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The Perfect Storm (2000)

by The Movie Diorama

The Perfect Storm casts an impressive hurricane that dampens its fishing crew. Hurricane Grace, a Category-2 tropical cyclone, enveloped Bermuda and its surrounding fishing waters. By any definition, Grace was a standard short-lived hurricane. It did however become absorbed by a developing extratropical storm, low-pressure areas that essentially power the weather globally. The two combining created, what is now classed as, the “Perfect Storm of 1991”.

A catastrophic natural coincidence that inflicted much economic damage to the US and its fisheries, costing over two hundred million dollars and rallying a death toll of thirteen. A substantial enough impact for Junger to write a novel about the unfortunate events of the Andrea Gail, a swordfishing boat that was stuck at the Flemish Cap as the hurricane approached. A courageous crew, with a captain brimming with self-determination to finally catch a plethora of fish, risking their lives for money.

Petersen’s summer blockbuster adaptation, is very much that. A disaster film that unsurprisingly places exceedingly high production design and special effects above succinct characterisation and drama. For the uninitiated, this may prove to be a fruitful distraction. The vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, the perilous winds and colossal waves battering the Andrea Gail. The visual aesthetic, along with Seale’s cinematography, were noteworthy benchmarks for the industry. The blustery meteorological environment, comprising of torrential downpour and strikes of lightning, exhibiting technical excellence when conveying the chaotic need for survival.

The meticulous authenticity of the methods fisheries utilise, particularly the buoys, aided in bringing life to an industry that is rarely shown on film. Despite my personal reservations for fishing, it is a way of life for many port communities. Gloucester, Massachusetts, clearly relying on this industry to sustain, and Wittliff’s script details the closeness of this community. The attempt at involving loved ones left behind to witness the storm, as they watch the news in hope to listen out for the Andrea Gail’s whereabouts.

Sadly, this fishing boat and its crew members rarely come to life. The characters themselves were bland and forgettable, equipped with an unnecessary feud between Sully and Murph which denotes no value other than to save each other when the plot requires it. The blossoming romance between Bobby and, the seemingly older, Chris was only used to create a monotonous conflict between commercial fishing and love, exhibiting minimal chemistry. Yet the biggest issue is with the portrayal of Billy, who apparently made the conscious decision to risk the lives of his crew, as agreed with them, by sailing through the dangerous storm for the sake of potential income.

According to Captain Greenlaw, who also was depicted in the film and had strong reservations with many narrative choices that did not actually happen, the storm rampantly hit the Andrea Gail on their way home. There was no decision to be made. It ultimately shows a lack of respect for the characters, and unassumingly alters the “drama” for limited depth, making room for the special effects to take centre stage. Then there’s the tedious distraction of the Air National Guards rescuing another sea vessel, whilst also spending half the feature’s runtime rescuing themselves and tarnishing a multi-million-dollar helicopter to earnestly illustrate heart over intelligence. Again, cementing this notion of sub-standard storytelling for extreme production values.

The Perfect Storm is far from perfect, and unsurprisingly drowns itself in technical transformation. Each wave that crashes the Andrea Gail excites with its pounding sound effects and resounding hopelessness. Yet consequently washes away vital character development and realistic drama needed to turn this into a Category-5 blockbuster.