Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Sunk Ship

I never was a big fan of the epic disaster movie in general. Most of them seemed like poor excuses to combine massive special effects with a large roster of stars.

But I was a big fan of a few disaster movies in particular. There were some that were a cut above the others; some that found a personal touch within the noise of buildings falling and airplanes crashing.

Now I don’t want to get all overly gushy – even the best come with their own cheese factor. But the good disaster movie is always larger than itself, larger than its effects.

Towering Inferno, for example. After McQueen and Newman part company in that lobby full of bodies -- there is more lingering there then just joy that some of our favorites survived. There is the melancholy of the cost of that survival, as well as respect.

Respect for human life – we understand more about life’s value now – not just because we faced death, but because of how we faced it.

And respect for nature – or the power of G-d if you will – we also understand more the dangers of Babel and the cost of mans hubris.

The good disaster movies do that, anyway.

Which brings me to the remake, Poseidon. I wasn’t expecting much Tivo’ing it on my free HBO weekend; and it lived up to expectation.

The flick started out all right; the cast – Braugher, Dreyfuss, Russell – quite fine, thank you very much.

And it definitely has visual flare and moments of roller coaster ride excitement. It’s just when the ride was over, one is left with nothing more than the wish to have ridden in a different car.

By the time the guy who tried to commit suicide kicks a fellow human being to a horrific death in order to save his own skin, I was made fully aware that this movie would not have a heart.

Oh, that kick was presented as a heart moment – a true moral dilemma, a we-have-to-make-the-hard-choice scene. But Suicide Guy wasn’t allowing one man to die for the greater good – he was allowing one man to die so he and he alone could live.

The Irwin Allen epic of bygone days would have handled that differently. Either Suicide Guy would have come to appreciate the value of life at some point in the journey; or would have realized that there is nothing heroic in sacrificing another for yourself; or would have given his life trying to save Kicked To A Horrible Death Dude.

Sure there are moments of true heroism in this movie; but they are flat, lifeless choices for the most part. We don’t learn more about the characters by their actions, nor do they seem to grow/diminish in the midst of crisis.

(Earl Palmer notes that the root of “crisis” is “moment of distinguishing.)

In the original, The Poseidon Adventure, the choices illuminated the characters to us and to themselves.

When Shelly Winters makes the decision that will ultimately exchange her life for the group, it comes with such heart and heartache – she almost has a joy finding her calling, her moment to redeem her wasted years, to erase her own demon of a poor body image.

“You see Mr. Scott? In the water I’m a very skinny lady.”

In Wolfgang Peterson’s remake, there is no such revelations, no such grace, no such resonance to the deaths that pile up. His film ends with the cast cheering and woohooing upon their rescue; no somber reflection, no meaning to what that rescue cost.

Certainly there is no Reverend Scott, hands burning in his act of sacrifice, Jacob-like in his refusal to let go until the G-d he claimed to no longer believe in grants a blessing and lets these, his sheep, survive.

Nah. That would have meant something.

And it would have made the movie larger than itself.

We simply aren’t aiming that high.

Just my thoughts,


ps In the original, the ship is left floating upside down, setting us up for the sequel. In the remake, Petersen allows the ship to sink. As if he knew...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hadn't really thought about why I like to re-view "The Towering Inferno" or Irwin Allen's "Poseidon Adventure," but
I think you've definitely got something there. It isn't about the disaster, it's about the reaction to the disaster, the human element -- people finding strength, or courage, or character they didn't know they had in the face of extraordinary events. But it doesn't hurt to have a fantastic performance from a Shelley Winters, either.