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Ship shape

A correction was made to this article on July 19, 2005.

GOOD MORNING: “I’m the Shelley Winters character and he’s Ernie Borgnine,” said Josh Lucas as he pointed to a bloodied Kurt Russell, with whom I visited on “Poseidon’s” Stage 16 at Warners. It’s one of five giant stages utilized for Wolfgang Petersen’s $150 million version of Paul Gallico’s classic story. The first film, Irwin Allen’s 20th-Fox 1972 “Poseidon Adventure,” came in at around $5 million. And as Allen’s widow, Sheila, recalls, 20th would only come up with $2.5 million; Irwin got the rest from pals Steve Broidy and Sherrill Corwin, who made fortunes from their friendly contributions. I was also on the Fox upside-down sets of the original film directed by Ronald Neame (now 94), who reminded me he also filmed sequences aboard the Queen Mary, docked in Long Beach, in addition to the stages at Fox designed by Oscar-nominated William Creber. The admiration for the original “Poseidon” is kept alive by the “Poseidon Adventure Fan Club,” which meets semi-annually aboard the Queen Mary for a screening and party. The Neames are invited to stay aboard overnight in the Royal Suite. This year Ernie Borgnine also attended the event.

THERE’S ANOTHER “Poseidon” upcoming: Hallmark’s $20 million miniseries slated to air on NBC during November sweeps. It’s directed by John Putch, and there’s no giant destructive wave as the heavy in this version. Instead it’s terrorists who set off one of four planned bombs that tears apart the giant ship’s hull, thus allowing a storm to engulf it. Adam Baldwin is the undercover agent who uncovers the plot after one bomb has exploded. This version was filmed on sets in Cape Town, South Africa. When I spoke by phone to co-star Steve Guttenberg during filming in November, he marveled at the giant set built on a huge mechanical device to convert the sets for capsizing effects. “The machine is as big as a carnival ride,” he enthused, “and the sets are able to be tilted 180-360 degrees” … I had marveled at the original sets 34 years ago and once again, I was impressed by Bill Sandell’s set at WB, as I watched Petersen direct the hundreds of actors trapped in the now-inverted ballroom. Kurt Russell had emerged from bodies already killed in the deluge and “blood” oozed alongside his mouth as he tried to help a youngster climb up a downed length of drapery. Believe me, it looked real. Director Petersen is no stranger to working in the most treacherous of locations — water — having already survived “Das Boot” and “The Perfect Storm.” He admits the technical (computer-generated imagery) advances are gigantic since he made those films.

APART FROM technical advances, how does the making of Petersen’s “Poseidon” differ from “Das Boot” and “The Perfect Storm”? “This movie is about you and me,” he said between takes. “It’s not about professional characters — it’s about how you and I would react. No one is campy.” And who survives? He admitted those who escaped a watery grave in his first two epics were chosen by –“my wife, Maria!” Computer-generated images by ILM are already in the works with digitalized replicas of cast members — including Sheila Allen, who appears in this film as she had in husband Irwin’s original. This time, she’ll even be shown in the water, thanks to the CGI process. Sheila joined forces with Kevin Burns and Jon Jashni’s Synthesis Entertainment who also are reviving Irwin Allen’s “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” as a feature for Fox 2000, “Poseidon” with Petersen’s banner at WB, as well as “Land of the Giants” as a four-hour for NBC, “Time Tunnel” as a series for the Sci-Fi Channel and “Lost in Space” as a cartoon series … As I left the giant ballroom set on Stage 16 at WB, I noted giant tanks holding a million gallons of water alongside the ship’s portholes awaiting Petersen’s “Action!” Stay tuned.

ROBERT HALMI SR. told me he was shooting his “10 Commandments,” a four-hour ABC’er in Morocco, when a rare hailstorm hit the set where Pharoah’s palace and a Hebrew settlement were standing. Halmi reports the Egyptian palace was destroyed by the hail, the Hebrew village set was untouched. Talk ahout your plagues!

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