A Sinking Feeling

What the hell happened to Richard Dreyfuss's glasses?

Thisquestion gnaws at my mind throughout most of Wolfgang Peterson's updated Poseidon Adventure, Poseidon, beginning the moment people on board the titular cruise ship begin to get their bearings after a rogue wave tosses them end over end.

Just prior to the wave knocking the ship upside down, Dreyfuss's near-suicidal-thanks-to-losing-a-lover character has a pair of those arty, boxy wire glasses perched on his nose. The wave hits and he stands up, sans glasses. When a small group of other passengers, led by Josh Lucas and Kurt Russell, embark on a cockeyed escape-from-this-damned-boat attempt, Dreyfuss once again has his glasses on.

Where did they come from? And, really, why did he get them back? Throughout most of the film, Dreyfuss is forced underwater, swimming from one place to another. Since glasses don't stay on one's nose under water, Dreyfuss is again separated, this time for good, from his spectacles. But that's OK, because he seems to be handling himself just fine without them. He's not bumping into things, not misjudging distances because his depth of field is thrown all out of whack -- no problem that usually faces bespectacled individuals phases Richard Dreyfuss.

I have no allusions that I was the only person in the theater bothered by this glaring inconsistency. In fact, I doubt anyone even noticed in the first place that Dreyfuss was even wearing glasses -- eyewear is so fashionable transparent these days, don't ya know. But Dreyfuss's glasses, and the lack of care given to this ever-so-small of character detail, is indicative of everything that's wrong about "Poseidon."

Starting at the top, Poseidon isn't a film that needed to be made. No amount of money or "Let's bring this epic disaster film of yesteryear to today's audiences because today's world is scary!" rationalization can justify this film's existence.

Hollywood is remake mad, that much is certain. But this entry into Tinsletown's pantheon of attempted cash-grabs based on the assumption that some group of people will be drawn to the theater because of brand recognition is erroneous and laughable at best and downright numbskullery at worst.

The Poseidon Adventure worked in its era because that time was in the throws of disaster movie craziness. Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, all the Airport movies -- these, along with The Poseidon Adventure, served their purpose, whatever that might have been, then puttered out to the point of being sent up brilliantly in Airplane!. And if anyone would've stopped for a minute to consider what they were doing with Poseidon, they would've realized the following: Airplane! is a classic, it was in the seventies and it still is today. Those disaster films were star-studded clunkers, shadowy versions of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World for the brooding twentysomethings taking over the cinemas. They were hammy then, and they're even hammier now. Audiences don't want to see ham wrapped in the Wall Street Journal, they want it wrapped in the National Enquirer, they don't want The Poseidon Adventure, they want Airplane!. And that's why the former will go down as a relic of the seventies while the latter is being passed down from one generation to another as a holy grail of comedy.

Poseidon in this sense is truly a worthy copy of The Poseidon Adventure. It's star-studded, it's over the top, it's effects-laden, it's utterly empty, and totally derivative. And not just of The Poseidon Adventure and other disaster films. One of the climactic moments near the end of the film's scant 90-minute runtime is ripped almost directly from Armageddon. Except, you know, under water on an upside-down boat rather than on an asteroid the size of Texas about to plow into Earth. When you're noticing a film ripping off one of the most masturbatory effects films of all time, you know you're in for trouble. The only thing worse is if a film were borrowing from Batman & Robin. And while Russell is a better actor here than Bruce Willis was in Armageddon, it doesn't much matter because Peterson and his gang of crack film commandos don't allow us to care about Russell, Dreyfuss, Lucas, or any of the other "major" characters in the film. (Although, when it comes to Kevin Dillon, occupying with ease and grace the role of token cocksucker, the less we see and hear the better.)

Whenever a relevant piece of character development is revealed, we're tossed violently into an effects shot. For example, we learn two things about Lucas's character in the film: he's a professional gambler and he spent time in the Navy. Why does he do those things? Where did he come from? And why does he seem to have such a contentious relationship with Russell? We never find out any of the answers to these questions, which is a crime regardless of if it's a meaningless summer popcorn flick or not. These are basic character traits that even the worst of filmmakers attempt to touch on at some point or another. Worse, though, is Dreyfuss's character, who is inexplicably gay. If Dreyfuss's character's sexuality played a role in the film, say someone was homophobic and didn't want his help, that would be something. Instead, we get nothing. Literally, nothing. He's gay simply to be gay, which is a horrendous piece of decision making because it makes you think that he's gay simply to occupy a minority role in the film, or else to draw the gay audience to the film. Close your eyes and picture the executives plotting this thing out, exclaiming that if they put a gay guy in the film they'll clean up at the box office. Sorry champs, it doesn't work that way. If this character was gay to serve a legit story purpose, fine. But here, he's merely window dressing.

Watching Poseidon is to watch a film where a once respectable director has taken total leave of his abilities. It's as if Peterson is directing us not to pay attention to those inconsequential talking mannequins, look instead at all the crap he can blow up! Poseidon seems to want the audience to ask aloud where the director of Das Boot went, and why has he been replaced by this graduate of the George Lucas Episode I School of Directing.

Which brings us to those glasses. Yes, it's a small detail. But when you stop and think about it, you begin to realize the shallowness of this film. You'll notice there's very little discussion of plot here. That's because there's very little plot to discuss: a ship gets hit with a wave, turns upside down, everyone dies but a few intrepid people trying to escape. But, more than that, why should anyone care about a film where the people responsible for making it don't care enough to care about the characters and story they're entrusted with. Someone doesn't care about Dreyfuss's glasses, Peterson doesn't care about character development, the producers don't care that the film doesn't need to be made -- the audience doesn't care about the film, period.

It's a snowball effect, except the one rock that begins the snowball here instead results in an avalanche, destroying every semblance of good sense of remedial cinematic storytelling in its path.