Kurt Russell and Josh Lucas lead a ragtag group of survivors on a desperate quest to escape an overturned ocean liner in a remake of the film that launched the disaster genre more than 30 years ago.
The adventure begins in mid-ocean as passengers on the luxury liner Poseidon celebrate New Years Eve. With no warning a massive wave swamps the ship pushing it over ... over ... until it is fully capsized: still afloat, but upside down:
The captain's assurances notwithstanding, professional gambler Dylan Johns, played by Josh Lucas, has sailed enough voyages to know that the odds are not in their favor if they just wait for rescue; and several passengers agree with him.
In a world literally turned topsy-turvy, the small band sets out to find a way up (what used to be down) to the engine rooms where they hope the propeller shafts will provide a way out of the sinking vessel.
Based on The Poseidon Adventure, a 1969 novel by Paul Gallico, the 1972 film version became the template for the disaster drama genre. Josh Lucas says this new Poseidon tries to add realism to the conventions of the genre.
"The original, to me, is good fun, but there's really nothing about it that is that realistic when you go back and look at it," said Lucas. "That's kind of the joy of it and I felt the battle that we had was trying to make a movie that, yes, is a fun, action, summer ride ... yes, it's escapism - joyful Hollywood escapism, in a way ... and yet, at the same time we have a movie that deals with a terrible disaster scenario and tries to make it seem as genuine and legitimate as possible and yet be fun to watch. It's a big, fun action movie; but what we tried to battle with was making it have some sense of integrity.
Kurt Russell plays politician Robert Ramsey, who had been a firefighter earlier in his career, so he knows something about escape from danger; but Russell likes that these details only come out during the course of the adventure.
"You don't know anything about these people [and] they really don't know anything about each other," he explained. "Some of them, you don't even know their names. That struck me as interesting when I was reading the script because I think it can often be true in our lives that the four or five most critical hours could be spent with people you don't know at all and you could be entirely dependent upon them to save your life at some point [and they on you]... and you don't know anything about them.
Poseidon is a return to a watery setting for German-born director Wolfgang Peterson, who first won international acclaim with the 1981 submarine drama Das Boot.
"Obviously, I like to work with water. I find it very, very dramatic," he explained. "I grew up in Hamburg in the north of Germany, close to the water. I always liked hanging out there looking at the endless horizon ... wonderful to let your imagination just fly. Also, watching when it really gets bad: the power of water is unbelievable. I was always impressed as a kid by how strong [it was]. Also, as a filmmaker, I had the feeling that if you are out lost on a boat and you don't know how to get back, or the boat is sinking or whatever, and you are just stuck, it's a great dramatic setting."
Rather than rely on computer-generated images, Peterson built elaborate upside-down sets complete with flames and flooding waters to drench his Poseidon cast with the reality of their characters' situations. But co-star Richard Dreyfuss says, in the end, it is a disaster movie meant to entertain.
"You have to surrender to the genre," he noted. "Yes, you've got to go with it. You can't fight it. You can help it. You can critique it. You can try to make it better within itself; but you can't make apples out of oranges.
Poseidon also features Australian actress Jacinda Barrett as a single mom traveling with her young son. New Yorker Emmy Rossum plays the headstrong daughter of Kurt Russell's character; and Argentina-born Mia Maestro (known for the TV adventure Alias) is a stowaway who joins the attempt to escape.