Das Boot Kaput

'Poseidon' wants to be taken seriously. Serious problem.

By Steve Burgess 15 May 2006 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess is a freelance writer and the author of Who Killed Mom?, published in 2011 by Greystone Books.

Born in Norwalk Ohio, home of the famous virus, Steve was raised in Regina, SK, and Brandon, MB. He writes a regular column for The Tyee, often reviewing films but also, sometimes, detailing his hilarious world travels for Tyee readers. Steve is a former CBC Radio host and has won two National Magazine Awards. He has also won three Western Magazine Awards.

Reporting Beat: Travel, pop culture, politics, cobbling, knife sharpening, furnace repair.

Twitter: @steveburgess1

Website: Steve Burgess

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Poseidon, director Wolfgang Petersen's new movie, contains some major surprises. For example: did you know it is based on a novel? Who knew there were novels starring Ernest Borgnine and Shelley Winters?

The less literate among us know this tale of a boat that turns turtle from its cinematic predecessor, the 70s disaster flick The Poseidon Adventure. You can go two ways when remaking a camp classic: amp the camp even further, or crank up the modern special effects and play it straight. Petersen opts for the latter -- Das Boot Kaput. Let the implausible carnage begin.

Special effects kick in early. The boatload of obese, badly-dressed buffet patrons usually found on a cruise ship has been digitally altered to resemble a gathering of Hollywood swells. It's traditional with these remakes that the stars of the original make cameo appearances, but that's difficult in this case. Considering the fatality rate, the late Borgnine and Winters could have floated by as guest corpses. Instead we get the likes of Kurt Russell and Josh Lucas, who meet at a poker table.

Bus boys sink

It's Kurt Russell who's running things here. "He used to be mayor of New York!" chirps his daughter, played by Emmy Rossum. "I used to be a fireman," Russell says later. Never mind the wave -- Kurt's resume clearly made the boat top-heavy.

That wave arrives just in time to prevent Richard Dreyfuss from committing suicide over a failed love affair. I'm sure the thousands of soon-to-be-dead passengers appreciate that.

Unlike the hand-wringing over the timing of United 93, nobody seems to have asked the residents of Thailand, Sri Lanka, and southern India whether it's too soon for a tsunami movie. And since we're all tsunami experts now, aren't those big waves actually very small when out in deep water?

Anyway, the boat flips. Someday all cruise ships will have rollover capacity -- hell of a way to scrub down after an outbreak of Norwalk virus. It also clears out hundreds of useless extras so that we can concentrate on realizing the feel-good headline for the next day's paper: "Boat Flips! Several Likeable People Rescued!"

Important lessons will be learned as the would-be survivors struggle for freedom. One: Avoid being expendable. A bus boy's uniform can prove fatal. Two: emergency kits should include a flashlight, a crucifix (Muslim symbols make bad screwdrivers), and a small boy, useful for tight spaces. Don't forget to feed the boy weekly.


A favorite scene: just before attempting a brave swim, young Mike Vogel turns to fiancée Emmy Rossum and says, "I need you to tell me that you love me." Before she can answer he turns to his future father-in-law Kurt Russell and says, "Sir, I need you to tell me…" But Russell has already dived into the water, probably to prevent the kid from finishing the sentence.

As a veteran of Jaws, Richard Dreyfuss understands that the ultimate solution will involve pressurized fuel tanks that can blow up good. And a final lesson: when your boat does go down at last, don't forget to have a pristine, dry, perfectly-inflated life raft neatly parked on the water, equipped with flare gun to summon helicopters hovering a few feet away.

Congratulations, Wolfgang Petersen. You are now officially a hack.

Steve Burgess is The Tyee's cultural critic at large.

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