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Case Number 00999

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The Perfect Storm

Warner Bros. // 2000 // 129 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // March 23rd, 2001

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All Rise...

Judge Patrick Naugle reviews this movie about the misadventures of a captain, his first mate, a millionaire and his wife, a movie star, a professor, and some chick named Christina.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of The Perfect Storm (Blu-Ray) (published August 25th, 2008) and The Perfect Storm (HD DVD) (published June 12th, 2006) are also available.

The Charge

The terrifying story of men against the sea.

Opening Statement

Based on the non-fiction novel by journalist Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm is the true-life account of one of the largest recorded storms in history and the ship that was caught in the heart of it. Released by Warner Brothers in the summer of 2000, The Perfect Storm was an instant hit with audiences (if not critics). Starring George Clooney (Out Of Sight), Mark Wahlberg (Three Kings, also with Clooney), and directed by Wolfgang Petersen (Air Force One, Das Boot), The Perfect Storm is out in a jam packed edition on DVD.

Facts of the Case

The Perfect Storm opens in Gloucester, Mass., where the Andrea Gail has just returned. Its crew is made up of salty sailors: Captain Billy Tyne (George Clooney), a man who loves fishing more than anything in the world; young Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg) who has a girlfriend back at port (Diane Lane); the divorced Murph (John C. Reilly), whose child and ex-wife he still cares for; Jamaican Alfred (Allan Payne), who is on board just for the paycheck; hard headed Sully (William Fichtner), who has a hatred for Murph, and the desperate ladies man Bugsy (John Hawkes). Because this film hinges on its special effects, the characters are painted with only the broadest of strokes. No real motivation or insights are given. Then again, none are needed.

The crew collects their pay and heads off for a rest in the town bar. Before they have the chance to catch a little R&R, they are sent back out to sea to catch more fish, as the last load was very light and Captain Tyne is in dire trouble if his bounty doesn't pick up soon. The Andrea Gail sets off into what will become one of the most terrifying and fantastic storms of the century, or, as another character names it, "the perfect storm" (oh, so THAT'S where they got the title).

As the men of the Andrea Gail fight against the brutal storm, a parallel story emerges regarding the rescue of a private sailboat. The Coast Guard is sent out to rescue the ship captained by a stubborn millionaire (Bob Gunton). His passengers (Cherry Jones, Karen Allen) plead with him to return to safer waters. He refuses, using the strong and unquestionable reasoning "this is my boat." Can't argue with that logic. Needless to say, the sailboat and its crew are thrown into a raging storm with their only hope of rescue being the unsinkable Coast Guard.

Both the Andrea Gail and the sailboat face insurmountable odds against a raging sea. Will the crew escape the power of Mother Nature? Or will she give them a spanking they won't soon forget?

The Evidence

Though not in high praise by most critics, I really enjoyed The Perfect Storm. It seems that most people I've talked to had the complaint that the characters were underdeveloped and the story excessively thin. However, I argue that if you're in the mood to see a movie that has lots of water and all kinds of action, The Perfect Storm is your wet sponge. The special effects are pretty impressive, with only a couple of shots that look computer generated. Much of this film was shot inside a studio tank that was one of the largest ever built for a film. I had a hard time spotting any instance where you could tell this was not filmed out in the open sea.

The performances are well executed, secondary to the action. George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg are sufficiently dirty and gritty as the leads. Clooney struts around grizzled, looking like he had just bathed in a barrel of trout entrails. The supporting cast and their emotions are very thinly drawn, especially the conflict between Sully and Murph. Jealousy over a wife is the reason, but this is not explored. No matter…we're here for the waves and the rain.

The effects are, as one would expect from a major studio production, top notch. Director Peterson is no stranger to water-based films; he also directed the submarine film Das Boot back in 1981. Here he is given the pleasure of studio cash, a big water tank, and some nifty computer effects to make The Perfect Storm come to frightening life. Peterson is excellent at drawing out tension for the audience, and The Perfect Storm is a prime example of basic human fear; a storm of unbelievable magnitude and no way to get home. Both the Andrea Gail and Coast Guard rescue scenes are well done, taking us into the middle of the passenger and fishermen's' fears. During the film we flip flop from the raging storm at sea to the local Gloucester bar where friends and family are watching in horror as the news unfolds on the television. I can only imagine the horror they feel as they can only sit and view the terror from their small bay town. Diane Lane (The Outsiders) shoulders the worry as the mainland character who fears the worst for Bobby.

Special mention must also be given to score composer James Horner. Horner is adept at scoring big budget Hollywood films. He has placed his musical mark on such movies as Legends Of The Fall, The Rocketeer, and Titanic. Often his scores sound redundant and bombastic, other times fitting and moving. Here Horner is able to capture just the right tone of the film with a bittersweet theme.

The Perfect Storm is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 and looks absolutely fantastic. Colors were bold and bright with no muting present. Edge enhancement was at the bare minimum with digital artifacting non-present. Blacks and grays were solid (looking especially ominous during the beginning storm scenes). Warner has done a fantastic job of bringing a great action film to a great transfer.

Audio is equally as good with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Surround was well placed, using the center speaker as well as the front and rear for effects. Effects bombard the listener from every direction. Rain, wind, and wood creaking…the effects are a sound to behold for those of you with a surround sound system. Though dialogue was hard to hear in spots, it's to be expected since practically the whole film takes place in the middle of a sea storm. A great mix from Warner Brothers.

The Perfect Storm is filled to capacity with extras. To start with we get three commentaries. The first is by director Wolfgang Peterson. Peterson seems genuinely enthusiastic about The Perfect Storm, especially about the cast whom he tends to gush about. Peterson's comments range from funny to interesting (all the fish in the film were either animatronics or rubber).

The second commentary is by ILM visual effects supervisor Stefen Fengmeier and visual effects producer Helen Elswit. Both of these people are very knowledgeable about their crafts, and as expected, talk mostly about the effects and how they were done. Also discussed is the history of the storm and what they learned about the story.

The final commentary track is by author Sebastian Junger (who wrote the book the film is based on, not the screenplay). Junger's track was the most interesting, as he is an authority on the storm that hit Gloucester, which is only apt as he was there when it hit. The track uses the film as a springboard for discussion of the actual storm that hit in 1991. Overall a really good track about the real life story the film is based on.

Next up are three documentaries about the making of The Perfect Storm. The first is an HBO First Look that includes interviews with the cast, crew, and actual fishermen from Gloucester. The whole thing is a mix of history, special effects and story of the actual events that took place on the Andrea Gail. A very well done 20-minute documentary for anyone interested in how a film is made (the blue screened studio tank is the most impressive effect I've ever seen).

The second documentary is entitled "Witnesses To The Storm," true life accounts, interviews and video footage about hurricanes and storms. For history buffs, this is a great little piece about Mother Nature gone bad.

The final documentary focuses on music composer James Horner. Horner discusses the basics about scoring films and how he uses cues and themes to create emotion in the audience. For you movie score fans this is a great (if very short) piece.

A conceptual art gallery with commentary by director Wolfgang Peterson is included, which consists of Peterson explaining how each of the conceptual drawings were used in the final cut of The Perfect Storm.

Yours Forever photo montage is, basically, a music video for John Mellencamp's theme song set to photos from the film with dialogue played over it. Ho-hum.

Finally, we get an anamorphic theatrical trailer, some storyboard art, and a promo for the soundtrack to The Perfect Storm.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Obviously, The Perfect Storm is a bit thin on character, so if you're looking for depth in the vein of Woody Allen or Shakespeare, you're looking in the wrong place. The Perfect Storm only gives us a short time before it lets the storm hit, and from that point on character development is tossed out the window. Otherwise, I can't think of many bad things to say about this film. I went in expecting to see lots of water and action, and I came out feeling like I got my money's worth.

Closing Statement

For around 15-20 dollars, The Perfect Storm is a perfect buy. I have even seen it on sale used at retail places like Blockbuster for 10 dollars, so it's a cheap price for a great film. A good transfer, top-notch audio, and some wonderful supplements, The Perfect Storm is a must for any action fan. And for you ladies, there's George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg to ogle over. For the men there's…uhh…well, if you have a fish fetish there's plenty of cod and mackerel to eye. Have at 'em, boys.

Also available is a platinum box set of The Perfect Storm which also includes:
• Senitype image
• 35mm film clip
• 27" x 40" original one-sheet movie poster
• Eight lobby cards
• Six Black and white stills
• Luxury fitted slipcase

The Verdict

Innocent! An action film this good deserves to be seen by all action fans!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 99
Audio: 98
Extras: 96
Acting: 89
Story: 85
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• English
• French
Running Time: 129 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Action
• Blockbusters
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Three Feature-Length Filmmaker/Author/Craftsperson Commentary Tracks
• Conceptual Art Gallery With Director Commentary
• Three Behind-The-Scenes Documentaries
• Yours Forever Photo Montage
• Storyboard Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer
• Cast and Crew Filmographies

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