For $160 million, you could build a small luxury cruise ship. Or you could make a movie about a large luxury cruise ship turned upside down. At this point, the jury is still out as to which is the better long-term investment.

The movie Poseidon, about a ship that is capsized by a rogue wave, is not the blockbuster Warner Brothers had envisioned. Then again, the summer cruise season isnt exactly turning out the way industry executives had hoped.

I thought Bob Dickinson, president of Carnival Cruise Lines, could use a break from calculating the exact price point to fill his ships, so I asked him to join me at a showing of Poseidon last week.

Even for a Monday matinee, the occupancy rate of the theater was showing signs of weakness. There were four people in the audience when the movie started, and only two, Bob and I, when it ended. (One notable difference between theaters and cruise lines is that the theaters are not required to call the FBI to report missing viewers.)

We were getting what amounted to a private screening, so I encouraged Dickinson to comment freely as the film played.

  His first strong reaction came when the Richard Dreyfuss character ordered a bottle of 1988 Romanee-Conti by Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. Thats infanticide! said oenophile Dickinson, hinting that it would be preferable to see it lying unopened on the bottom of the ocean floor than watch it be opened too young. He later forgave Dreyfuss when it turned out his character was suicidal -- the only plausible excuse.

Bob was impressed by the exterior of the computer-generated Poseidon, which had a bow profile that he felt was reminiscent of the Disney ships and whose underbelly evoked the QE2.

He was less impressed with aspects of the interior.

Horrible use of space, Dickinson protested as the four-story ballroom was shown. Too tall -- way beyond anything anyone would build.

The mezzanine casino girding the ballroom was another design no-no.

The gamblers would be too easily distracted, he said. And if a room were that tall, wed have four tiers of balconies, not just one. Thats a theater somewhere in L.A.

The movie takes place on New Years Eve, and the crew is shown celebrating in their quarters as passengers shout Happy New Year! in the ballroom. No ship would ever do that. The crew would party after midnight. Doesnt pay to have everyone bombed at one time.

Other crew members behaved in ways that bewildered Dickinson. The ranking officer on the bridge had a premonition that the rogue wave was coming, just minutes before it rolled into view.

Like a squirrel sensing a tsunami, Dickinson commented. Really, all he had to do was look at the radar. The commands to turn the ship into the wave would have resulted in a slow, graceful turn. He should have ordered bow and stern thrusters together. He needed to turn on a dime.

Likewise, it seemed bizarre to Dickinson that no one on the bridge issued a Mayday call; nor did the captain, who was in the ballroom, try to contact the chief engineer, or anyone else, on a walkie-talkie.

But the movie went from implausible to impossible after the characters, moving ever hopefully up to the hull, went through a series of ballast tanks and ended up in an office. There are no quarters or offices below the ballast tanks, Dickinson said.

I found all of this insider stuff very interesting. The only thing I had found suspect was that every female character just happened to be wearing waterproof makeup that night.

Not surprisingly, Dickinson questioned the basic premise of the movie -- that a rogue wave could tip over a large cruise ship.

For a wave to have hit as high as it did, it would have to be 150 to 200 feet, he said. I dont think thats ever happened. And the way ships are designed, they tend to right themselves.

Dickinson had seen the original, The Poseidon Adventure, when it came out in 1972. He remembers it as exciting, edgy, though the only detail he recalls clearly is that Shelley Winters character screamed a lot.

The bar has been raised since, he said. Theres only a few thousand people on a cruise ship, and that many get killed before lunch in a good disaster movie nowadays. I dont want to use the word non-event to describe this -- Ive used that too much lately. Ill give this one-half star.

If he were writing a review, he said, he would characterize Poseidon as trite, tedious and predictable. He smiled.

What would have been neat would be if they had finally gotten out and then a big whale came along and gobbled them up.


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