INT: Wolfgang Petersen

German filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen dives into familiar waters (ha!) this week with his latest film, the disaster epic POSEIDON. 25 years ago Petersen first introduced us to undersea terror with his acclaimed World War II U-boat drama DAS BOOT. In 2000 he took us to the surface in the harrowing THE PERFECT STORM. Now he’s back in the water again with his remake of the pioneering 1972 disaster film, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. Last week Petersen stopped by the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel to talk about POSEIDON. Check it out.

Wolfgang Petersen

What is your fascination with boats and water? This is your third film dealing with those subjects. 

Three times is the charm. I love water. Very simple. I grew up in Hamburg , in the north of Germany . I love water. I have enormous respect for water. Sometimes I was really afraid of water when I was a kid. I also witnessed that water, when it really gets angry, is an unbelievable force of destruction. Probably the most scary, more than fire and earthquakes and all that kind of stuff. So as a storyteller, filmmaker later on, I knew about the enormous potential of water as threat and as your friend. We all know this beautiful thing of being in the water and everything is soothing and wonderful…or it’s your worse enemy. So for storytelling purposes it’s very dramatic.

And then my other obsession is I want to watch people in a confined space where they cannot run away and just see how they react to incredibly dramatic situations. Again that’s great drama. It’s very clear now for me if you have somebody on the water and maybe the drama what these people inside a thing. If they are confronted to the danger of water then you have the highest possible drama that you can imagine. All of a sudden this submarine drama came and I said Jesus Christ it’s perfect for that. They are really trapped inside. 45 people and it’s a big thing. It’s war and maybe you can tell more about war with 45 people stuck in a submarine in the water and being underwater, above water, and go through storm in the water and depth charges in the water and everything and then finally always, always, always, water is the real bad guy. Not so much the depth charges, the water coming when all of a sudden the hulls break in the boat and the water comes in.

The real danger for the submarines is if they go too deep water comes and the water pressure goes [claps hands] and they’re gone. They are like a stamp. It doesn’t get more dramatic than that. Then after that you’ve got Perfect Storm, and I figured oh my God we can do similar things on a completely different thing with fishermen and now came the idea of Poseidon now with regular people on a big ship and still a claustrophobic situation where nobody can run again. It’s upside-down. They are stuck, but they are not professionals, they are human beings. I thought that was a great idea to now see in this day and age with so many disasters we are now living through and going through and are shocked by.

You know, 9/11 and tsunami, Katrina, and all that. I think a disaster film that truly, really goes away from the old movie and tries to make it as realistic as possible is a nail biter in the sense of you feel and smell the reality of how a disaster really, what it really means then an audience who feels watching people like you and me, not like movie stars, is another great drama.

Will there be a longer cut on the DVD?

No. It’s a short film because I said to the studio from the very beginning this would be a short film. My films were always more on the long side. This would be a short film for one special reason. After the first 15 minutes when the boat goes. The boat is not only upside-down, sitting there like in the old film, it’s sinking. It’s slowly sinking, which means we don’t know exactly how much time we have. We might have an hour, we might have 90 minutes, we might have two hours before rescue comes or before the ship is gone. So there is an urgency throughout the whole movie of you better get out of here because rescue might not come that quick and the boat might go quick.

I had the feeling its cool and also because to make it fast and to make it short and also to make it so intense. I had reactions from people on the verge of leaving the theater because they go so claustrophobic and so hyper ventilating in scenes about drowning and drowning themselves all that kind of stuff and going through the A/C vent and other things. If I make it 100 minutes all together I think that’s all they can really take. And don’t forget the film is coming out in IMAX. The whole thing will be in IMAX. I think this will be the most intense thing an audience can have and I think the length is perfect or that. Don’t make it too long.

Can rogue waves really happen?

Oh absolutely. It’s a movie so we go just one step further, but the rogue waves that are out there are very unpredictable and very dangerous and sometimes very high. Over 100 feet. They are a reality. It’s only a matter of because they come out of nowhere like in our film and they are there for maybe a minute or two and then they fall down again. It’s only if a ship is by pure coincidence in the path of a wave like that. The ship cannot do much, like in our film you can try desperately to turn around. In most cases it doesn’t work. It’s all on the internet by the way, all the realistic drama about the rogue wave.

For the last 30 years, 60 container ships were destroyed by rogue waves. It’s unbelievable and these are big and they are very top-heavy container ships and if they get a wave like that, voom, they go. And they were not even hanging upside-down, they were gone. Swallowed. Dead. Kaput. It can happen and also, talking about a cruise ship, Queen Elizabeth, went all the way over to the side and it took awhile but then with the last bit of strength the ship came back up. It’s a very famous thing and they survived and that’s what I do. In our case I go even further. It rolls all the way over to this side and now it comes out again – that’s of course the movie part of it – and it comes out again we think for a moment it might have the strength to go and right itself up while these explosions are on the ship, but it doesn’t have the strength and the boat goes and stays.

There is minimal dialogue towards the end of the film and yet an actor like Josh Lucas has to convey a lot of emotion. Was that deliberate? 

Yes. I think he did wonderful. I think he did great. I think that’s the whole concept that I was really intrigued by…this is not film where dialogue really establishes characters and they exchange emotions and all that kind of thing. There’s no time to do that. I was really interested in the fact that this is a bunch of people, like 10, 12 people, as we all know less and less that are thrown together. They don’t know each other at all. They have maybe brief encounters before the roll, but they don’t know anything about each other. At all and now they are together.

They are all of a sudden a group of strangers and they explain themselves through the action. Through what they go through, how they react with brief moments here and brief moments there so that a Josh for example who is in the beginning as we know more like a selfish card player throughout the action all of sudden he starts and he’s not wanting to really take these strangers because they might slow him down in his quest. They almost force themselves onto him and he slowly more and more takes on this part of a leader and discovers in a way, but without sitting down and having two pages of dialogue with somebody.

Oh how are you? I’m Josh, who are you? Let’s talk about my family and your family. You cannot have this kind of dialogue, but throughout the action we more and more learn at least a little bit about him and his growing responsibility for other people that he obviously didn’t have before. That’s more or less with all the other characters in a similar way they only have these small moments here and these small moments there and a lot of what they are and how they are as characters comes through the action. Through their behavior within these stressful situations.

Do you take a small amount of pleasure in putting these actors through these uncomfortable, dangerous situations?

I’m not saying I take great pleasure in it. I take great pleasure in the fact that I don’t have to do that and that I can watch it in the safety and security of a video monitor. Sometimes then, of course, I have to say, let’s do it again. I’m a little bit of a perfectionist I’m afraid. I must tell you, the actors, even if…I talk up front with them I tell them that this is very hard and very tough and I’m always impressed – especially on Poseidon – that everybody also really wanted to do it themselves. They are really and I think they are very proud now when they see the film that you can see in every single scene basically you can see it’s really them doing it. It’s not some clever thing with stunt guys and now a close up again of the actor. 

How did you use the original Poseidon as a reference? Did you look at it for what to do and what not to do? (Minor Spoiler)

With all due respect I must tell you that a lot of what not to do because at looking at the old movie today it was a very impressive film at the time, 35 years ago, but if you watch it again you can only watch it with a smile on your face in the sense of oh my god it was ’72 and they did at that time and it has a charm because of that and it was quite campy and also the acting style was a bit melodramatic and the effects were, of course, in light of ’72, fairly poor. I think nowadays if you do a film in 2006 about the Poseidon disaster then you try to avoid all those things and try to make it more for 2006 in the sense of as much reality as you can give it.

And as much honesty as you can give it and really try to get an audience of today that is so used to and frightened by disasters left and right get them a true feeling of what disaster could be and means and invites an audience also to see, come in and be with these people in the safety of your seat in the theater, but live with them through it and see what would you do because it can happen to everybody. We here sitting in this room and at this very moment a huge earthquake could happen. The world is upside-down and we as a group now might have to go somewhere and all of a sudden we have decisions to make maybe like Dreyfuss did when he kicked off Valentine in the food elevator. Would I do that? Would I kill this person or not? Interesting questions.

Are you gonna be the one who finally brings Ender’s Game to the film world?

I hope so. At the moment it’s very much in my head again. We’re getting the script in a few weeks and if everything goes fine and that script goes in the right direction it could indeed be my next one.

Are there any kids today that you think could be Ender?

To tell you the truth I don’t. I think that would really probably a 1,000 kid search.

Couldn’t that be like the next Harry Potter series with all the empowered young kids?

It could be and also it could be a great 3-D version of Ender’s with all that fighting in the battle stations. I think Enders was a little bit of an inspiration for Harry Potter. 

Will World’s Finest ever happen?

That is, since now Warner Bros. is establishing Superman again will probably… It might happen, but it might also happen when I’m 85. Who knows because they first have to get their Superman going.

Do you want to still be doing movie like this when you’re 85?


Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at [email protected]

Source: JoBlo.com



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