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As Remakes do, Poseidon Fails.

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I'm running behind the times when it comes to checking out new films, and increasingly it has become checking out recent films rather than new ones; DVD fodder if you will. The original Poseidon Adventure was a heck of a film, done entirely with optical and physical special effects, none of this CGI crap. (But oh how I love that CGI crap.) It relied on strong acting and a moving story, not just in the emotional sense, but the physical as well. The first resort of a Hollywood studio today is that if it worked before, it can work again, so why risk doing something new?
Remakes irk me when there are so many original screenplays being written and dismissed every year. The last I heard, even when remakes and adaptations made up the majority of films, originals when piled together were still pulling in bigger box office returns. Who would have thought that something new would actually be more entertaining than something old?

I am a writer, so the first question I ask myself is "why am I asking myself questions when I should be thinking up new ideas, and writing them down?" Fair enough, but if I were a producer, or a studio executive, my first question would be simply "why?"

Why remake a film? And if I don't have a damn good answer, then the answer is obviously that you shouldn't. I guess the only answer that means something to producers and execs is "it will make us money with lower risk than something original." That is a perfectly valid requisite, especially if I am a stock holder in said company, but execs and producers, directors and writers, actors and whoever the hell else makes the damn thing do not have such investment in the company. What they want, presumably, is a good film.

If virtually any remake is going to have better odds at selling tickets just because it is a known property, then it will always be the path chosen because it is the path of least resistance. That really sucks, because you will never be able to break out of the box with a remake. No remake has ever become a block buster. Even the vaunted War of the Worlds remake that made hundreds of millions wasn't really a block buster. Tom Cruises uniquely stupid deal with the studio made sure that he made money before they did, as if the double-digit millions he got for acting wasn't enough already.

And really, just what was it that the new version did that the old one didn't? Back to my question, why do it? CGI that you can do today that couldn't be done in previous years is a compelling reason perhaps to re-release, but not remake. I can't think of any actor today that is so much better than those of years past that their presence and performance alone could justify re-shooting an entire film.

Likewise, no screenwriter is so brilliant that they could write the dialog so much better than writers of old as to justify it. Directors? I'm not so sure, and this could apply to writers and actors as well, it depends on if you're talking about hit or a bomb. If there were competent stars, and a good director, but a really terrible script, then a remake that not just improves upon the previous film, but says something in a new way that the other never could, even saying things that the other never did -- that might be worth it. But then again, they don't remake flops. That'd be too risky.

So here we have Poseidon, the original had an excellent cast, a good script, and competent direction that did something crazy; something not done before. Based on a book, I guess that is a bit of a hack, but it was still pretty damn good. Now we're saddled with a paycheck vehicle for up-and-comers like Emmy Rossum, and retirement checks for actors still hanging on, like Kurt Russel. Director Wolfgang Peterson did the dishonorable and immature thing, and branded the movie with the vanity "A Film By" credit. On top of that, not only does he have that retarded credit amongst the first three when the movie begins, but he also credits himself with the last credit, "directed by", before the real action begins.

It takes some balls to do that when you didn't write the film, since you only had as much to do with creating the film as the actors and writer did. It gets worse, because it was an adaptation, Peterson was stealing credit not just from screenwriter Mark Protosevich, but also the original story author Paul Gallico.

I'm making Peterson a sticking point mostly because I feel that he added virtually nothing to the film that would have justified a remake, yet he stuck his hand out to grab all the credit for it he possibly could. It was a visually impressive film to be sure, but the massive amount of CGI had a lot to do with it, as did the very expensive sets the studio paid for. Given the same resources, I wouldn't think that the original films director would have done any better or worse of a job in this department.

The script varied in it's challenges -- how the main characters escape the ship, and some of them were quite thrilling, so I give the screenwriter credit for that. But all the characters were changed, and frankly they were far less interesting than in the original. A preacher that doesn't like seeing things the way the others do, full of drive and force, constantly butting heads with a beat cop who isn't dumb but doesn't like playing by other peoples rules worked out great. Maybe it is not the best contrast and setup, but the actors made it work wonderfully. They constantly fought and argued, creating a constant state of conflict, which is where you get drama.

Those two characters were replaced by a former firefighter/Mayor and a former Navy submariner that we never find anything about. They get along pretty damn well, which is utterly boring. Cooperation at the critical moment is great, even more so when it is two people that don't like each other, but from the outset? Boring.

This is not a film review, but a condemnation of remakes from a writers perspective. Human conflict is what breeds drama. Without it, you have nothing but ploys and devices to help move things along. The script for the remake of Poseidon failed on a couple of different basic levels when it comes to good drama, and so could never match the original which nailed these basics with ease. It could never overtake it.

So why do it? It was not a box office success. The direction was standard. The acting was believable, but nothing worth an Oscar. The script had rookie mistakes that should have been cleaned up before production ever started, very fixable problems, we're not talking drastic page-one rewrites here. In the end, this movie said nothing that the original didn't, and in some ways said even less.

As with almost all remakes, there simply was no reason to do this. There are literally at least 10,000 original screenplays circulating in Hollywood at any one time, and you'd be insane to think that there aren't at least a few in there that could make you half a billion AND win you an Oscar at the same time.

If you have the stones to try.
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The text of this article is Copyright © 2006,2007 Paul William Tenny. All rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Attribution by: full name and original URL. Comments are copyrighted by their authors and are not subject to the Creative Commons license of the article itself.