The remake of "Poseidon" got the kind of bad reviews I love to read about modern movies where CGI excess is substituted for character development and dialog the audience might actually remember.
Having been a fan of the original when I was twelve and having a son who is going through a fascination with ships, particularly sinking ships, I had to go. If I could survive "Titanic", one of the most absurd movies ever made, I could surely survive this Irwin Allen redux.
One of the items that struck me in the reviews was the notation that the remake had made Red Buttons' character gay, relieving us from seeing a middle aged man trying to take advantage of a young woman while she was distraught. That idea got me thinking.
Back in the seventies we knew that some people were gay, but we generally didn't know who they were or how many of them there were. Euphemisms like "confirmed bachelor" were used to avoid saying "gay."
In "The Poseidon Adventure", Red Buttons played a single man who didn't look a day under fifty. In fact Buttons was fifty-three. When asked why he was single, Buttons character replied "I guess I haven't found the right girl."
Back in the seventies, we expected that every guy, except for Liberace, would ultimately find that right girl. We were actually rooting for Red to take advantage of Carol Lynley's character because that was the way life was supposed to be.
But truth be told, there really weren't any romantic sparks between Red and Carol. The real romance was Pamela Sue Martin's schoolgirl crush on Hackman's preacher. Red was simply being supportive, the same way Dreyfus' gay architect was supportive of the female stowaway in the sequel.
Speaking of the sequel, the characterizations are thin and the dialog is banal, but I wasn't as offended by that as many of the critics.
I grew up in the heydey of disaster films. I watched Robert Wagner go up in flames. I watched Chuck Heston leave hot minky Genevieve Bujold for bloated Ava Gardner. I don't expect great acting and characters that make sense. I expect stooging and overacting and foolish self-sacrifices.
It would be fitting if the genre that became synonymous with Charlton Heston, Ernest Borgnine and George Kennedy got passed down to Dennis Quaid, Emmy Rossum, and Tommy Lee Jones.
Speaking of which, "Poseidon" would have been far better with Tommy Lee reprising Hackman's angry priest. The idea that lone wolf Josh Lucas was taking all of these risks to impress Jacinda Barrett wasn't credible, but then neither was Chuck taking the plunge to save Ava. Disaster movies need heroes. Without them we'd drown in the ballroom.
My complaint with "Poseidon" wasn't the lack of characterization. The dialog was weak, but no more obvious or annoying than the bad CGI effects. Apparently Hollywood can't afford to use real diesel fuel, more fallout from the war in Iraq.
No, what bothered me about "Poseidon" was the way everyone who wasn't in the ballroom was immediately killed off or fell through the trap door outside the disco.
The survival rate in the ballroom looked to be between 50% and 75%, and that was after being thrown around a crowded, multi-story room. By rights there should have been survivors all over the ship, yet the only people the ballroom escapees ever found alive were the last three people to leave the disco. Every other person they found was badly burned with the device "flash fire" being rolled out so often that viewers could be excused for wondering if "Poseidon" was an uncredited sequel to "Backdraft."
I missed the scene where Hackman's bedraggled survivors met up with a group of passengers who were following the ship's doctor toward the bow. It symbolized people placing their faith in science rather than religion in the sort of understated way that goes unnoticed amid the carnage of a good disaster movie.
The people in the ballroom placed their trust in the authority of the state, the ship's purser, and they all died. The people following the doctor put their faith in science and they all died.
All we have is our faith in something larger to inspire us to become larger. That's typically the message in all disaster movies.
That, and disasters are a great opportunity to hook up, unless you're not into that sort of thing.
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