"Poseidon" is a perfect film. But that depends on your definition. It is indeed perfect by the Hollywood definition of the 'perfect' film made for a summer blockbuster season. The formula is simple and it has worked reasonably well over the years: place your film's characters in grave peril, maintain a basic narrative outline to give them something to do, and then stack a wall of special effects against them. "Poseidon" fails because it is true to this presumed recipe for sensational entertainment. "Poseidon" belongs to the disaster movie genre, a type made famous in the 70s, ironically, by the original "The Poseidon Adventure." This genre was revived, briefly, in the mid-90s by "Twister" and "Independence Day." Then came James Cameron's "Titanic" which decided emotional resonance should be symbiotic; it fused the disaster elements with romance and went on to become the most profitable disaster movie of all time. But what all of these films had in common was their timing: they arrived at that rare instant where the film-makers' sensibilities and audience curiosity coincide (of another genre "The Passion of the Christ" is worth mentioning here). "Poseidon" was, frankly, not expected. To the studio it made good financial sense to produce and release the film with all the bells and whistles a big budget can afford. But it has tanked at the US box office and has recovered less than US$30 million of its estimated US$150 million total investment so far. Remember we must be the first to cry foul when box office becomes barometer of good cinema. However, considering the origins of "Poseidon" reek of economics, considering the film within the context of its abysmal financial performance should be pragmatic and fair. Here's some additional clarification: contrary to urban myth the critic is not a film's enemy. It is the audience. In a time of many a distraction, the promise of pleasure, an element of exaltation just doesn't cut it anymore. The audience is tried of paying good money to see the same thing over and over again. "Poseidon" was mauled by my colleagues worldwide. And I am not recommending this film to you. But no amount of bad press can hurt a bad film. The critic is not the enemy. The audience is, as you should be.
Director Wolfgang Petersen ("Troy") who has always been skillful with the camera starts the film with an astonishing long point-of-view shot that takes us inside, over and around Poseidon, a huge cruise ship carrying over 2,000 New Year revelers. Screenwriter Mark Protosevich ("The Cell") quickly introduces us to only those characters chosen to survive the onslaught of a rogue Tsunami that will capsize this mighty ship. Floating upside down in freezing ocean water, Poseidon's hull remains intact but only long enough for a handful of brave survivors to stage a daring escape – among them is leader-type Dylan (Josh Lucas); his love-interest and single mother Maggie (Jacinda Barrett); her ten-year-old kid (Jimmy Bennet); an over-protective father who was once a NY major, Robert (Kurt Russell); his feisty daughter Jennifer (Emmy Rossum); her boyfriend (Mike Vogel); and Richard (Richard Dreyfuss) who's gay and possibly also suicidal. But wait. I think we're forgetting someone...nope, sorry, false alarm – there's no dog in this one. Phew.
As is customary of the genre, not all of these poor souls will make it alive by the end. The inherent entertainment value of disaster movies is guessing not only the order of the survivors' demise but also how each will be killed. Perhaps playing invincible voyeur feeds into our own fantasy of existing in a factitiously malignant film world. It thrills us, the idea of danger. To its credit, "Poseidon" is a well-crafted engine for mayhem. It is technically accomplished; the well-executed special effects and production values defile some of our antagonism towards the bland script. But since when has that been enough? - Adnan Khan