In 2000, Wolfgang Petersen directed The Perfect Storm, a biographical disaster film that recounts the true story of the Andrea Gail, a fishing vessel lost with all hands during the “Perfect Storm” of 1991.
In the film, George Clooney plays Billy Tyne, captain of the Andrea Gail, a commercial fishing boat. Needing money, Tyne convinces his crew to join him on one last fishing trip, even though it’s already very late in the season. They proceed past their usual fishing grounds on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and gain a large catch in the Flemish Cap. But just as the ship is fully loaded with fish, the ship’s ice machine breaks, making it imperative for the Andrea Gail to race back to port with their catch before it spoils.
However, in their absence, the “Perfect Storm” has been developing in the waters between the ship and the port. The “Perfect Storm” evolved from a nor-easter that absorbed the remnants of Hurricane Grace (briefly a category 2 hurricane) and ultimately became a small hurricane in its own right. The storm generated huge waves, with one buoy off Nova Scotia measuring one wave at 100.7 feet.
Learning of this storm, Tyne and the crew have a choice: wait out the storm (but lose their catch and all potential profits), or risk the storm and make for home as quickly as possible. Not wanting all their work to be for nothing, the decision is made to head for home and they sail into the storm. Even though this film is based on a true story, everything that happens after the Andrea Gail’s final radio contact is pure speculation since the ship (and the crew) has never been found.
Nevertheless, the film makes an effort to portray how the ship’s last hours might have gone: the ship is mercilessly battered by gigantic waves before finally capsizing and sinking, taking all hands down with it (except for rookie fisherman Bobby Shatford who briefly escapes to the surface before being carried away by the swells).
I have a love-hate relationship with movies based on true events, especially the ones where you know going in that the outcome won’t be good (like watching Titanic, that story has to end badly). I say love-hate because, while I love watching the movie and seeing the drama play out, deep down I hate knowing that, despite everything, the characters are doomed to failure and (in some cases) certain death. For me, it’s hard to cheer on characters that I know will die by the end of the story. That being said, The Perfect Storm, while heart-wrenching, is still told extremely well.
The score was composed by James Horner, and in this interview he discusses how he “created emotion” with this score, because so much of this story is driven by emotion and raw passion.
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