It's getting late in the season for the fishing industry of New England. Captain Billy Tyne has returned to the dock with another empty hold while other boats at the same dock unload their hefty cargoes. No fish means no pay and no pay means no crew. Without a crew, the boat can't sail and therefore pay for itself. If your captain can't find fish or keep a crew, it may be time to get a new captain. Fishing is a hard business. The crew, the owner of the boat, and even the town depend on the skill, knowledge and luck of the skipper to find the fish, fill the boat and safely bring it back to port. These are the economic realities, along with pride that send the captain and crew of the Andrea Gail back out to sea. One last chance to break the losing streak and end the season with money in the pocket. But it's too late. Nature, the gods, fate bad luck, karma, call it what you will, have conspired to tempt these foolish puny humans far out to sea where raw elemental forces of the universe rule. Far from land, in a tiny boat with no connection to the rest of humanity, Nature brews up a monstrous storm just to prove to those who may have forgot, who's really in charge. The rest is the tempest.
I was blown away! (ooh, that's bad). The Perfect Storm, is probably this summer's perfect movie. Why? The Perfect Storm does a few things very well. It tells a gripping story. A story based on an actual event of people struggling to succeed when the odds of success shift from slim to none. Just as nature conspires to tempt the captain and crew to push their luck with small victories, we are led along to believe that maybe they will make it; maybe there will be some type of happy ending to this incredible struggle. We, like the crew of the Andrea Gail, are trapped by our wish for success. It doesn't always work because we wish it to.
Supporting the story was excellent development of the film's characters. In the first thirty minutes, each character was introduced and made real. These people felt real, all with their individual hopes, dreams, problems, and struggles. Love, pride, hope, resentment, fear; emotions were breathed into the townies, the crew, and the captain so that you felt as if you knew them, you would like to buy them a drink and wish them well. These were not flat characters so typical of many movies but three dimensional and real. We cared for them and put our hearts into their struggle.
The filmmakers also established sufficient motivation for the action of the characters. Why would anyone in their right mind, risk their life and return to the sea when so many others warn against it? Already mentioned were the economic pressures, the desire to break a losing streak, the need to hold a crew and to prove oneself worthy but along with this is the love of the sea spoken so well through Billy Tyne as he leaves for his last journey. Tyne's poetry surely echoes the sentiments of the director, Wolfgang Peterson (Das Boat), the screenwriter, novelist, and the people of Gloucester where the movie takes place.
Along with story and character, the filmmakers used special effects to support the story, rather than use the story to highlight special effects. The last boat movie using elaborate special effects that many of us saw was Titanic but nothing in Titanic compares to the fury of Nature recreated in The Perfect Storm. In Titanic, Nature and Fate were represented by the brief appearance of an iceberg. From there out, it was one hour of a sinking boat. In The Perfect Storm, Nature was dark, relentless, massive, endless and most of all, howling with incredible fury. More than any other of the effects was the rawness of humans trying to yell above the shrieking of the wind that created the tension in Storm. Hats off to the audio team in turning my local movie house into a screeching wind tunnel.
Finally, The Perfect Storm tells the story of all of us. We have our hopes, our dreams for the future, our rivalries, our pride, our loves, and our fears. We set out on our journeys each with their set of struggles and triumphs. In the end, Nature waits for each of us and will take us back from where we came. All that is left are the fond memories from those who knew and loved us.
The Perfect Storm is tense, suspenseful, and gripping. It avoids melodrama and captures the real struggles of real people trying to succeed against difficult odds on land and at sea. Finally it is a story for all of us; our relationships with others and our struggle to beat back the faceless Challenge.
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