In the history of disaster cinema, no two movies illustrate the great divide between campy greatness and head scratching exclamations of "What was the %#^#*%* point?" than Irwin Allen's 1972 The Poseidon Adventure and Wolfgang Petersen's 2006 remake, Poseidon.
For all of The Poseidon Adventure's over the top excess, the original chronicle of the desperate escape efforts of trapped survivors aboard the fictional capsized ocean liner was filled with heart, unpredictability in the fates of who would live or die and we were invested in characters that we grew to care about or despise within a short period of time.
As much as we laugh at Shelley Winters' Olympic swim through the ship, there still is hardly a dry eye in the house when she succumbs to the stress of the effort and dies. On the other hand, the remake was enjoyable on its own merits but burned through its story so fast that it was nearly impossible to care about the fates of its survivors. When Freddy Rodriquez's waiter suddenly plummets to his death, who cares? If all of them died at the end of Petersen's version, it would have been a pleasant surprise.
This brings us to ABC's much hyped 2008 remake of the tornado storyline which ripped through Pine Valley in 1994, heralding the "official" arrival as Charles Pratt as All My Children's new head writer. Fitting somewhere between the technological successes and dramatic failures of the two tales of the Poseidon, so far this tornado is swerving between a lot of hot air and a gust of breaking wind.
ABC's breathless press and on air promos, more breathless than their usual hyperventilating marketing, have not helped. Soap fans have never seen anything as exciting as this!The CGI work is so incredible it will put Twister and The Day After Tomorrow to shame!You will be blown away more than our cast and sets! OK, ABC didn't actually use those words but you get the idea. And what did we get? Some of the most shoddy CGI work recenly to see a pixel. Not all of it was bad, but even the not bad stuff was sometimes hard to take.
Renderings of the ominous clouds and seascapes were reasonably convincing on their own, such as shots of the house where Kendall and the boys were trapped or Zach's car thrown off the roadside; yet when the CGI was combined with actors the result often looked as convincing as one of the reporters standing against a fake backdrop on The Daily Show. Oh wait. That is exactly how these scenes are filmed. What was I thinking? These shots should have been seamless. And they weren't.
Even worse was the shot of the funnel cloud formation witnessed by Ryan and Greenlee and the twister chasing Zach's car, both so horribly done that I literally busted out laughing! The typical schlocky Saturday night Sci Fi Channel cheese fest has better special effects. The cyclone that whisked Dorothy away to Oz was created using Fuller's earth, sulfur and a big ass nylon stocking and that movie was released in 1939! Hell, I probably could have created more convincing tornadoes on my ancient PowerMac G4 for 1/12th the price ABC paid Stargate Digital. It's a sad day when after seeing shit like this that one longs for the empty parks and cluttered backyards of Peapack, New Jersey.
I have a golden rule when it comes to special effects: either do it right or don't do it at all. Unlike others, I welcome CGI work on daytime soaps, but only if it is done convincingly within the context of story. Personally, I think Stargate Digital would have better served the audience by combining actual tornado footage with its other computer generated work. Better yet, ABC would have been better served by editing out the CGl tornados altogether, letting us in on the terror of Pine Valley's residents getting hit out of the blue. Unfortunately as aired, too many of the scenes looked like a 1940's movie with rear projection. Those sad little CGI tornadoes really were a disaster. More...
The good news is that just about everything outside of the tornadoes was done extremely well. There were a number of nice homages to AMC's 1994 tornado, including Kendall's ringing doorbell which echoed the ringing doorbell at the Martin house and Zach's escape from his wrecked car. The post-tornado wreckage was appropriately devastating. As mentioned before, most of exterior CGI shots were chaotic in all the right ways.
I also must give credit where credit is due in one important area that folks may have overlooked. The "film" look of AMC really lends itself to the integration of this kind of CGI work in ways that, as much as I enjoyed it, General Hospital's recent recent CGI forays did not blend in quite as well as they might have given the latter show's traditional videotaped format. Also, AMC's recent location shooting at the country club marina and other places helped smooth the transition for the audience to accept these new tornado based locations as part of the overall fabric of Pine Valley. These elements are important in establishing time, space and the fictional reality for our characters which is important when implementing such an ambitious agenda.
But how did the dramatic content match up with the uneven nature of the tornado sequences? As it turns out, the answer is quite well: the stories and characters were as all over the place as those dodgy special effects. The dramatic weight of Zach's search for Kendall and the boys was offset by an almost comical lack of hysteria at the demolished Comeback. Come on, with that many people caught in a demolished bar at least one person would have had a meltdown! Adam and Erica, trapped in the sercret passageways of the Chandler mansion, were fun yet oddly flat given their whole purpose there was to usher in an old favorite's return. The whole Aiden/Greenlee/Ryan plot had the advantage of playing like a tale by Hitchcock but the disadvantage of being executed like a bad Jerry Lewis movie. Turning Aiden into a jealous fool is a sad shame. What's next? He'll deveolp a brain tumor and kill Ryan with a shovel? (I can almost see the comments below now...)
Perhaps the most ludicrous thing of all takes us full circle to the Poseidon versus Poseidon analogy. One of the most famous images from AMC's 1994 tornado was the sight of Tad, or should we say Michael E. Knight's stunt double, being knocked down by the Martin's unhinged front door as the tornado roared through PV seen here. Contrast that with Pete pathetically being Clark Kent-ed with the front door of the Chandler manse. Yes, Pete's predicament was played for laughs (he faked being hurt), but for some reason that particular choice struck me as wrong despite the charming talents of Daniel Kennedy. A comparison of these two scenes filmed some 14 years apart boldly illustrate the differences between the two events and how they played/have been playing out on screen in terms of style, stakes, and even energy. More...
Further eroding the stakes for those who follow the soap press and soap news on the internet is the knowledge that Babe (the talented but terribly miscast Amanda Baker) will most definitely die, and only one other character will meet his or her maker. That character is rumored to be Myrtle, chatter of which intensified after the passing of Eileen Herlie. Knowing this information beforehand robs the story of the kind of immediacy this type of tale demands, like how ABC's promos spoiled Bianca's return. The knowledge of Eden Reigel's return was good enough, but it would have been more dramatically satisfying had we not known how she'd literally be uncovered in Pine Valley.
ABC promoted The Great Pine Valley Tornado of 2008 as if no daytime drama had ever attempted to do a disaster story on the size and scale as AMC. Technically this is true when it comes to AMC's use of CGI for this storyline, but in 1986 one soap went even further than AMC has today: Search for Tomorrow. In a desperate bid to save itself from cancellation, SFT engineered a massive flood which destroyed the entire town of Henderson. The soap city had to be rebuilt from the ground up, like much of Pine Valley will have to be reconstructed. Search did not have the budget or resources that other soaps have employed when staging these massive events over the years. But without the use of green screens and CGI, Search presented one of the most harrowing, dramatically intense natural disasters to ever air on daytime.
Despite the wild uneven nature of this gamble, AMC's tornado is scheduled to rip through Pine Valley for a few more episodes and wreak additional havoc. While the dodgy CGI has worked my last nerve, there are more characters to be put in peril, more revelations to come and alliances of all kinds to shift. The story is not the tornado itself but the ramifications and repercussions that will spin out from the event. Therefore, this tornado could be the breath of fresh air Pine Valley needs to start a clean slate literally and figuratively. I hope I'm not left spitting in the wind.