Originally seeing release back in 2000, The Perfect Storm made waves Stateside and had no trouble recouping it’s large budget domestically. Overseas the film fared just as well, although in both areas the film suffered from a lack of positive critical reception. Labeled as a flashy CGI blockbuster that paid little attention to its characters, The Perfect Storm, despite being based off of a true story, may have put a little too much thought into how much water could be poured into frame and too little on the characters and their stories.
Based on the novel of the same name The Perfect Storm recounts the disastrous collisions of three storm fronts, one of them Hurricane Grace, that happened in October of 1991. The storm remains the greatest storm ever to form in recorded history, but its awesome power resulted in the deaths of several men at sea. The Perfect Storm tells the story of six Gloucester sword fishermen, who, after returning from a disappointing expedition, ventured out again to gain their biggest catch of swordfish ever. Unfortunately while out, their ice machine breaks and the crew is forced with a heavy decision: stay put and wait for the oncoming storm to pass them by or power on through it and bring in their biggest catch to date.
I can recall seeing this film in theaters when it first came out and enjoying it, which seemed to puzzle me as to why I never watched it again after that. Apparently it was the macho man in me, as the films finale is one of few films that can still make me tear up over the closing words and expressions of those who knew the fishermen. It’s a rather powerful closing that’s preceded by an equally powerful opening and middle, although many will argue that the films luster begins to fade after awhile.
While watching the film, I was so wrapped up in the “based on true events” disclaimer that I didn’t realize just how poorly handled the story was. We get to see the relationships the men have back on the docks when they first return, but when they’re out at the sea, who’s to say exactly what happened? Intermittent radio contact with another sword fisherman links their progress back, but their radio contact during the storm was so garbled, I wonder if they could have actually relayed anything of worth back. What I’m getting at is, while we can assume they had a huge load of fish, with the boat never recovered and no bodies ever found, how are we even sure of the events? I realize the film is based off of the book and the book was, at best, an approximation of what happened out there, but nevertheless, treating this film as “based on a true story” is only partially true, as the half of the film dealing with the sword fishermen could have been completely fabricated.
Having said that, there are still elements to enjoy with this film. The special effects are absolutely outstanding and the way they’re merged with set work is admirable, although cracks started to shine through at times about what was real and what was fake. The giant waves and thundering skies were ominous and evil to look at and the special effects crew did an amazing job, especially considering this was all done back in 1999/2000. Truly fantastic on more than one level, The Perfect Storm excels at the visuals, if nothing else.
Where the film takes a big stumble is the characters. There’s little to no explanation of the sword fishermen who are bickering with one another and just why they hate each other so (when I was younger, I assumed it was an adult thing and now that I’ve seen it more recently, I realized that, no, they just didn’t explain their feud). Granted, it was between John C. Riley and William Fichtner, two actors I really like, so even in the confusion I didn’t really care just because I enjoyed their performances so much.
Another element that seemed strange to me was the other boat at sea that we see in the film that really just makes you wonder what the hell they’re doing there. I get that they were involved in the rescue efforts during the storm itself, but why are we cutting away from our main characters to spend time with them? Clearly their plot, as well as that of their rescue, was shoehorned in and when watching it I accepted it at first until I finally began to figure out what I was watching, at which point I asked aloud “Wait, who the hell are these people anyway?” In an even stranger twist, Karen Allen, of Indiana Jones fame, is one of the passengers, although I don’t think she ever talks much, so why she was hired for such a bit part is incredibly strange.
On top of the random switch backs to the “others” involved in the storm, we also have the weatherman who is wetting his pants with glee over the forming storm. I guess this is for the audience to get just how much of a big thing this storm was, but the way it’s done it feels like we’re being ripped out of the movie for no reason. Perhaps if the first forty minutes didn’t focus solely on Clooney and crew, I would’ve been more forgiving of the side plots being added in near the one hour mark. You just can’t do that with a film. Cutting back to footage on the television of the women waiting for the men at home and filling us in that way about the storm would have sufficed; we really didn’t need to see the weatherman discovering it.
Not to sound heartless to the luxury boat crew who we saw rescued by the Coast Guard, but we really came to see the crew of the Andrea Gail and her plights. In a similar fashion of being heartless, the film gives us no blasted idea of who these people even are, other than they just went out for a boat ride for a couple days. We find out the man really loves his boat later on, but really…what man who actually owns a boat doesn’t? It seems to me the time spent on these secondary stories should have been instead focused on the men in the boat, as the relationships they have with one another isn’t really all that clear either.
Despite the haphazard construction of the story and the random travels to other stories during it, The Perfect Storm is still an entertaining film, mostly because of the special effects. While it does bring a tear to my eye in the end, it has more to do with the funeral service more than anything. It’s exceptionally heartfelt and really tugs at ones heart strings. There is some emotional connection going on for the film at some level, but it has to do with the women at home who love the men, rather for the men dying themselves.
Overall the film is Recommended, if only for the special effects and the actors involved with the film.
Yet another addition to Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray catalog, The Perfect Storm arrives on the format in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with an insert informing you on how to update your player’s firmware. Menu for the film is a pop-up in nature, which works nicely. As with all Warner Blu-ray’s, the film auto starts, so don’t be like me and go make some lunch and come back to the first four chapters of the film already having gone by. Also an odd bit I noticed was that the menu system for this release was on 1080i…kind of strange.
The video for the film arrives in a 1080p 2.4:1 VC-1 encoded transfer. The quality varies between shots, ranging from close-ups that are filled with detail to long shots that really don’t look all that spectacular. Considering what a quality DVD release this film had back in 2000, this Blu-ray edition is less impressive than it should be, which really hurts the overall package. While the video is respectable, it’s the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that picks up the slack, tossing water all over the room and delivering the wicked sounds of the storm and moaning boat to life. There’s some nice bass work thrown in, but nothing that’s overbearing, so there’s plenty of room to breathe throughout the segments. An overall solid track that is backed up by (hold your breath for this one) an English 5.1 EX, French 5.1 EX (both Parisian and dubbed in Quebec), Spanish (Castilian 5.1 EX and Latin 2.0), German 5.1 EX, Italian 5.1 EX and Japanese 5.1 EX. If that wasn’t enough, there are twenty-four different subtitles to flip through, including English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish. There are some duplicate subtitle sets on the disc, which I assume are different regions for the same language. In any case, this is an incredible amount of audio options to choose from.
There’s nothing new produced for this set and all of the extras from the original DVD release are included here. First up is the trio of commentaries (Commentary with Director Wolfgang Petersen, Commentary with Author Sebastian Junger, and Commentary with Visual Effects Supervisor Stefen Fangmeier and Visual Effects Producer Helen Ostenberg Elswit), all of which have their fair share of informative bits, but watching the movie three times over again with commentaries can get kind of redundant and boring. The most enlightening of the tracks is Fangmeier, who talks more about the actual events and research he did for the book, which trumps listening to Peterson gab on about the production of the film and the special effects guys talking about how to make water (no offense guys, but when it comes to a movie based off of non-fiction novel, I’ll go with the author).
Next up is our various featurettes. “HBO First Look: Creating The Perfect Storm” (19:56) serves as our making-of, “Witness to the Storm: Recollections of the 1991 Events that Inspired the Book” (4:32) interviews those who were around during the storm, “Creating an Emotion: Composer James Horner at Work” (4:14) shows off how Horner composed the score (which, although I didn’t mention it previously, really is quite superb). Finally there’s a “Yours Forever: Photo Montage” (4:04), “Theatrical Trailer” (2:31, 1080p) and a “Soundtrack Promo” (0:17).
That wraps up this release and whether you purchase it is, once again, going to hinge largely on if you already own it. Previous DVD owners should only upgrade if they count the film as one of their favorites, since the VC-1 encoded transfer is lackluster, but the TrueHD track is quite nice to listen to.
Previous Owners of the DVD: Rent it.
The Perfect Storm is now available on Blu-ray.