Suffering the Storm from a theater seat

The movie production of The Perfect Storm opened in theatres across the country this summer and sailors everywhere were treated to some action-packed scenes of the ocean’s fury — at least as imagined by Industrial Light and Magic, the film’s special effects crew. A group of us at Ocean Navigator went to a showing of the film and had a great time along with the rest of the audience.

There were seasick groans, gasps of excitement, some shouts of encouragement. And then there were the jeering comments directed at the film’s inaccuracies and unabashed use of some well-worn nautical clichés (a crusty old fisherman who mutters cryptic warnings about the dangers of fishing on The Flemish Cap, for example, and a reach-for-the-puke-bucket romance scene showing one of the lost fishermen sending telepathic love messages to his girlfriend back in Gloucester).

Most fun for us, though, were the film’s technical errors. (And we were a bunch of sailors, not fishermen, who would likely have more to say about certain conflicts with reality in the film.) Plenty of the general audience — not sailor types like us — guffawed at certain scenes, like when the weatherman examines a satellite image of the clouds and exclaims, “It could be the perfect storm!” or when the Linda Greenlaw character shouts into the SSB mike, “You’re heading right for the middle of the monster!” One could almost hear the eyes rolling.

But the ON audience, a group of self-proclaimed nautical nerds, livened up especially in the wake of more serious fumbles. When one of the crew is dragged overboard with a hook in his thumb, George Clooney’s character Billy Tyne yells, “Back ‘er down, full!” And the next thing we see is the stern of the ship, throwing water out of its screws at what appears to be full ahead, yet the vessel is obviously moving backward through the water. Another scene, after Andrea Gail is dramatically turned through the wind and seas to run with the stormthe crew has finally given up hope of making it back to port soon enough to sell its catchwe see the little ship still plunging its bow into enormous head seas. “C’mon!” yelled one of the ON crew. And then more quietly, “They just turned away from the seas; they should be breaking over the stern.”

Perhaps the best scenes, for the sailors in the crowd anyway, illustrate the Coast Guard rescue mission for the crew of the sailing vessel Mistral (Satorri in the book) since it accurately depicted the madness of a mid-ocean abandon-ship operation, although the vessel was flying a doubtful sailplan for such conditions. The film makers had the sense to capitalize on the potential there: the helo dips and dives; the crew shouts confusing commands at each other; visibility is horrendous; the boat crew is scared and wet and tired; and then the whole mission is focused on a single action: the leap of a solitary man in fins and snorkel into the raging sea who then swims to the aid of the stricken crew with a rescue basket.

Storms at sea invariably involve more than enough danger and confusion. Which is why, despite the insipid dialogue and technical failures of the film, watching The Perfect Storm from the comfort of a theatre seat is preferable — any day of the week — to actually being there.

By Ocean Navigator