WOLFGANG PETERSEN can't stay away from directing movies dealing with water, ships and people in peril.
The German filmmaker first made his mark -- receiving Oscar nominations for direction and screenplay -- for the 1981 "Das Boot" and then returned to the sea with the 2000 hit "The Perfect Storm."
Now he's hitting the waves again with the action thriller "Poseidon," a remake of the 1972 disaster film "The Poseidon Adventure," about a luxury liner that capsizes because of a rogue wave.
Petersen is drawn to the sea because he feels comfortable around water. "I am from the north of Germany, from Hamburg, and I grew up close to the water. I also have a great deal of respect for the power of water.... But on the other hand, I love to go out on boats and rough seas."
"Poseidon" is actually the second recent remake of the original. In November, NBC aired a poorly received three-hour version in which the ship is hit by a terrorist attack. But this one follows the basic plot line of the 1972 original, taking place on New Year's Eve on a luxurious ocean liner when the wave hits. "But from then on, it's different characters," he said. "There's no Shelley Winters and Gene Hackman. There is a complete new story line. It is safe to say our film is more along the lines of 'Das Boot' or 'Perfect Storm' -- a very realistic film."
Unlike the original, which could be described as a campy roller-coaster ride, this "Poseidon" will aim to strike a darker tone. Petersen said he believes today's moviegoers will be able to relate because society often feels beset by one headline-grabbing disaster after another.
"For a filmmaker, it is really a great opportunity to take this damn thing a bit more serious now and really create a movie you can reflect on," he said. "You see what people are going through when something hits them out of the blue. They are on a cruise ship and have great hopes for the new year and then the wave hits them...."
"Poseidon," slated for May 12, stars Kurt Russell, Josh Lucas and Richard Dreyfuss.
"Our film is not a superstar cast," Petersen said. "Kurt and Josh Lucas are really different characters and play off of each really well. Richard Dreyfuss will surprise a lot of people. He is a wonderful gay character, he is an older gay man, very lonely. It's a beautiful performance."
Petersen shot "Poseidon" on five sound stages at Warner Bros. "We built the big ballroom set right side up and then upside down," he said. "That part of it was so much fun to create, taking a beautiful, elegant right-side-up world" and then transforming it into an upside-down world "that turns out to be a labyrinth of hell."
He even used 16 cameras to capture the sequence in which 48 windows break in the upside-down ballroom and the space floods. "It was an unbelievable spectacle," Petersen said.
-- SUSAN KING