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Wolfgang Petersen Explains Rogue Waves

Published May 10, 2006 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Warner Bros
Poseidon Poseidon
The premise of Poseidon is that a cruise ship sailing in calm waters is suddenly struck by a rogue wave that tips it upside down. Even by movie standards, “rogue wave” sounds made up, but director Wolfgang Petersen assures us it’s a real phenomenon. And she should know, because he’s clearly obsessed with water.

Wolfgang Petersen on Rogue Waves and Poseidon


“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,” Petersen said. “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.”

By the time Russell would finish portraying the struggling action of his character, it could have been too late for the underwater technicians to bring him an air tank. “You have to pass out… and when you pass out your body relaxes. Then you breathe in water and that kicks you into a second phase, where you actually drown. For just a second it’s sort of mildly euphoric, but it’s very excruciating before that. And then there’s that limbo time where you may be dead or you may not be.”



If the word of the director of Das Boot and The Perfect Storm isn’t enough for you, Petersen cited his sources. “It’s all in 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, Boom, they go and they were not even hanging upside-down, they were gone. Swallowed. Dead. Kaput.”

Scary. But it’s never happened to a passenger ship, right? “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 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 [upside down.]”

Check out Petersen’s version of a rogue wave in Poseidon this weekend.

Poseidon comes to theatres on May 12th 2006.

For the video journals, trailers, stills, early reviews, Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell, synopsis and movie info, go to the Poseidon Movie Page.

Stay tuned for updates.


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Compiled By (Sources)
Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Warner Bros
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