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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/16/99

The Perfect Storm
Special Edition - 2000 (2000) - Warner Bros.

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Perfect Storm: Special Edition Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A+/A

Specs and Features

130 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch 1:10:15 in chapter 21), Snapper case packaging, filmmaker commentary (with director Wolfgang Petersen and DVD producer J.M. Kenny), special effects commentary (with Stefen Fangmeier and Helen Elswit), commentary with novelist Sebastian Junger, HBO First Look: Witnesses to the Storm featurette, Creating an Emotion featurette, photo gallery featuring the theme from The Perfect Storm by John Mellencamp, conceptual art with commentary by Petersen, storyboard gallery featuring 3 scenes, cast and crew filmographies, theatrical trailer, DVD-ROM features (including trailers, links to web events, chat rooms and more), animated film themed menu screens with sound, scene access (39 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX) and French (dubbed in Quebec - DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

"Home safe."

I can't say I'm too big a fan of this film. I don't know what to say about it really. It's based on a true story. It's sad - and if you know anything about the facts surrounding the events depicted in the film, the reality is even sadder. Overall, the film plays out like one of those Reader's Digest tales of survival. You know the ones I'm talking about - stories that feature a guy getting mauled by a bear, after which he crawls for three days through the woods, stopping to pass out every 23 minutes, until he reaches a camp, is airlifted to safety and survives to condense his story for all the world's potty bound to read. Except in this case, there's no one to airlift him and he bleeds to death trying to get to the camp. Not very uplifting, and I kind of like my summer movies with a bit more hope stuffed in between the explosions and witty banter.

That's not to say that this is a bad summer movie. It's not. As a piece of cinema craftsmanship, I doubt you could put together a better film. With director Wolfgang Petersen behind the camera, ILM doing your effects and George Clooney leading an all-star cast of great up and coming character actors, you have a really well made film. The problem is, as well made as the film is, it has trouble hooking you into caring about the folks in the story. About the only way it can even hope to do so, is with syrupy melodrama that comes off incredibly forced, especially in the film's cheesy-as-hell ending.

I'm dancing around the issue, so I'm just going to come right out and say it: this film is about the last trip of the swordfish schooner, Andrea Gail. The AG went down during a storm that hit the world pretty hard in October of 1991. The crew of 6 men went under and was never seen again. You'd have to have been living under a rock to know that the story doesn't end well. There were numerous books, several documentaries on the real events on the Discovery Channel and ABC and the film's own marketing campaign, all of which give the end away. Given all that, it's hard to root for a bunch of people we know are boarding a ship and sailing off to their deaths. The filmmakers try to help us care, by giving us lots of setup as to why these men set out during a notoriously bad time for fishing. We see how the Andrea Gail's crew conquered the fish and we're given good reasons why they felt they had no choice but to head straight through the storm and hope for the best in order to get home. Thrown in for good measure is a dramatic subplot involving the members of a Coast Guard helicopter crew, which rescues various ships at sea (and eventually needs saving themselves). It's all a very powerful tale, but I'm pretty set in thinking that it worked much, much better as a book. The film is based on Sebastian Junger's nail-biting true account of the days leading up to (and the heart-pounding hours during) the storm that ripped Gloucester, Mass. to shreds. Pared down to a feature film, we're left with very little to focus our attentions on. And the omissions made in the film, from facts of the book, are glaring because they were so ironic and sweeping. No doubt they were left out of the film because there was just too much detail - something had to be cut. But without these bits of information, much of the context for these events is gone, making it really impossible to properly tell the story.

Still, for what it is, The Perfect Storm is a noble attempt to tell the story. What saves it are the special effects. There are some really neat shots in this film, that could never have been done without computers. In this day and age of CGI abuse, it's nice to see a story use effects to tell the story rather than gild the lily. Your mouth will completely drop open when you see some of the water and wave effects in the film.

This DVD presents the film with that same sort of respect. The picture quality is way above the normal standard put out by Warner. Which is to say, when Warner puts out a good-looking transfer, they really put out a good-looking transfer. Given to us in anamorphic widescreen, the picture absolutely shines. Colors are rich, flesh tones are dead on and the blacks are, for the most part, solid. With all the wind, rain and CGI in this film, some MPEG-2 digital artifacting is inevitable. But I don't think this transfer could have been done better. It looks damn good. The sound, on the other hand, IS even better. The Dolby Digital 5.1 EX sound field is really well defined and kicks ass. Don't be fooled by the understated mix at the beginning of the film. Once the crew hits the ocean, the rear channels and your subwoofer will get a work out. There are some wiggy noises coming out of the surrounds during the storm scenes, and you'll probably look over your shoulder a few times trying to peg where they're coming from.

The Perfect Storm is also a pretty loaded special edition. We get a few standard featurettes. One is an HBO First Look of the behind-the-scenes variety. Another is a compilation of interviews done with residents of Gloucester. A third focuses on the music from the film. All are nice windows on the background and production, and are thankfully not too long. There are also your typical cast and crew filmographies, a trailer, promo for the soundtrack, a photo gallery with the theme song from the film underscoring it and a storyboard gallery showing three scenes broken down from the original drawings. One on the not so typical side is a gallery of conceptual art with a commentary by director Petersen, discussing how each painting worked into his visual planning of the film. There are some images here that look just like they did in the film - it's pretty cool.

Speaking of commentaries, we get three with this set. First up is a track with Petersen and DVD producer J.M. Kenny. Petersen discusses the film in a play-by-play sort of way, but he drops nuggets of information along the way that make it quite listenable. Kenny plays moderator, coaxing Petersen in this direction and that. Occasionally, he gets stonewalled with comments like, "Oh, we should talk about that later, during the storm scene," but Kenny give a great effort and as a result, the track ends up being pretty good (the "play by play" style does keep it from achieving the coolness level of Petersen's commentary from Das Boot, however). Next up, we have Stefen Fangmeier and Helen Elswit, who basically oversaw the special effects for the film (Fangmeier for ILM and Elswit for the production itself). This is a fun track, filled with stories of the production, how they did stuff and even a few legends here and there. It's got a few short gaps in it, but it's well worth listening to. The last (and best) track is from author Sebastian Junger, who wrote the book the film is based on. He treats the commentary more as a way to discuss the real people behind the film and he drops in some factual information here and there - and the way he does it is incredible. Without saying: "The film deviates from the facts here...," he instead just talks over the action of the film and acknowledges that things had to be changed to tell the story more cinematically, while giving us the truth at the same time. It's very well handled and makes for a really good commentary of the film and the facts behind it.

All in all, The Perfect Storm isn't the perfect film... but I think this is the perfect DVD for it. It's not too heavy, but certainly not too light either. All the right things are discussed and the presentation is very well handled. It'll take a few hours to get through everything on this disc, but most of it is so fun, that the time'll breeze right by. I really don't think you could ask for a better DVD for this film. So board up the windows, batten down the hatches and settle in for a nice evening's entertainment.

Todd Doogan
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