The Perfect Storm

The Perfect Storm (2000)
Warner Home Video
Cast: George Clooney, Mark Wallberg, Diane Lane, William Fichtner
Extras: Commentary Tracks, 3 Documentaries, Photo Montage, Concept Art Gallery with Commentary, Storyboards and more

German director Wolfgang Petersen is no stranger to the sea. Not only has he been raised close to the sea, he also brought us one of the most memorable high-seas war movies of all times with his 1981 epic "Das Boot." But Petersen is also no stranger to thrilling, dramatic storytelling as he has proven many times in films such as "In The Line Of Fire" or "Outbreak." "The Perfect Storm" appeared to be the perfect vehicle for Petersen and it was with anticipation that I was awaiting this DVD that is making its debut through Warner Home Video.

Based on real events, "The Perfect Storm" tells the story of the Andrea Gail and its crew, a small sword-fishing boat from the ports of Gloucester, Massachusetts. In the fall of 1991, rough-neck skipper Billy Tyne (George Clooney) takes the boat out onto one last catch before the season ends and forces the fishermen into the docks. The crew on the trip consists mostly of the captain’s regulars, who had agreed to join Tyne to finally make some money after an utterly disappointing season.

The "Andrea Gail" in vain explores the common fishing grounds and in an act of desperation, Tyne decides to take the vessel out to fishing grounds far in the Northern Atlantic where the men strike it rich. But before they can enjoy their luck, the ice machine breaks down, forcing the boat to return home as quickly as possible, before their valuable cargo goes bad. But between them and their home lies a storm, the like the world has never seen. A rare occasion during which three weather fronts collide, the men and the Andrea Gail are suddenly caught in the middle of the perfect storm. Risking their lives in order to save their catch, it soon becomes obvious that these 50" waves are too much to handle for the small fishing boat. But nothing prepares them for what is yet to come…

Apart from the highly dramatic story, "The Perfect Storm" features a number of elements that make this film touching and entertaining. Trying to stay as true to the real recorded events as good as possible, director Wolfgang Petersen and his cast capture a great many of the real-life events and characters that were part of this tragic story. Despite the fact that the characters themselves have comparably small parts in the overall scheme of things, they become very human, and I think it is easy to see that these men made their decision based on their best knowledge. Bringing in these fish made the difference between having a future and living impoverished to them. One good day at sea could make out their mortgage payment for months to come, and the movie nicely introduces us into this class of fishermen and their dependency on seasonal fishing for a living. On a side note some of you may be interested to hear that there is an excellent programming about the real "Andrea Gail" on the Discovery Channel that is re-broadcast periodically and well worth watching.

The real star of the movie is unquestionably the storm itself. Impressively and with brute force, the storm is a monster to behold. Whether it is achieved by practical effects – as describe in one of the featurettes – or through ILM’s computer wizardry, the powers and dangers of such a storm at sea comes across vividly and believably, giving the film a very serious note. All of a sudden we realize how fragile humans can be in the face of nature, and since we also know that the story we see is based on real-life events, we know that these men are at the mercy of the storm for real. No computer trick, no creative license and no unrealistic Hollywood ending will change their fates as we watch the fishermen face wave after wave. Although I found some of the effects unnaturally synthetic in look and feel, I am hardly an expert in all things storms. The sheer force and scope of the storm quickly lets you forget that you are watching special effects and turns the film into a tribute to these and all other fishermen, who put their lives in the hands of Mother Nature every time they go out to sea.

Warner Home Video brings us "The Perfect Storm" in the movie’s original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio on this DVD in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets. Absolutely clean and free of blemishes, the transfer is sparkling clean and very stable. Colors are vividly rendered, with beautiful blue and green tinges and faithfully looking fleshtones. The transfer shows some very deep blacks that never lose definition however and create a bold looking image with plenty of visual depth. Highlights are well balanced to create an image that is always pleasing with good shadow fall-off and contrast. In terms of the image material, almost the entire footage of "The Perfect Storm" is about as problematic as it can get when going through image compression. Almost each shot offers a unique challenge that can pose compression problems. Whether it’s the dark imagery of the storm, the murky mist shrouded shots with extremely subtle details, the high contrast of the glistening sea, the extreme camera movements from the rocking boat, the level of detail in motion at any given time and countless other elements, "The Perfect Storm" is as tricky to compress as it gets. And Warner Home Video as succeeded admirably. There is not a hint of compression artifacting visible anywhere in this 130-minute film and the level of detail found in this transfer is simply breathtaking.

The film boasts a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track that is equally impressive and offers an additional EX rear-center-channel extension. Although the track is not nearly as aggressive as I had expected, given the fierce nature of the film, the audio track nonetheless makes constant use of the discrete surround channels and uses the LFE channel to enhance the impact of the low end that is omnipresent in the track. The frequency response of the audio track is very wide, ranging from the highest end of the sonic spectrum to voluminous basses that are especially impressive during the climactic storm sequence. With an imposing dynamic range, the audio mix also manages to capture very subtle elements of the ambient mix as well as the ponderous crashes of thunder and waves.
Dialogues are very well integrated and are never drowned out by the sound effects or the music. Clear and understandable, the dialogues are free of distortion and have a very natural sounding quality.

James Horner created the score to "The Perfect Storm" and he nicely managed to capture the essence of the film. Both the human spirit, the tragedy and the forces of nature are taking shape in this beautiful score that is presented in a wide surround mix on this DVD. Scoring the storm sequence itself must have been an incredible challenge, as there is a lot of ground and time to cover with very little spoken words during the raging seas scenes – other than a few yelled orders and scream – and on top of that, the music is constantly open to a barrage of thunderous sound effects. It is very tricky to create a score that is adequately covering such a major portion of the film, and indeed, the score sometimes feels a bit superfluous, but seen as a whole, Horner went to some lengths to capture all the elements that make up the story.

Three separate <$commentary,commentary track>s can be found on the disc, each one of the highlighting a separate area of the film’s production. Personally I found director Wolfgang Petersen’s the most intriguing, as it covers many of the human aspects of the film, as well as giving very good and detailed insight into the technical side of the film. Writer Sebastian Junger who wrote the novel on which the film is based, gives a more detailed account of the events than what we see in the film only, and gives his commentary a very touching note, while in the third <$commentary,commentary track> ILM’s Stefen Fangmeier gives the viewer a detailed and thorough discussion of the special effects in the film.

"Creating The Perfect Storm" is a HBO First Look featurette that was produced to promote the film during its theatrical run. It is a well-balanced documentary that offers some additional insight in the characters, the story, the production and the storm itself, without getting overly technical. It strikes a good balance between being entertaining and informative. Larded with interviews, on-set footage and a look at the special effects in the film, the featurette also gives you a good understanding what drove these men and a rare glimpse in the world of real fishermen. To make this featurette even more valuable, you will also get to meet many of the real people behind the story, people you see represented in the film, making it a truly memorable documentary of the production.

"Witnesses To The Storm" is a 5-minute featurette that features interviews with Gloucester fisherman who recall the day of the storm. It is an interesting recollection with some original video footage that is very impressive.

"Creating An Emotion" is a featurette that covers James Horner’s music score for the film. It features footage from the orchestra recording and interviews with James Horner, as he discusses his approach to the film and the score. I found this feature particularly interesting, as information about the scoring process of a movie is still so sparse.

There is also a gallery of pre-production art from the film on the disc, complete with a commentary by director Wolfgang Petersen. It is just incredible what a difference a good commentary can make when seeing these images. Suddenly we not only view a series of images, but we understand what the basic concept was at the time and how it has been adjusted during the final production. The only drawback is that the images are not correctly timed with the commentary and Petersen is talking about an image that we don’t yet see. It just doesn’t feel right when he says "And here we see a picture of the sailboat…" while in fact we are still looking at an image showing the helicopter.

"Yours Forever" is a photo montage of still images from the movie that is set to the John Mellecamp song. A little on the melodramatic side, the photo gallery offers a nice summary of the film with some of the great human moments we get to witness, driving it home that this is the real story of these men, and not only Hollywood fiction. The theatrical trailer, cast and crew biographies and a gallery of storyboards from selected scenes top off this great release from Warner Home Video.

"The Perfect Storm" is an incredible release. Showcasing once again just how well a top-notch DVD can look and sound, this release is easily one of the best DVDs in the market in terms of technical quality and presentation, so make sure to give this disc a look.