It's New Year's Eve on the Poseidon. Partying voyagers lift glasses to toast the future. The future comes in a rush: a 150-foot rogue wave flips the cruise ship over... and a desperate struggle to survive begins.
Director Wolfgang Petersen (The Perfect Storm, Das Boot) returns to the sea with a thrill-packed, cutting-edge screen adaptation of Paul Gallico's novel The Poseidon Adventure. Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfuss, Emmy Rossum and more portray the passengers who must rely on each other as they seek safety through the water, flames and wreckage of a world turned upside down. There's another active player in this spectacular nail-biter: the 13-deck, 20-stories tall Poseidon as it shifts, lurches and implodes. The sights dazzle. The suspense surges. All hands on deck, movie fans!
Oh, hello. Didn't see you there. I was just sitting by the fireplace enjoying a pipe and warm brandy, remarking on the three years since High-Def Digest's "Recommended" HD-DVD review of 'Poseidon'. Finally, for the desperate and downtrodden (or the non-purple at heart), the wait is over to get your own shiny copy of 'Poseidon' on Blu-ray. But, friend, is it worth it? Truth be told, if you're a fan of the movie, what I write doesn't matter a lick. If you own the HD-DVD, know this is not an upgrade (in quality or special features). And for those wondering if they should see it for the first time, know it's not as thrilling or fun as '2012.' Read on for some of the reasons why:
Disaster movies are hit or miss. At one end of the spectrum, we have an array of everyday people in an extraordinary situation. Man against nature. Heart in your throat tension. And a plucky group of survivors banding together. On the other end, we have nacho cheese flavored melodrama, half-dimensional caricatures, and the latest wiz-bangery of visual and special effects.
Like many others, 'Poseidon' falls into the latter category. An adventure tale of a New Year's Eve where a 150-foot rogue wave rolls a cruise liner, killing all but a handful of character archetypes: The young couple with a disapproving former Mayor of New York father. The suicidal gay wine connoisseur. The ex-Navy submarine specialist turned card shark. The Spanish stowaway. The Spanish bus boy. Kevin Dillon. And the precocious kid with a mom who, for some reason, knows the ship's useless Captain. You know, people just like you an me, who show zero symptoms of hypothermia, despite swimming all night in rising northern Atlantic Ocean water.
But don't worry about them. Fifteen minutes is all that's set aside for said characters in our disaster epic, so when the world turns upside-down, it's really hard to care. And if the audience doesn't care. Doesn't sympathize. Doesn't imagine themselves in that situation. Well, all pun-filled joking aside, a film sinks. Which 'Poseidon' does for the vast majority of its running time (both literally and analytically). A damn shame, considering Wolfgang Petersen
is used to be one of my favorite directors. I recently sprinted to Best Buy to pick up 'The Neverending Story,' I own two different versions of 'Das Boot' (P.S. Dear Sony. Das Boot. Blu-ray. Get on it!), and who doesn't love watching President Ford telling terrorists to "get off [his] plane." But then came 'The Perfect Storm,' which worked well enough until a cartoon wave came along and made Mark Wahlberg say goodbye to his wife in a vision (say what?). And 'Troy' (wait, so it's supposed to be real, not all mythological, but Achilles still gets dropped by an arrow. In the heel.)… Sigh.
The rough streak continues here because of similar problems: a propensity to think that technology is more important that character. And a violation of one's own rules. Technology is on the hook from shot one, which is two and one-half minutes long (according to Petersen, the longest CGI single-shot in history, circa 2006 of course) sweeping around the majestic cruise ship, Poseidon. Sadly, it doesn't look real. And why are we taking a tour of the boat's exterior, a location we never see again? Couldn't this opening shot have been more like 'Panic Room' where David Fincher smartly used swooping CGI-enhanced camera movements to give viewers a tour of the story's important geography? So that the audience had its bearings? So perhaps they would know how far into and along the course of the characters' journey they were? Nope. We have exposition for that.
As for rule violations, there are plenty: Richard Dreyfuss is suicidal, then (SPOILER!) sacrifices the bus boy to save his own life. Josh Lucas is better off working alone, then becomes the leader of the survivors thirteen seconds later. And in a scene where everyone's trying to cross the lobby, which has become a flaming pool of rising death, Josh Lucas dives into the flames (wait, the same flames they're afraid of falling into? Yes, just go with it.), swims under them, and climbs up the other side, so those remaining can slide across a hose. (wait, if the flames don't hurt people, why don't they just dive, swim, and climb too? Shut up, logic, no one asked you.). And those are just a few examples. If you watch this movie, turn off the logic section of your brain, or at least pour yourself a drink. It's not hard to imagine why the movie failed. In the special features, the filmmakers even go out of their way to boast about how the movie was in pre-production before a script was ever written. Why? They had a release date to meet.
But wait, is this movie ANY fun? Actually, yes. Complaints aside, let's give credit where credit is due. First, there are at least two white-knuckle sequences for those, such as myself, who shiver simply thinking of heights and/or confined spaces (crossing an elevator shaft and climbing through air vents). Sure, both have been done before, but so has the entire movie... a few times actually. Still, these two sequences are well put together and tense. Next, hats off to all the craftsmen (and craftswomen) who worked countless hours behind the scenes to make this movie look spectacular. The sets (oh the sets!) are stunning. This is old school movie making/re-making at its (almost) finest. Costumes. Makeup. Sound design. Lighting. Live action special effects (a.k.a., the effects shot in camera on real locations). Wow, with a little more time to let the opening breathe, with some more effort to logic (not letting people swim for minutes under water), 'Poseidon' could have been one hell of a ride.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The 50GB dual layer Blu-ray disc does not appear to be region locked. Popping the disc in shows a few FBI warnings, and then the main menu. No forced trailers or advertisements on Blu-ray about how good Blu-ray looks (cough, duh, cough).
The VC-1 1080p transfer (aspect ratio 2.40:1) appears to be the same as the HD-DVD. As Peter reported in 2007, the "source is flawless, the blacks are terrific, and contrast is nice and smooth across the entire grayscale." Detail is super sharp much of the time (see the grand ballroom, or a subtle rainbow across the rogue wave's foam spray as it charges towards the ship), but it's not perfect. There are a few soft shots (on the ship's bridge before the wave), grain throughout, detail drops under water, and though this isn't really a fault of the transfer itself, a surprising amount of the CGI never looks photo realistic. Most of these offenses to the natural sense involve water, which is nearly impossible to digitally replicate, but there's some wonky fire as well. Skin tones look natural, or rather, naturally reflect the surrounding environment. Overall, the transfer is solid, but not a stunner, and anything fake is blatant in HD, pulling people out of the moment.
One of the few changes from the HD-DVD is Warner's decision to swap out Dolby TrueHD for a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. To be fair, I haven't heard the Dolby version, but they should be bit-for-bit identical, so like the video, the sound presentation's a draw. It's definitely a speaker workout, with exploding glass, screaming, rushing water, and a creaking ship whipping around from every direction. As an experiment, I clicked back to the crashing wave chapter and listened to the sound designers lithely tell their story through the sequence. It almost felt like my eyes were open.
Yet, while this may have been stunning back in the days of the format war as an early lossless release, when you compare it to most of High-Def Digest's 5-star audio presentations (anything Pixar, 'Black Hawk Down,' 'Cast Away'), it's a bit muddy. LFE was present, but not growling when it should have. And much of the time, especially during the more chaotic sequences, it felt like the film's score was battling, not complementing the sound effects, creating noise instead of a well balanced orchestra.
The single advantage to owning this Blu-ray, in technical terms, is if you happen to speak and/or read multiple European languages. Warners provides French, Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. For Subtitles, they offer English SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Danish, Swedish, Finish, and Norwegian.
The standard definition extras are all the same as on the previous DVD and HD-DVD releases.
'Poseidon' marks another dud (in a growing list) for proficient director Wolfgang Petersen, and all because he decided to drop a crucial element at which he used to excel: Character. At least he still orchestrates tension in confined spaces like the old days. The real shame of course, for fans, is that this is a bare bones home video release triple dip, but given that 'Poseidon' was a box office dud and is now a catalogue title destined for bargain bins, who can blame them for not spending any more money than they already have? If you're a fan, I'm sorry we didn't see eye-to-eye on why you love it. There's definitely some fine artistry on display here, but sadly there are better examples in almost every category of character, story, visuals, and audio. But you, dear reader and loyal 'Poseidon' fan, go on ahead and pick this up. You'll enjoy it in high-def, but only if you don't already own the HD-DVD, which remains an equal-to-better home video release.