Friday, February 22, 2013


Upon seeing the remade movie, Poseidon, for the first time, one critic wrote that this film “rolls over and plays dead” after the initial action scene when a rogue wave capsizes a luxury cruise ship in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean.  What led this critic to make such an outlandish negative statement about this movie?  The answer lies in the special effects that make this film what it is.  Computer animated effects play an immense role in enhancing this movie and giving it a sense of believability, but these effects also hold it back at times with subpar animation making a viewer say, “Really, I’m supposed to think that was real?”.  Special effects appeal to a viewer’s pathos, logos, and ethos in very different ways depending on the context of the film.  In Poseidon, the special effects set the scene, but also, at times, detract from the imagery that we want to see in a disaster movie.

                Most, if not all, special effects are designed to affect the emotions of a viewer in some way, as things like color and motion play key roles in the realism of such effects.  In Poseidon, the most dramatic scene is, undoubtedly, a massive rogue wave smashing into the side of the cruise ship and capsizing the vessel.  The people inside the ship literally have their world turned upside down as anything not tied down goes airborne and rains down on the helpless passengers and crew.  The wave itself initially appears off the starboard side of the Poseidon and stretches from horizon to horizon across our entire field of vision.  This can only do one thing for the viewer: inspire something between a strong sense of foreboding and a moment of pure fear within he who can do nothing but watch.  As it approaches the ship, the sea rises up, actually covering the view of the full moon that the helpless crewmen have from the bridge.  The effect worked as desired: show the audience just how big this wave really is and ensure that everyone knows that this might just be the end for all the characters they have gotten to know over the first portion of the movie.  But how far is too far as far as emotional appeals are concerned?  Do excessive effects: explosions, fires, shattering glass, and characters getting swept away, really contribute much to the scene other than lengthening it and adding additional viewing angles.  I personally think going all out with special effects is fitting for a defining scene such as this, but this type of appeal to pathos is addressed by Andrea A. Lunsford in Everything’s an Argument.  In the chapter on pathos, we learn that too much emotional appeal (disgust, shame, outrage) can make an audience turn away instead of taking the side of an argument (Lunsford 36).  Here, if the scene were too grotesque, that is, more so than it already is with the dead piling up everywhere on board the doomed vessel, than the approval ratings of this film would probably be even lower than the critics had already made them.  Regardless, this film is all about omnipresent danger and incessant fear, and is very effective, at least early on, at establishing both via appeals to pathos.

                Any movie that employs special effects of any kind will eventually hear from critics and audiences as to whether those effects were believable.  These analyses involve the film’s appeal to logos, as viewers involuntarily ask themselves whether a given explosion, fire, or flood appears as it would in the real world.  For a film like Poseidon, it was absolutely crucial that all of these scenarios be depicted accurately.  The film’s producer, Warner Bros., partnered with an animation/effects company called Virtual Studios to create the exterior of the ship itself as well as the environment surrounding this ill-fated vessel.  In this regard, from my perspective, the film gets off to a bad start.  This movie starts much like we would expect it to, with the vantage point rising out of the water to reveal a wide shot of the luxury liner at sea.  This predictability is unfortunate, as I was immediately looking for clues as to how the ship was animated and how realistic they were able to make it appear.  It took me a while, but eventually I came to the conclusion that this broad view of the Poseidon was designed primarily to obscure the fact that the ship is not real.  The exterior was not near as well filmed, in my opinion, as on board Titanic back in 1997.  In that movie, wide shots of the ship were interspersed with close up shots of characters on deck, giving the animated images a more realistic feel.  In Poseidon, the wide shots of the enormous vessel continue much longer than an audience cares to see them.  We did not need to observe it from all angles.  And when we did zoom in on the character Dylan as he jogs across the deck, there was no one around him and very little to show that he is not jogging across a simulated reality.  In Understanding Movies, Louis D. Giannetti mentions how critics often feel about such acting.  In regards to conversations in which actors do not actually see each other while talking, he tells us that such acting in front of a F/X blue-screens is often labeled cold and mechanical with none of the subtleties of face to face conversation (Giannetti 34).  I think that such a critical analysis fits the opening scenes of Poseidon quite well.  To top it all off, while the ship’s exterior is noticeably false, the interior is far too realistic.  The lighting changes too drastically as the camera view passes through a window and into the realm that was not created by a computer.  This is when the movie really starts, and perhaps we were supposed to be jolted by such an abrupt shift in atmosphere, but ultimately, it seems that director Wolfgang Peterson made a poor judgment call at this stage of the movie.  These and other visual shortfalls are just some of the reasons that Poseidon falls short of its famous predecessor.

                This film is a remake of the 1972 film, The Poseidon Adventure, and thus has a reputation to uphold.  Most moviegoers know the basic storyline behind Poseidon, and whether or not it abides by that storyline equals a positive or negative appeal to ethos.  However, thirty-four years have passed between the films and this latest edition will most likely fit the category of a film produced for a new generation.  There is one interesting point of difference between the films that is worth mentioning.  In the original film, the wave that capsizes the Poseidon is actually a tsunami generated by an undersea earthquake.  In the remake, there is no earthquake detected and the wave appears out of nowhere, leading it to be labeled as a rogue wave.  As the wave appeared, I said to myself, “a wave from nowhere?  Really?”  Is it too obvious that producers are attempting to wow audiences with amazing special effects while assuming that everyone knows more or less how the story will go?  There is one clue that suggests yes: this is a short movie.  I will admit that I was moderately surprised that this film only runs for an hour and thirty-eight minutes (less if you don’t count credits).  The reason behind this is the fact that only a select few scenes depicting New Year’s Eve on board the Poseidon are shown prior to the wave striking the ship.  Hence, the remaining majority of the movie can be dedicated to the characters’ escape upward through the ship.  Putting what essentially is the climax of a film early on is a risky move as far as scripting is concerned, for that means that most of the movie is falling action and various subplots or additional action scenes must take place to keep the audience’s attention.  This is what led that critic to say that, after the wave strikes, this movie “rolls over and plays dead”.

                Poseidon is a solid action/adventure movie for the average moviegoer.  It has its strengths and weaknesses and seems to simultaneously be both an innovative and outdated experience in terms of special effects.  Hence, I will give it two tickets.  It probably deserves between one and two tickets, but I will give it the benefit of the doubt.  In short, this is a film for anyone but most certainly not for everyone.  Does it “roll over and play dead” after the wave strikes?  I would say the answer is no, but a lot was left to be desired over the final three-quarters of the film.  If one needs incentive to get out and see this movie, click the link, watch the destruction, and wonder to yourself, who, if anyone, will survive Poseidon?

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