A tidal wave of insults threatens return voyage of 'Poseidon' movie

The screen legend Shelley Winters won a Golden Globe and Gene Hackman a Bafta for their appearances in the 1972 ocean liner disaster movie, The Poseidon Adventure. But their performances were attacked yesterday by the film director Wolfgang Peterson in a bizarre riposte to those critics who have panned his own $150m (£80m) remake of the watery yarn.

Peterson, whose previous work includes hits such as The Perfect Storm and In the Line of Fire, has been criticised for making a "lame" and "listless" reworking, entitled simply Poseidon.

But the 65-year-old German director said yesterday that it was not in the same "campish, Hollywood style" as the "terribly over-acted" original. It was not even really a remake, he added. "I don't want to make fun of his movie [the original]. I love this movie. It was fun when I saw it the first time, but if I might say so it's a bit outdated now," he said.

Three decades ago, Gene Hackman played the Rev Frank Scott while Winters played the heroine Belle Rosen in the story of a group of passengers struggling to survive after their ocean liner capsizes at sea on New Year's Eve.

Despite the implausibility of some of the plot - apparently liners are never at risk from tidal waves when out at sea - the movie proved a popular and critical hit. In contrast, Peterson's new cast of Kurt Russell, Josh Lucas and Richard Dreyfuss, have found themselves a major disappointment to the Warner Bros studio. Poseidon took only $22.2m at the America box office the weekend it opened, probably half the cost of its marketing budget.

It opens in Britain on Friday, but Warners have delayed release in several countries, partly because of concerns ticket sales would be dented by the forthcoming football World Cup. It has taken only $4.3m overseas so far.

Alan Horn, president and chief operating officer of Warner Bros, told the trade magazine Variety: "I'm not willing to concede Poseidon as a failure of great magnitude, but I will agree that the results in the US have been very, very disappointing," he said. "We will lose money, but less than we have on lower-budgeted films. It will be an acceptable loss."

At a press conference to promote the movie yesterday, Kurt Russell, 55, said: "They are two different movies, one is a camp classic, the other is non-stop suspense."

His co-star Richard Dreyfuss, 58, agreed with Peterson that the original was "not really a great film, but a great idea, which managed to remain on cable, like most of our careers".

Although the tactic of damning an award-winning predecessor may seem questionable, Petersen's cast and crew are not alone in having reservations about the Hackman-Winters classic which was directed by Ronald Neame.

Halliwell's, the film bible, describes The Poseidon Adventure as a "tedious disaster movie which caught the public fancy and started a cycle". It had "spectacular moments" and "flashes of imagination," Halliwell's opines, but the characters were "cardboard".

Nevertheless, with The Towering Inferno, it remains one of the legendary disaster movies and regularly tops polls as such. Whether it should ever have been re-made is the question on many producers lips.

One consequence of the lukewarm response to its blockbusters is that Hollywood is increasingly showing interest in smaller-budget movies which would traditionally have been seen as arthouse. Whereas a decade ago, such movies generated only 8 per cent of the box office, the success of films such as Crash, Brokeback Mountain and March of the Penguins last year drove their share of the market to 15 per cent or $1.3bn, Variety reported.

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