(Movie review and extras review written in 2000.)
Having read Sebastian Junger's best-selling novel a while ago, I wasn't sure if the book could be made into something filmable - even if they could, where the film is headed to is apparent. I have to say though, after watching the final product, that director Wolfgang Petersen and a crew of highly talented artists have created something that both audiences that are not familiar with the novel as well as those who have read the book will find entertaining and moving.
The book revolves around the crew of the Andrea Gail,Bugsy Moran (John Hawkes), Dale Murphy (John C. Reilly), David Sullivan (William Fichtner), Alfred Pierre (Allen Payne),Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg), and the captain, Billy Tyne (George Clooney). As the film opens, the crew of the fishing boat has come back with a rather dry run, giving the crew little money for their efforts. Bobby's girlfriend Christine(the very good Diane Lane) wants him to stay this time, and promises to work on her own if Bobby won't go out with the crew anymore. Billy has his own plans, though - to take the boat out one more time before the season ends and find fish - whatever it takes.
The crew heads out and finds themselves in the same place - the fish just aren't coming in. They make the decision to go even further out and eventually, things begin to get better - to a point. While they have their haul, a storm is brewing right behind them - blocking their route home. A storm like no other, a group of cells that has combined to form a hugely brutal force of nature that overtakes anything in its path.
The decision is made to make their way home with the haul - the Andrea Gail unfortunately though, sets sail right into the mouth of the beast. That's when the outstanding work of visual effects supervisor Stefan Fangmeier("Twister") steps in to create really what is one of the most impressive visual offerings I've seen lately in film - an absolutely monsterous set of waves that come crashing towards the boat; the movie becomes absolutely exhausting as water absolutely pounds the boat - waves so huge that I almost ducked once or twice in my seat.
And yet, there are some minor problems with the movie. We get to know the characters, but there really isn't that much in the way of detail to some of them, such as some of the supporting cast. The opening shore scenes that introduce the character are pretty average; nothing terrible, but they could have gone a little faster or been a little sharper. I will compliment that Petersen has done well in packing so much into the film - there's quite a lot going on - besides the main plot with the Andrea Gail, there's also a secondary plot about a helicopter rescue of a stranded sailboat in the middle of the storm that offers some thrilling and terrifying moments. He's done a great job with a hard task - the immense amount of details has been well sculpted into the film.
Whalberg's Bobby and Clooney's Billy are the characters that recieve the most focus, and both turn in strong performances. Even though they aren't terribly detailed characters in the film, solid actors such as John C. Reilly do their best with their roles. Technical credits are first-rate; again, the effects work by Fangmeier and crew is wonderful. Similarly excellent also are cinematography by John Seale as well as sound design by Wylie Stateman("True Lies", "Godzilla", "The Prince of Egypt").
"The Perfect Storm" may not offer the most detailed characters, but I think the jobs that the actors do more than carry the audience past these flaws. Once the storm really begins, the intensity of the film is incredible; it's hard not to be on the edge of your seat as wave after wave crashes forward. Whether you've read the novel or aren't familiar with the details of the Andrea Gail, I think you'll find that "The Perfect Storm" is still a very emotional, very thrilling picture that is well acted and very well directed. It's a thrill-ride with heart and soul that I enjoyed more watching at home where, unlike the movie theater, there are no cell phones ringing. Recommended.
VIDEO: "The Perfect Storm" is presented on Blu-Ray in 2.35:1 (1080p/VC-1). While the presentation may be a mild upgrade over the DVD edition, it falls a little short of expectations for a Blu-Ray debut of a fairly recent theatrical release. Sharpness and detail are somewhat underwhelming, as while some close-ups do look crisp, well-defined and clean, other scenes (wide shots, some of the darker scenes on the boat) can look soft and occasionally, almost a little fuzzy.
While the (mostly) soft, (usually) flat look of the presentation is a main concern, unfortunately that wasn't the end of the issues with the presentation, as some mild noise and a few instances of edge enhancement were also noticed. On a positive note, the print used at least appeared crisp and clean. Colors do look natural and reasonably well-saturated. The film's color palette was never overly bold or bright, and the presentation retains the intended look. Overall, this was an uneven effort that, while an improvement over the DVD, was not in-line with what I was hoping for for the Blu-Ray debut of the film.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1, as well as Dolby Digital 5.1-EX. The opening of the picture is a mainly dialogue and music-driven piece, with the majority of the audio coming from the front. But, at least James Horner's enjoyable score comes through with impressive fullness and clarity, driving the emotions of the story.
It's when the storm finally hits that the audio for the film really rolls into high gear. As the action begins to grow more intense, the sound begins to ramp up slightly, using the surrounds more and more actively until the main storm sequences, where all hell breaks loose, enveloping the viewer in the middle of the chaos with very respectable power and intensity. Waves crash all around the viewer and winds scream through the listening space. Bass is often powerful during the later scenes of the movie.
Even in the quieter moments of the movie, there are some nice subtle sounds that are put into play around the viewer, such as the creaking of the boat as it sails through the water. Dialogue sounds somewhat unnatural at times, but impressively, remains clear with everything else that's going on. The Dolby TrueHD presentation is excellent, with rich, deep bass and crisper, more precise sound effects.
Commentary One: Although this is not the first commentary listed, it's the one I was most interested in. "Perfect Storm" author Sebastian Junger provides his own running commentary for this first track included. I was very curious to hear about his feelings between the book and the film version, and he definitely provided that here, along with more details about the reality of "The Perfect Storm". He discusses in great detail about the research that he did to write the book and the details that he was able to find about the life that these fishermen lead. This is a fascinating commentary track because Junger takes the audience steps further with the story of these characters that the movie itself doesn't go to.
This is not a technical or "movie-related" commentary, but the author is able to do a remarkable job at providing an immense amount of details about the fishing industry and the truth to the tale of the "Perfect Storm". He discusses the life that the fishermen lead and it's amazing to hear about how extremely tough it is. There are some pauses during the commentary track, but they are certainly not terribly long. Junger provides an absolute wealth of information here, and he's extremely interesting to listen to. For those who haven't read the book, I definitely recommend it as well.
Commentary Two: This commentary track provides technical commentary from Visual Effects Producer Helen Elswit and Visual Effects Supervisor Stefen Fangmeier, who you may remember from the commentary where he joined director Jan De Bont on the special edition of "Twister". The two of them provide a very enjoyable and informative "technical" commentary that lets the viewer in on the "behind-the-scenes" of the effects work, which often talks about the challenges that ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) took on in trying to create a "Perfect Storm". There are some pauses where the movie audio comes back in, but for the most part, the commentary provides a pretty informative listen about the enormous amount of planning and work that went into the preparation and production of the film's effects. Depending on whether or not you're a technical commentary fan (I know some people aren't), you might enjoy this track, which is one of the better "effects" commentaries I've heard.
Commentary Three: This is a commentary from director Wolfgang Petersen and hosted by JM Kenny. Kenny is in the role of interviewer here, and asks quite a few good questions of the director throughout the movie. It's pretty screen-specific as Petersen goes through the majority of the film's scenes and breaks down all of the parts that went into the making of that particular scene. He seems like a genuinely very friendly and fun person, and is very energetic in providing his comments for this track. He really gives us a complete overview of the whole picture of the making of "The Perfect Storm", from the casting to the technical details about the effects and conditions of shooting. A very good commentary track, and I've rarely heard a commentary participant as excited and energetic as Petersen. It makes me wish that Warner Brothers would go back to prepare their early release of "Outbreak" as a special edition with commentary by Petersen.
In Conclusion: These are 3 excellent commentary tracks, with the 1st and 3rd tracks certainly being two of the better tracks I've listened to all year. Petersen's track provides a great overview of the history of the production, the effects track goes deeper into that side of the film, and Junger's track is wonderfully informative about the real story. I think all 3 really come together to provide the whole picture of the movie very well.
HBO First Look: Creating A Perfect Storm: As many DVD watchers know, the "HBO First Look" documentaries can be good and really informative or "promotional" and fairly dull. Thankfully, "Creating A Perfect Storm" is one of the better HBO documentaries that I've seen, providing a very informative look at the making of the movie, and complimenting the commentary tracks - although they certainly don't provide the wealth of information that the three tracks come together to provide, I liked visually seeing the production at work and some of the behind-the-scenes footage. This documentary also gives us additional interviews with some of the real-life people from the area and from the story; in addition, we get an even further sense here of how the production gave respect to people of the town and then, the people of the town were able to help and contribute in what seems like a great partnership. Some of the footage of the cast and crew on the stage on the boat in the tank is particularly fascinating to watch.
Witnesses To The Storm: This is a short, but interesting featurette that offers interviews with some of the residents who were there to see the destruction that the storm caused the area.
Theatrical Trailer: The film's trailer and soundtrack promo.
Creating An Emotion: This is a short, but very good featurette that takes a look at composer James Horner's music. Providing interviews with the composer, we learn more about the process of working with the director (in this case, Petersen) and his inspiration for the kind of music that was included in the movie.
Also: "Yours Forever" photo montage with stills from the movie.
Final Thoughts: "Perfect Storm" remains a moving, well-acted adaptation of Sebastian Junger's outstanding book. Video quality on the Blu-Ray release is an improvement over the DVD, but only a mild one and not in-line with what I was hoping for for the Blu-Ray debut of the film. However, audio quality is excellent and the majority of the extras from the DVD release have been carried over.
The Film B+