With New Year's just minutes away, the passengers aboard luxury liner Poseidon figure they're the luckiest folks in the world as they party the night away. It's a clear, moonlit night, and they're out in the middle of the North Atlantic ushering in another year in style. What could be better?
Then, while the festivities continue in the main ballroom, the vessel's chief officer senses something is wrong. His suspicions are immediately validated upon scanning the horizon and seeing a massive wave bearing down on them. It's too late to do anything, and the huge Poseidon lurches face-down into the deep.
For those fortunate enough to live through this sudden, catastrophic reversal of fortune, the ship's captain assuages their fears by assuring them help is on the way. "We are at most several hours from rescue," he announces, adding that the ballroom was designed to be airtight and completely safe in such situations.
Professional gambler Dylan Johns isn't buying it and decides to play the odds by finding his own way out. Much to his initial chagrin, he's joined by an assorted group that includes single mom Maggie and her young son; ex-fireman/ex-mayor Robert, who's desperate to reach another part of the ship and find his daughter, Jennifer; Richard, an architect who was about to commit suicide right before the wave hit; and ship crew member Valentin, who offers to guide the gang as they grope their way up through the bottom of the now-sinking vessel, looking for an exit.
It's well known that times of crisis bring out the best and worst in people, and it's no different after Poseidon capsizes. Though Dylan originally seems to look out only for himself, he quickly abandons his old nature and not only leads the group, but also risks his life several times for the sake of others. His coaching and consoling helps many of his fellow survivors through trying times. And while he's repeatedly faced with situations in which he could save himself, he instead opts to go back and help others.
Robert often does the same, and this is especially highlighted in a gut-wrenching scene in which he volunteers to put himself in harm's way so the group—including Jennifer and her boyfriend (who, Robert learns, are actually engaged)—has a chance to survive. In the midst of life-threatening circumstances, the team works together as virtually every other member puts aside his or her own safety to aid others. And though Poseidon is steeped in tragedy, it certainly turns the spotlight on the resilience and compassion of the human spirit that arises in its wake.
The former mayor twice thanks Jennifer's boyfriend for taking care of his daughter. On one occasion, the young man defers the credit, saying she actually saved him. Robert also keeps the group's spirits high, assuring them that "we'll find a way" even when their path is blocked. When Dylan is disheartened, Robert tells him, "There's nothing fair about who lives and who dies. You gave [one survivor who was eventually lost] a chance. You gave everyone a chance. You did great."
Several survivors express their love for each other. Passengers console one another before their imminent deaths.
A woman prays, "I know it's been a while and I've been out of touch, God, but please be with me." She then makes the sign of the cross and kisses her cross necklace. Later, the necklace is used to save the group; one skeptical survivor comments, "How ironic." Upon giving the difficult order to seal off part of the ship, knowing that doing so will doom hundreds, the ship's captain utters, "God rest their souls." When a young man compares the bleak surroundings to an otherworldly realm, another survivor says, "You are in hell, boy." Though more mythological than spiritual, the captain waxes poetic about Poseidon being the god of the sea.
After Robert walks in on Jennifer and her boyfriend in his room, he voices his concern about them being alone together. He quickly gets lambasted by his twentysomething daughter, who disrespectfully snaps, "I'm done with your patronizing tone." She adds that if they wanted to have sex, there are a "zillion other places [onboard] we could be doing that thing you think we're doing"—raising the possibility that the couple has so far refrained. Later, when Robert objects to Jennifer dressing in such a way as to reveal cleavage, she makes reference to "the twins" (though she does button up her top).
Jennifer certainly isn't alone when it comes to low necklines in this film. Almost every other woman onboard shows cleavage. A couple dances seductively and kisses. Lucky Larry, a slimy womanizer, who we meet at the poker table, makes crude sexual remarks. He also pats a female server on the behind.
Richard bemoans the fact that his gay lover has met someone else and didn't join him for the voyage.
The MPAA tagged Poseidon with a PG-13 rating for "intense prolonged sequences of disaster and peril." That may be an understatement, as virtually every minute of this grip-your-theater-seat movie involves individuals fighting for their next breath. And while the filmmakers don't necessarily revel in blood and gore, neither do they shy away from showing extremely jarring depictions of violence and death.
Passengers get tossed about like rag dolls, electrocuted and crushed by massive objects. Others are burned by flash fires or overwhelmed by the water's force. Most notably, the camera lingers as one man drowns. And it remains steady in the film's most graphic segment as another man plunges to his death down an elevator shaft and his body is impaled on metal spikes. Bodies that fall from tremendous heights are sometimes shown bloodied and disfigured, and we get a close-up of a grisly leg wound.
A door whacks Richard in the face, drawing blood. Another passenger hits her head on a sharp metal object underwater; a cloud of blood spreads. Immense, spectacular explosions occur frequently throughout the film as various parts of the ship surrender to the laws of nature.
Just as disturbing as the various ways people die is their sheer number. Countless dead (and often gruesome-looking) bodies are shown floating underwater, charred by fires or piled up from the wave's violent hit. As one woman searches through a roomful of corpses, she intones, "It's just dead people, right?" Yes, but lots of them.
Crude or Profane Language
God's name is misused more than a dozen times; four times it is combined with "d--n." Jesus' name gets profaned once. Lucky Larry is responsible for two uses of the s-word and a crude reference to the male anatomy. There are also another half-dozen or so milder profanities and vulgarities, including "a--hole."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Wine, champagne and martinis are ubiquitous onboard Poseidon as passengers toast the New Year. Robert pours himself a glass of what appears to be hard liquor. Lucky Larry asks a server for another a martini while gambling. Before crossing a dangerous makeshift bridge, he takes a swig from a flask and appears drunk. (Dylan warns him not to drink too much, but to no avail.) Richard orders a $5,000 bottle of wine for his friends, chalking it up to "carpe diem," and then speaks of drowning his sorrows with it. Dylan smokes a cigarette while playing cards.
Other Negative Elements
Speaking of Dylan's card playing, he makes his living by taking money at the poker table from despondent people who've had too much to drink. Later, when the gambler realizes that he can't save two people at once, he urges the one with the best chance of survival to essentially send the other to his death. (To the movie's credit, a brief moment shows the remorse of both surviving characters.)
Fudging the truth to try to accomplish good, Jennifer's boyfriend illegitimately insists he was on the swim team. And a passenger is smuggled onto the ship so that she can tend to an ailing relative.
In 1972, the original Poseidon Adventure solidified the arrival of the disaster movie genre. Star-studded yet horrifically acted, it was a huge box-office success and garnered a host of Oscar nominations, most of which were for its colossal setting, special effects and sound. If Hollywood was onto something, it was that moviegoers loved big catastrophes and even bigger explosions emanating from ill-fated ships, buildings, airplanes, etc. Turns out, we humans love to watch other people fight for their lives.
So, here we are, three-and-a-half decades later, still soaking in big-budget catastrophes. We breathe a sigh of relief when a ragtag remnant make their way home at the end. And since Titanic mopped up more money than any other movie in history, why not sink another big ship—again? Poseidon, meet a new generation.
The result is an update that doesn't just abbreviate the original title, it hacks off virtually any semblance of meaningful plot established in that version's opening half hour. It's as if the director said, Hey, we've got CG now, let's cut straight to the big wave. The emotional pull here is the life-or-death situation. Whether we know much about these paint-by-numbers personalities or not, we root for their survival because, remember, we love big-budget catastrophes.
Unfortunately, director Wolfgang Petersen felt a need to one-up Poseidon's capital-I Intensity with profanity and frequent death scenes. This time around the characters are more redeeming and far less annoying, and there's a subtle message about the value of life. But as the waves finally subsided, I was painfully aware that this emotionally exhausting journey isn't so much about the triumph of the human spirit as it is about opening up the summer blockbuster season with a great big—catastrophic—splash.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Josh Lucas as Dylan Johns; Kurt Russell as Robert Ramsey; Jacinda Barrett as Maggie James; Richard Dreyfuss as Richard Nelson; Jimmy Bennett as Conor James; Emmy Rossum as Jennifer Ramsey; Mike Vogel as Christian; Mía Maestro as Elena Gonzalez; Andre Braugher as Captain Michael Bradford; Kevin Dillon as Lucky Larry; Freddy Rodríguez as Marco Valentin