Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: The Perfect Storm: Special Edition (2000)
Studio Line: Warner Bros. - The storm is coming.

In the Fall of 1991, the "Andrea Gail" left Gloucester, Mass. and headed for the fishing grounds of the North Atlantic. Two weeks later, an event took place that had never occurred in recorded history.

When three storms combined into one over the ocean, a storm stronger than any in recorded history was formed, creating waves as tall as a ten-story building. Director Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot) recreates the staggering reality that the survivors – and victims – went through.

Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Cast: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, William Fichtner, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, John C. Reilly, Allen Payne, John Hawkes, Michael Ironside
Box Office: Budget: $120 million. Opening Weekend: $41.325 million (3407 screens). Gross: $180.631 million.
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, French Dolby Digital 5.1; subtitles English, French; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 39 chapters; rated PG-13; 130 min.; $24.98; street date 11/14/00.
Supplements: Audio Commentary with Director Wolfgang Petersen; Audio Commentary with Visual Effects Supervisor Stefen Fangmeier and Visual Effects Producer Helen Elswit; Audio Commentary with Author Sebastian Junger; "HBO First Look" 20-minute Documentary; "Witnesses to the Storm" Five-minute Featurette; "Creating an Emotion" Four-minute Featurette; "Yours Forever" Photo Montage; Conceptual Art Gallery with Director Commentary; Storyboard Gallery; Theatrical Trailer; Cast and Crew Filmographies; Soundtrack Presentation; DVD-ROM Features.
Purchase: DVD | The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea - Sebastian Junger | Score soundtrack - James Horner | Poster

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/B+/B+

Here's yet another reason why watching movies on DVD is superior to seeing them in theaters. When I took in The Perfect Storm last summer, I enjoyed the film except for one annoying factor: a mildly-elderly woman in the row behind me who almost constantly uttered the phrase "uh-oh" during the picture. "Almost constantly" is not an exaggeration, either; two minutes never passed without an "uh-oh". Storm clouds on the horizon? "Uh-oh". Weatherman discusses the storm's potential? "Uh-oh". Marky Mark orders some chowder? "Uh-oh".

This woman was completely out of control. The loud storm scenes slightly covered her vocalizations, but she seemed to unconsciously react to them and often muttered more loudly at those times. I don't think the old bag did any of these on purpose, and frankly, I believe she may have lost use of some of her mental faculties - which was the only reason I didn't tell her to pipe down, though I did shoot her some mean looks (that she was too oblivious to notice).

Now that I've seen the movie a second time, I feel as though I should track down the "Uh-oh Woman" and thank her. Frankly, I think that one reason I liked the film when I saw it theatrically was due to her behavior; she distracted me from the many flaws of the product at hand. Without the aggravation she offered, I was better able to see all of the picture's problems and find much more fault with it.

I won't call The Perfect Storm a bad movie, for it's not. Actually, it's a decent little action piece that works pretty well at times. However, I think it's the kind of film that only creates a positive impression during its first viewing, for once I knew all of its tricks, it packed a much smaller punch.

The story is quite simple. We get to know a crew of swordfishermen from Gloucester, Massachusetts who are enduring a bad streak at sea; their recent hauls have been poor, so they push their luck by venturing out farther than usual. They do so but run into serious trouble on the voyage home due to the development of a seriously nasty patch of weather. The film documents their experiences and mainly focuses on their attempts to navigate through this "perfect storm".

Many of the moments in which we watch the crew of the Andrea Gail battle the elements are well-executed and exciting. The technical effects are very convincing; they make the entire enterprise feel realistic. Unfortunately, I felt the action scenes packed less of a punch than they should because I simply didn't care much about the characters. This is through no faults of the actual personages, but I felt the participants were not given any real personalities. The film features quite a few prominent roles, but none of them seem like anything more than bland stereotypes, and they receive almost no exposition to help us feel more interest in them.

Frankly, it seems like TPS tries to get by on nothing more than the appeal of the actors, which is actually a smart choice in some ways, since the film features some very talented performers. George Clooney seems strong as usual in the main role of ship captain Billy Tyne, and Mark Wahlberg provides able support as young fisherman Bobby Shatford. The unfortunate aspect of their pairing is that it reminded me of their prior effort together, 1999's Three Kings. That was a much better film and it featured more compelling characters, which makes the work here seem less full and interesting.

Though the actors try their best, there's simply no core to these characters onto which they can grab; the writing provides them with no support and some of the exposition seems nonsensical at times. For example, "Murph" (John C. Reilly) and "Sully" (William Fichtner) are at each others' throats even before the expedition starts, but why? The film offers no explanation why these two hate each other so much, and this makes the entire situation feel contrived; they loathe each other just because the movie wanted some artificially-created drama, and it didn't work for me.

Granted, weak characterizations are not unusual in this sort of "disaster" movie, and some may note that I really liked Twister, even though it offered more superficial personae than those we find in TPS. This is true, but two differences occur. First, Twister didn't focus as strongly on the emotional/personal component of its story. TPS is a product of the post-Titanic era of filmmaking in which a tragically romantic element has to appear. It worked for James Cameron's hit, but it doesn't add anything here.

The other difference is that while Twister's action sequences were numbingly-effective, those of TPS are merely pretty good. Wolfgang Petersen has always shown himself to be a solid director but I feel he lacks any substantial style or flair; his films have a "workmanlike" tone to them that means they're well-done but never special. TPS fits perfectly into that mold; it creates some moderately powerful scenes but it never threatens to become anything extraordinary.

Frankly, I think TPS would have been a more effective film had it concentrated on a subject other than these fishermen. It includes some segments in which Coast Guard rescue crews go to work, and these are the best parts of the movie. While the fishermen are decent subjects, the Coast Guard crews seem more worthy of attention, since they routinely risked their lives to help others. Their peripheral involvement in TPS was compelling but insufficient, and had the movie spent more time with them, it might have been more worthwhile.

As it stands, The Perfect Storm functions as a decent action film but not one that really rocked my boat. It provides a moderately compelling and exciting ride while it lasts, but I didn't think anything about it stood out as exceptional or particularly noteworthy.

The DVD:

The Perfect Storm appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While the movie generally looked excellent, it presented enough flaws to make it mildly disappointing for such a recent film.

Sharpness usually seemed clear and precise; the majority of the picture appeared crisp and detailed. However, some mild softness interfered with the image at times. These instances of haziness invariably occurred during interior shots. The most noticeable examples were at the bar frequented by our main characters, but the concerns also could be seen below deck on the boat and in the church at the end. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no problems, but I witnessed moderate artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws seemed virtually non-existent; I saw no signs of grain, speckles, scratches, hairs or other defects during the film.

Colors were probably the best part of this DVD. Although TPS used a pretty restricted palette, the hues seemed clear and accurate at all times and never showed any signs of bleeding or noise. The colors appeared natural and warm and were very solid. Black levels usually seemed similarly strong, though I thought some scenes portrayed slightly murky dark tones; they took on a less-intense cast than I'd expect. Shadow detail also looked a little flat at times, but usually scenes seemed appropriately opaque but not overly thick. Ultimately, The Perfect Storm presented a very good picture, but it doesn't approach "reference" level.

The same goes for the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Although I thought the audio seemed quite strong most of the time, I also found it to be a disappointment for a couple of reasons. For one, I expect extremely active and crisp audio from high profile, big-budget projects like this; had TPS been a modest little film, that'd be one thing, but this sucker used up a huge amount of money and featured a lot of big names.

One of those names - director Wolfgang Petersen - is the other reason I anticipated such a terrific soundtrack. Look through a list of his movies and you'll find a slew of titles with excellent audio: Das Boot, In the Line of Fire, Outbreak and Air Force One all offer absolutely terrific soundtracks, and I thought The Perfect Storm would likely top them all.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. Actually, until the last half hour or so of the movie, my rating stood at a firm "B". The high activity level heard during the film's final act sparked my grade to go up to a marginal "B+", but I'm still not wild about what I heard.

For the most part, the soundfield was very good, though it showed some concerns. During the early segments of the film, surround usage seemed minimal and the majority of the audio came from the forward speakers. Check out the scenes in the bar. They displayed some strong forward activity, as they offered a lot of well-defined and separated audio that created a positive atmosphere. However, the surrounds let that impression go to waste; we should have felt immersed in the setting, but the forward-bias of the track left me distanced from the action.

Of course, the activity levels greatly intensify during the storm sequences, and the soundfield does become quite immersive on those occasions. I still wasn't completely wild about it, however, as I thought the mixers presented too much "gimmicky" audio; they used a few "cheats" to create some effects that I found distracting. For example, sometime when we hear wind whip through the rears, it does this strange "quick whistle" effect whereby it sounded like someone's buzzing you with compressed air. Sure, it lets you hear some distinct split surround effects, but they didn't seem realistic, and I thought they detracted from the ultimate impression.

For the most part, the storms came across as well-designed and really engulfed me, but I thought the track lacked the "goosebump" factor I experienced with a similar mix: that of Twister. When I listen to that movie, the effect is so stunning that I get goosebumps, but that never occurred during TPS. For a variety of reasons, I always felt less than stimulated by the audio.

Most of my concerns related to the quality of the sound. While the audio seemed generally solid, I thought it lacked some positive attributes I would expect of a big-budget film from four months ago. Dialogue generally seemed clear and distinct, but at times it could appear slightly flat or muddy. Much of the movie obviously had to be dubbed, and the tonality of the different recordings varied considerably; the speech could seem perfectly crisp and accurate, or it could be moderately bland and dull. On a few occasions, I had difficulty understanding what was said, but that concern arose mainly due to the high volume level of atmospheric audio; the storm simply drowned out some of the speech.

Music quality was a definite problem. James Horner's score often came across as somewhat lifeless and mushy, with concerns related to differentiation of instruments. Frankly, a lot of the time I thought the music lacked brightness and didn't offer a crisp high end, and the score became muddled due to this lack of distinction. Granted, the music had to compete with a lot of other auditory elements, but I've heard enough "busy" soundtracks to know that the score should have appeared more clear and brisk than this.

Effects fared best among the audio components, but I thought they seemed too "artificial" during much of the film. At times, the storms sounded brilliant and involving, but then they became forced and fake, and the entire track could take on a mildly "compressed" feeling. A lot of bass was present, but even this aspect of the mix did not seem entirely pleasing. The low end was heavy but somewhat indistinct and it lacked the tautness I expected; it contributes more of a dull roar than the solid, rich bass I've heard in films like The Haunting or The Patriot.

I want to emphasize that this is not a bad soundtrack by any stretch of the imagination. I wouldn't give it a "B+" if that were the case. However, it remains a definite disappointment for me. Frankly, I expected a mix that would rival Twister for depth and intensity, but TPS doesn't even approach that level.

The film earned its "B+" due to the relentless ferocity of the track during the storm sequences, but the soundfield appeared somewhat lackluster prior to those scenes. TPS lost most of its points due to quality. The audio doesn't sound poor, but it lacked the richness and clarity I expect from a modern film. As such, it received a very borderline "B+"; I came very close to substituting a "B" in its place but upped it to a "B+" due to the solid design of the climactic storm scenes.

The Perfect Storm provides a slew of supplemental features, most of which are available when you select the "Eye of the Storm" icon from the "Special Features" screen. We start with three separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Wolfgang Petersen, who is joined by DVD producer J.M. Kenney. Kenney adds a little information of his own, but he mainly functions as interviewer and he helps spark Petersen's memory and makes sure a variety of subjects are covered.

Not that he has to do much in this regard, as Petersen proves to be a pretty chatty participant. As with Petersen's commentary for Air Force One, he devotes quite a lot of time to a discussion of the visual effects, but he doesn't focus exclusively on that subject. Petersen also delves into a variety of production issues such as story development and working with the actors; if you want to know who vomited the most, this is the commentary for you! I most enjoyed the segments in which Petersen mentions the involvement and reactions of the real-life counterparts; these added a nice touch to his track. Ultimately, I thought this was a good track that merits a listen.

Although Petersen mentioned a lot of information about the visual effects, a more in-depth discussion occurs on the second commentary. This one comes from visual effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier and visual effects producer Helen Elswit and almost completely sticks to technical details. To Petersen's credit, he covered so much of the information is such a complete manner that a lot of the second track's information seemed redundant to me; I already heard a lot of it from the director. In any case, the technical commentary provides a nice look at how this effects-intensive movie was created; it's the least-compelling of the three tracks, but it's worth a screening for those who like to know more about technical details.

Easily the best of the three commentaries is the final one which comes solely from author Sebastian Junger. Whereas the first two tracks focused strongly on technical issues, Junger's discussion features virtually no information on that subject since it's not his domain. Instead, Junger provides a terrific description of the truth behind the tale. He relates a wealth of data about where the story is truly factual and where it takes creative liberties. He also lets us know the general reality of the lives led by folks in the fishing profession and his discussion really adds a lot of depth and humanity to the subject; it's a very solid and compelling commentary.

Next we find a variety of video programs. First up is an "HBO First Look" special about The Perfect Storm. This show lasts 19 minutes and 55 seconds and provides a surprisingly compelling look at the making of the film. Normally these shows offer little more than glorified promotional opportunities, and while there's no question that "First Look" tries to entice you to see TPS, it nonetheless features a lot of useful information about how the movie was created.

As with most documentaries, "First Look" combines interviews with cast and crew plus snippets from the movie and shots from the set. We also get a few interview clips from actual Gloucester residents, including Linda Greenlaw (played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in the film) and some relatives of Bobby Shatford. The program communicates a lot of data on different subjects, from the reality of the story to what it was like for the cast to the nitty gritty of the special effects. The show should have been longer and more detailed, but as it stands, I found the piece to be quite satisfying.

"Witnesses to the Storm" provides four and a half minutes of interviews with real-life folks who have experience with the scenarios behind the film. We hear from Richard Haworth (a former captain of the Andrea Gail), Vito Calomo (executive director of the Gloucester Fisheries Commission), Joe Garland ("author, historian, Gloucester resident), Jay Gustaferro ("commercial fisherman, surfer"), and Jack Foot (Gloucester police officer). In addition to their interview snippets, we see some videotaped footage of various storms, some of which was taken from boats such as the Hannah Boden. The program's too short to offer a whole lot of information, but I thought it was a compelling look at the reality of the situation.

"Creating an Emotion", the final video program, gives us a four minute and 15 second look at how composer James Horner worked on TPS. It combines interview clips with Horner plus movie snippets and some nice shots of the score writer at work. It's a short but nice look at one of today's most successful composers.

"Conceptual Art With Commentary By Wolfgang Petersen" provides exactly what it describes. We find a running program that displays some very nice artwork created for the film; the "conceptual art" depicts a series of scenes from the film and is used for inspiration in a number of filmmaking elements. The piece lasts for nine minutes and 50, and as the paintings pass, Petersen discusses them and relates what he did with them. It's a fairly interesting little look at another aspect of movie-making.

"'Yours Forever' Photo Montage" presents a series of stills from the movie accompanied by John Mellencamp's theme song. Actually, we get additional audio as well; the piece intersperses dialogue from the film between Mellencamp's lyrics. All of the photos in this four minute and five seconds piece are from the film itself; we find no promotional or "behind the scenes" images here. I like Mellencamp, but this program did little for me; it would have been of more value if the song had played uninterrupted, but the dialogue snippets became annoying.

Related to this is the "Soundtrack Promo", which is exactly what the title implies. The 15-second piece touts the soundtrack and that's it. Pretty lame! Another promotional element appears as well in the form of the movie' s theatrical trailer.

Finally, the "Eye of the Storm" area concludes with "Storyboard Gallery". This area presents some very well-drawn boards for three different scenes: "Shark Attack", "Murph Overboard", and "Helicopter Ditch". We find between 74 and 90 screens per scene for a total of 240 frames worth of images in all. Most of the screens provide two boards, but some only offer one. These are well-executed enough to merit your perusal.

The other area available under the "Special Features" menu is "Cast and Crew", which provides listings for 10 actors plus writer Bill Wittliff and director Petersen. These are pretty much useless entries since all we find are filmographies for each of the participants.

The Perfect Storm contains some DVD-ROM materials as well. The "Special Online Events" links to the Warner Bros. Video web page. I found no mention of The Perfect Storm on this site. In fact, I saw no evidence that the site had been updated since last April or so. It may be brought up to date when TPS hits shelves in November - it's mid-October as I write this - but since Any Given Sunday also touted "special online events" but cannot be found on the site, I wouldn't count on it.

Next I tried "Brewing the Storm", which is supposed to provide "the secrets behind the special effects". Unfortunately, when I went to the site, all I received was a message that "This feature is unavailable for preview." Again, this may have occurred because I tried it weeks before the DVD's street date, so it's possible the site may be up and running by the time the disc is available for sale.

We also get a link to the movie's theatrical website. This seems like a nice little page that offers a fair amount of information about the film. One disappointment: I'm under the possibly-mistaken impression that some DVDs have included all of their website's materials onto the disc itself so that one can access them without actually going online. I'm new to the wild world of DVD-ROM, so I may be wrong about that. In any case, that's what I expected from TPS, but it's not the way it is; I see no advantage to accessing the site through the DVD instead of just entering the address on my own.

I suppose it's nice to have the addresses collected in one place for us, however, and we get a few other links as well. The DVD also includes connections to the WB Studio Store, WB Home Video, WB Online, and

There's a "DVD Sampler" which details the features for TPS, Sphere, Deep Blue Sea and Twister; you can also watch these films' trailers here, though they are presented via Windows Media Player, which made them awfully small. This is the only DVD-ROM component you can view without an Internet connection.

The Perfect Storm takes on an interesting subject but only achieves moderate success in it coverage of that topic. The movie contains some pretty exciting action sequences but is much less compelling when it focuses on its lifelessly presented characters; despite the presence of a solid cast, the participants are less than interesting. The DVD offers generally positive picture and sound plus a wealth of good extras. Already-established fans of the film will doubtless enjoy this DVD, but others should probably rent it first.

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