In the generic cast interviews that accompany the DVD release of Hallmark's cash-in mini-series, C. Thomas Howell waxes on about the company's standard for humanistic, character-driven stories, and while it's an obvious ploy by the actor to keep in good standing with Hallmark (having already worked on three productions), Howell, perhaps naively, believes the mini-series genre is much more than bland programming, larded with unending ad breaks.
The DVD includes longer versions of the two-part 156 min. series originally broadcast in November of 2005 - about 18 mins. of likely pace deadening scene extensions - and rebroadcast again by some local stations prior to Warner Bros.' 2006 remake. The inclusion of more material, certainly in the case of TV mini-series, is curiously ironic, as disaster films - Earthquake and The Towering Inferno - were broadcast on TV as 2-part mini-series, using extra footage deemed unnecessary to the flow of the theatrical films.
Doing the same for TV mini-series places an already padded narrative into worse territory - and that's a core problem with this retelling of Paul Gallico's Poseidon Adventure. TV mini-series can be good, provided they're not slaves to Multiple Ad Break Syndrome, but network mini-series have become sad reflections of what used to be treated as a home viewing 'event'. Every story has a natural flow, and while tangents can add deeped characters and add intriguing background material, they can also become redundant when dumb chase sequences, lame intrigue, or banal conflicts are stretched over two and sometimes three ad breaks, leaving the denouement until the next night.
Current TV mini-series are very genre-specific: historical (tales of the primal wild west, threads from colonial America), science-fiction (alien abduction, threat to national security from Out There), action/thriller (threats to national security from foreigners, aided from within by native anarchists), mystery (based on a best-selling novel, and told over 4 hours when 2 would do just fine), and disaster (space gone wild, weather gone wild, bugs gone wild, religious prophecy/Armageddon gone wild), and although the special effects are generally passable in these productions, the so-called event mini-series try to compete with ADD editing, nausea-cam footage, and a cast of generally good actors bulldozing through bad dialogue, so the next action/suspense set-piece gets going before the ad break split.
Poseidon actually differs by visually treating the drama more sedately, but director (and otherwise actor) John Putch lacks the instinct to give the film's action scenes needed power; his approach is workmanlike, and selection of angles and framed shots come off as exceptionally banal, robbing scenes of energetic struggle, and a sense of dire urgency.
Veteran TV scribe Bryce Zabel (plus co-writer of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) proves one can take a solid story and update it with modern threats - in this case it's terrorists plotting to blow holes in the hull of the ship - but it's obvious from the onset that their customized explosives will come in handy when the survivors reach the ship's sun-baked hull, and a rescue crew is just meters away.
Detective Rogo (played by Ernest Borgnine in the '72 film) is now a Homeland Security man (minus a gorgeous-but-bitchy wife), simultaneously functioning as a link to a new military storyline involving ER's Alex Kingston, aiding a U.S. surveillance team to track, find, and dispatch a rescue team for the sinking boat. Kingston occasionally feigns concern when certain facts and figureheads want sensitive information kept hush-hush, but, as with the lengthy scenes showing international terrorists shopping for bombs and planning their assault, it's all lame padding intercut between Zabel's otherwise faithful follow-through of the superior Wendell Mayes-Sterling Silliphant '72 screenplay.
Also tweaked from the original film are the priest (Gene Hackman's rebellious man of God is now an emasculated old coot, played by a wasted Rutger Hauer); the lovey dovie geriatrics (Shelley Winters and Jack Albertson are now quasi-British); and the annoying teenagers en route to meet their Grecian parents (now morphed into the rebellious kids of Steve Guttenberg and Alexa Hamilton - themselves patterned after the bickering Borgnine/Stevens couple. Instead of being an cop and ex-prostitute, the couple's comprised of a weak-willed husband, living under the shadow of his financially successful, Martha Stewart-styled wife).
Guttenberg also has an affair with an athletic babe to further aggravate his marriage (which ultimately brings him back to home values when tragedy conveniently forces a moral decision), and his daughter gets the romantic intrigue with ship doctor C. Thomas Howell. (In the '72 film, we had to suffer through singer Nonnie/actress Carol Lynley, and the ship's waiter/actor Roddy McDowall).
Bryan Brown plays a financially successful media producer who engages Guttenberg's son (previously a ship geek, now a movie geek) to 'document' the group's trek to the sun on the lad's DV cam, with Brown and his wife as leads, and using a remarkably long set of lithium batteries. (A further sub-story also involves Guttenberg's little fart conning the ship's dining coordinator into appearing as a vampire in a homemade, shipboard film.) Brown's wife (hokely played by Tinarie Van Wyk-Loots), is a French singer (taking over Nonnie's role as the story's lead songstress), who speaks six languages, "and is of course most fluent of all, in music."
More obvious updates are technological, with the Internet coming in handy when bitch-wife Alexa Hamilton manages to find a functional computer with Internet access, in spite of the fact all power on the boat is kaput, the servers are likely dead, and the antennae are underwater, IF they still happened to be attached to their holdings.
Hallmark's DVD offers a very nice transfer of the series (available full screen and mild widescreen), with a strong series of primary colours, and some adequate CGI effects and modest upturned sets. The Dolby 5.1 mix is really just a re-channeled version of the included 2.0 mix, with faint echo and reverb piped through the rear surrounds, and main volume coming through the front centre channel. Joe Kraemer's score is thematically repetitive, and lacks both the melodic power ("Morning After" atrocity notwithstanding) and brooding approach of John Williams' '72 score.
Fully consistent with the '72 version, though, is the inclusion of a dopey ballad, performed to a room of interested listeners, with lyrics exclaiming the virtues of resilience, surviving the fire, and 'giving whatever it takes.' Perhaps Zabel's only clever line - maybe a deliberate allusion to the project's low pisotion in the annals of the disaster genre - comes from Adam Baldwin, who asks, "How does someone who speaks with such a thick accent sing without one?"
Director Putch later re-teamed with co-starts Steve Guttenberg and Tinarie Van Wyk-Loots in Mojave Phone Booth (2006), while Van Wyk-Loots and C. Thomas Howell also co-starred in H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, another cash-in production that beat the release date of Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds, in 2005.
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan