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Poseidon: HD-DVD Review

By Chris Boylan
The Film

"Poseidon" may not be the best disaster film ever made. In fact, it may not even be in the top 25, but this remake by director Wolfgang Petersen ("The Perfect Storm") does have its redeeming features. The opening shot, which begins underwater, surfaces and pans around the entire ship, then snakes around and over a pool, finally passing through a glass door and into a passenger cabin, is one impressive example of cinematographic achievement - a nearly seemless blend of live action with advanced CGI.

A few minutes later, (spoiler alert!), the "rogue" wave which strikes the ship is nothing short of incredible - not just the entirely fabricated but lifelike massive wave itself, but also the violent and chaotic mayhem that ensues in its wake. Petersen is no stranger to large, CGI-created waves (see "Perfect Storm") but the rogue wave in "Poseidon" makes the "Perfect" wave look like a ripple by comparison.

If only the storyline and depth of characterization were anywhere near the level of technical execution, then we'd have a good film here. But the dialog is stilted, the characters shallow, motivations are murky, and the action mostly unbelievable. The original 1972 version ("Poseidon Adventure") wasn't perfect either, but it had its charm, which mostly does not carry over to this modern reinterpretation.

For more detailed commentary on the film itself, see Joe Lozito's review.

The Picture

The HD-DVD's widescreen 1080p transfer is wonderfully detailed. The afore-mentioned opening shot and rogue wave are revealed in glorious Cinemascope (2.4:1 aspect ratio), and the illusions hold up, even under such scrutiny. A further testament to the technical prowess of the film-makers. Dark below deck (and underwater) scenes are also clearly conveyed by the high definition format, with no false contouring or MPEG artifacts to be seen. The video quality of this HD-DVD is impressive indeed.

The Sound

The score by Klaus Badelt is mostly effective at setting the moods: wonder, despair, excitement, doom, and ultimately, hope. An appearance and musical performance by Fergie (of "Black Eyed Peas" fame) adds some fun to the ill-fated New Year's Eve party. But the sonic highlight of this HD-DVD is the Dolby TrueHD mix that presents the music, sound effects and dialog in a coherent, wonderfully dynamic lossless surround mix. It can't make up for the thin-ness of the plot, but it certainly draws you into the action as effectively as it can, given the circumstances.

The Extras

Extras on a DVD should add depth and appreciation to the film-making craft. And in this aspect, the HD-DVD really shines. In addition to some highly illuminative behind-the-scenes documentaries on how they managed to achieve such a plausible reality in a mostly articifial environment, there is also a History Channel documentary which explores the concept of "rogue waves" from a scientific/historical perspective. Apparently these rogue waves exist and are capable of wreaking havoc on any poor vessel that stands in their path.

In addition to the stand-alone documentaries, the disc features an "In Movie Experience" option which allows you to see and hear the film-makers and star Josh Lucas comment on details of the film as it unfolds with an inset PIP window on the bottom of the screen. I noticed some slight glitches in how/where the inset window appeared, and in some of the audio mixing of the commentary tracks. But overall, this is a very cool feature, and I'm glad to see film-makers and studios taking advantage of it. The In-Movie Experience makes watching an HD-DVD a far richer experience than watching the same film on a standard DVD.

Final Thoughts

Although I wasn't enthralled by "Poseidon," I admit that film is a subjective experience and others may enjoy the film more than I. Some of the technical achievements of the movie are so stunning as to earn the price of admission on their own. But fans of the film will definitely want to own it on HD-DVD as the disc itself presents "Poseidon" in its best possible light: top-notch sound and picture, and plenty of extras to inform and entertain the viewer for hours.

Technical Details
  • Director: Wolfgang Petersen
  • Screenplay by Mark Protosevich, based on the novel by Paul Gallico
  • Actors: Kurt Russell, Josh Lucas, Richard Dreyfuss, Jacinda Barrett, Emmy Rossum
  • HD-DVD release date: January 17, 2007
  • MSRP: $28.99
  • US theatrical release date: May 12, 2006
  • Feature film running time: 98 minutes
  • Feature Film video transfer: 1080p 16:9 HD transfer
  • Aspect Ratio: Widescreen, 2.4:1
  • Sound format: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
  • Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
  • Number of discs: 1
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • Extras:
    • Poseidon: A Ship on a Soundstage: The Complexities of Making a Modern Adventure Movie
    • A Shipmate's Diary: A film School Intern's Experiences on the Set
    • Poseidon: Upside Down: A Unique Set Design Chronicle
    • The History Channel Documentary - Rogue Waves: Explore the Mystery of this Powerful Phenomenon of Nature
    • Theatrical trailer

What did you think?

View all articles by Chris Boylan
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