship than Titanic.

It was enough to make me think about writing a sequel just for myself, just to come to terms with what this production missed. I understand them wanting to make it bigger than The Poseidon Adventure. The majority of the budget was for special effects, as the exterior of the ship, especially during the capsizing, was entirely CGI, and it's in Guinness World Records as the most detailed computer-generated designs.

If they had done it the way I've been thinking about it for five years, the ballroom flooding could not have been shown, and they probably would not have wanted to miss that opportunity, since the flooding in the original movie was never seen, only heard. But maybe there would have been a better movie.

The survivors float on the raft after Poseidon has sunk, and at the fadeout before the end credits, we see a helicopter approaching the raft with a search beam shining, and ships in the distance racing to the raft. These survivors would be famous around the world. The media would descend on them, wanting to know everything about their ordeal.

If the movie had started that way, with those few survivors being rescued and the entire world shocked about the magnitude of this disaster, it would have been more promising. Start it with news bulletins throughout the world about the sinking, with uncertainty about who survived. Cut to the survivors, on board the rescue ship, in shock, blankets wrapped around them, what happened to them not fully registering yet because these are the first moments that they could rest after spending all those hours going from the mid-section of the ship to the bottom to get out.

A cruise line has lost an expensive ship, and so those executives are scrambling to figure out what to do. There will be questions, such as if they should try to raise the ship in order to piece together what happened. Thousands lost their lives. There will be lawsuits.

The survivors begin thinking about their ordeal, and there are flashbacks to their time on the ship before it capsized. The problem with this is that these are the only perspectives. Captain Bradford is dead, and so are the officers who were on the bridge trying desperately to turn the ship. Those sequences would be gone, so the suspense wouldn't be there as much, save for the survivors trying to get off the ship, which could be exciting enough on its own if handled right with the flashbacks.

Once that rescue ship gets to a port, those on board will see that the dock has been flooded with media. The entire world wants to know the survivors' stories. How do the survivors cope with this sudden fame? Is Robert Ramsey still remembered in New York City as a shoddy mayor or is he celebrated for giving his life to help the other survivors?

And intercut with that plot is the cruise line trying to figure out what to do, with some unscrupulousness thrown in. Blame Bradford and his officers, even in death, for what they were unable to stop? These rogue waves cannot be predicted or pinpointed. They just happen.

The original Poseidon Adventure was founded not just on the special effects, but also the relationships between the survivors, such as Jack Albertson and Shelley Winters playing husband and wife, and Red Buttons as a bachelor. Poseidon would have gotten much more mileage if it had gone that way too. The media presence alone in light of the worst ship disaster in history would have been a fascinating perspective. And I would have liked this movie a lot more.


  1. I didn't see Poseidon, but your idea for the script sounds good -- undoubtedly better than what they actually did. I saw the original Poseidon Adventure when I was 13. It scared the crap out of me. Titanic hadn't been made yet, but I'd read books about it. I've never gone on a cruise and doubt if I ever will. I would definitely get on the one ship that would hit an iceberg and then be capsized by a rogue tidal wave.


  2. Writing this entry helped me a great deal, and was much easier than actually writing a script. Plays I'll write, but while I love movies, spending eight years in Southern California turned me off to the thought of contributing anything to them, not that I was anyway.

    I've no desire to go on a cruise. I've got enough to do in hopefully criss-crossing this country, which has so much interesting stuff on its own, in the next few decades in pursuit of my goals.

  3. I like your idea. It seems more and more films focus on the big special effects rather than the human story

  4. Only movies like "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol," which I saw today, benefit from that because there's splinters of story and character development all around, and it's up to the audience to piece those parts together. (Plus, "The Iron Giant," "The Incredibles," and "Ratatouille" director Brad Bird has proven himself as a live-action director with that.)

    I like that method, but for "Poseidon," there needed to be a balance.