Thursday, May 04, 2006

On What a 21st Century Poseidon Means

Those of you who know me know I attribute some directors with prophetic gifts or at least a unique ability to predict market forces that are somehow related to an intangible spirit of the times.

Titanic movies, and there are so many versions, have come to represent, for me at least, our human tendency to put way too much stock in our own achievements at the expense of humility, reason, and compassion. If one looks at the go-go 90s and the then prevailing sense of being able to do the impossible using any means possible, it isn’t hard to see why James Cameron’s 1997 film of the tragedy resonated with so many. The bubble about to burst may have become visible to just enough people.

Silly Troy. Everyone knows the special effects and Leo and Kate were the big draw. Be honest, special effect do not a best movie make. And was the romantic relationship really that compelling?

You may say I need to look beyond the script to the archetypal American myth that Jack was—the hard-scrabble, humble American-to-be, up-from-your-bootstraps go-getter (7 hyphens!). Yes, and he dies. And am I blinded by cynicism or did he actually sacrifice his life so the rich, aristocrat could live? Either way, Cameron gave us a nice blockbuster preview of the current mess I see us in today.

Flash forward nine years to the upcoming release of Wolfgang Peterson’s Poseidon. Itself a remake of 1972’s tragi-campy Poseidon Adventure starring the recently deceased countess of camp herself, Shelly Winters.

In the movie, an ocean liner meets an outsized tsunami (no stretch to see a connection to current events here) and pays the price. Winters plays, of all things, a former competitive swimmer in the movie (“You see Mr. Scott, in the water I’m a very skinny lady.”) Fun fact: When I was in LA for a conference I stayed at the hotel whose lobby stood in for the Poseidon’s ballroom. I nearly wet my pants when I realized it.

So what, right? So what indeed. The original Poseidon Adventure was part of a long-lived string of disaster movies (The Towering Inferno, the Airport series, The Swarm) that I think reflected a real or imagined sense of impending doom our country faced back in the 1970s. Were they a way for us to confront the large, faceless fears that seemed to plague us and our economy? Do we feel that way again now?

OR, is the net result more hopeful? After all, the academy award-winning theme song from the original Poseidon Adventure was “There’s Got to be a Morning After.”


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