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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.