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Film / The Perfect Storm

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"Wait, what if... what if Hurricane Grace runs smack into it? Add to the scenario this baby off Sable Island, scrounging for energy. She'll start feeding off both the Canadian cold front...and Hurricane Grace. You could be a meteorologist all your life and never see something like this. It would be a disaster of epic proportions. It would be... the perfect storm."
Todd Gross

The Perfect Storm is a 2000 Disaster Movie, directed by Wolfgang Petersen and adapted from the nonfiction book of the same name by Sebastian Junger, which dramatizes the "Perfect Storm" that hit the Atlantic coast of North America in October 1991, and speculates on the fate of the crew of the Andrea Gail, a fishing boat based out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, that was lost in the tempest. It stars George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, William Fichtner, John C. Reilly, Allen Payne, John Hawkes, Diane Lane, Michael Ironside, Karen Allen, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Bob Gunton, and Cherry Jones.

In September 1991, the Andrea Gail returns to port with a poor catch, leading Capt. Billy Tyne to take the boat out for one final fishing run, heading out past their usual fishing grounds. However, when their ice machine breaks, they must hurry back to shore in order to preserve their catch, but they discover that between them and safe harbor lurks a confluence of two weather fronts and a hurricane, creating the eponymous Perfect Storm. Caught in the teeth of the storm, the crew is forced to fight for their lives and for their only chance to get home...

Another vessel, the private yacht Mistral, gets caught in Hurricane Grace and a helicopter runs out of fuel looking for the Andrea Gail, which leads to a harrowing rescue by the Coast Guard.

The Perfect Storm contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Jerkass: According to his relatives and friends, real-world David Sullivan was an affable and easy-going person (just look at his photo), but in the movie, he is played by William Fichtner, who portrayed him as a bitter and cynical jerk at constant odds with Murph (they get better). The family of real David Sullivan were not happy about it. Granted, he is not a downright nasty person, his animosities are limited mainly to Murph and when the latter one's life is in danger, he comes to his rescue without hesitation (Sully's family commended the movie for including that scene).
  • Adaptation Distillation: Sebastian Junger's book does not focus solely on crew of Andrea Gail (nor even the eponymous storm in the first place), but is actually a wide elaboration on dangers at sea in general and contains multiple references to various other historical disasters. It was impossible to put all that content in the movie, so it was distilled into a drama about the ordeal of Andrea Gail and her crew (with Satori's / Mistral's story as a subplot).
  • Adaptation Name Change: The Satori yacht is named Mistral in the movie. The names of her crew were all changed as well.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • According to The New York Times, the portrayal of Leonard Ray and the Satori's voyage (Mistral in the movie) is borderline character assassination.
    • Early in the movie, Hurricane Grace is stated to be a category 5 hurricane. In reality it only reached category 2 strength.
  • Artistic License – Physics:
    • When the boat goes up the nearly 90 degree wall of water that eventually topples it, they still have no problem standing upright.
    • After Andrea Gail is capsized, her hull and living quarters are rapidly flooded, but somehow, there is still some air remaining in the bridge for Tyne and Shatford to breathe (and have one last conversation) — even though the bridge is now below the main hull and would have to be completely submerged first for water to reach higher.
  • Artistic License – Ships:
    • The CGI model of the Coast Guard cutter USCGC Tamaroa doesn't much resemble the real ship, which was built during WWII and extensively modified during her long service. The movie's version ironically looks more like a Legend-class cutter, which wouldn't enter service for another eight years after the film's release.
    • Both Mistral and Andrea Gail are sent into 360 degree flip by the waves. Although something like that is theoretically possible, it is still extremely unlikely. And even if it did happen, it would have broken the yacht's mast and tear off every other fragile piece of equipment aboard. However, neither ship suffers any visible damage in the movie.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Mistral is in the middle of the storm, Melissa repeatedly calls for help via radio to no avail... until she finally gets response from USCG rescue unit. Cue Coast Guard jet flying overhead to quite kickass music theme, followed by timely arrival of Black Hawk helicopter ready to save the yacht's crew.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Captain Tyne manages to use a shotgun to kill a mako shark that's biting Bobby's leg by shooting it in the head.
  • The Cameo: Christopher McDonald plays Todd Gross, the meteorologist at WHDH-TV in Boston who predicted the storm.
  • Casanova Wannabe / Lovable Sex Maniac: Bugsy is a skirt-chasing horndog eager to get laid before going out to sea again at the beginning of the film. He does at least meet a woman who sees him off when he goes.
  • Cue the Sun: After the Andrea Gail turns around to escape the harsh storm waves, all six crewmates see the sun appearing briefly.
  • Downer Ending: Andrea Gail is sunk in the storm, and all crew members die. Additionally, one of the Air National Guardsman who set out to rescue them before the crew was forced to ditch their helicopter is lost at sea and never found.
  • Emergency Refuelling: A failed one forces the rescue helicopter to ditch at sea.
  • Fight to Survive: After they are caught in the perfect storm. It leads into a Downer Ending, but not for lack of trying.
  • The Film of the Book: Namely, The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Since the film is based on actual story — and the real-world Andrea Gail sank in the eponymous storm along with her entire crew — you may know even before playing the movie that Billy Tyne & Co. are not going to survive. Same goes for other characters in the film, based on real people.
  • Foreshadowing: The first scene of the movie shows the wall listing the fisherman lost at sea throughout the centuries. As well, one of the crew members mentions that he's "getting a bad feeling", as several bad things have happened since they set out that seem to be a harbinger of doom.
  • Get It Over With: Captain Tyne voluntarily sinks with the ship, knowing there is no hope of rescue. Only Shatford makes it to the surface — and the last view of him is surrounded by 70+ foot swells in hurricane force winds, saying his good-byes to Christina Cotter.
  • Giant Wall of Watery Doom: The rogue wave that ultimately capsizes the boat.
    • The real-life Perfect Storm generated waves recorded at up to 101 feet high. It may never be known if the Andrea Gail (which was only 72 feet long) ever actually encountered any of these monsters, but if she did such a wave would have been big enough to pitch-pole and sink the boat.
  • Hope Spot: The brief glimpse of the sun (actually the eye of the storm) they get right before things go downhill. They get another one when the skipper manages to get the boat around to run with the weather. For a moment, the seas are calmer — then the rogue wave appears, which the boat nearly gets over before capsizing.
  • Impaled Palm: Murph gets his hand caught on one of a line of hooks running out to sea and gets dragged out with it.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Sully. He may care too much about getting his catch against insurmountable odds, but in the end, he cares about his crewmen's welfare.
    • Murph, to a lesser extent.
  • Little "No": Bobby utters one upon seeing the giant rogue wave near the end.
  • Never Found the Body: All that was ever found of the Andrea Gail were a handful of oil drums.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: George Clooney, to his credit, doesn't attempt a Massachusetts accent. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, however, does an accent that is guaranteed to make viewers from Massachusetts cringe. Mark Wahlberg, a Massachusetts native, speaks with his natural accent.
  • Not Quite Dead: This movie is either in love with this trope or owes it money. Every time it seems someone is a goner, it turns out they're not. Black Hawk helicopter gets pulled down by cable entangled in Mistral's mast and disappears behind a huge wave? It raises back up a few moments later. Shatford is thrown overboard? Few seconds pass and he grabs the railing, pulling himself onboard. Damaged stabilizer draws Tyne underwater? It's soon back up, with Tyne still clinging to it. Aforementioned helicopter pilot is apparently trapped in cockpit as the machine sinks? Nah, he managed to get out in time. And so on, and so on to the point where one thinks these examples happen probably to make the Hope Spot payoff hurt that much more.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: One of the most common complaints about this movie is that Andrea Gail's crew was supposedly thoughtless and suicidal by trying to go straight through the storm, instead of staying where they were and waiting until it abates. This is in spite of the fact that not only those people did make such decision in real life, but there was actually nothing unusual about that. It is an occupational risk for fishermen to sail in bad weather and the Andrea Gail crew members weathered more than one storm before that. So it was fairly justified for them to assume that they can endure another one. According to Tyne's fellow skipper Tommy Barrie from Allison — interviewed by Sebastian Junger for his book — Billy made the exact same decision as ninety percent of his peers would make if they were in his position.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Billy eventually realizes trying to continue home through the storm is suicide and turns the boat around, pledging to his crew they'll return next season to make up for their soon-to-be spoiled catch.
  • Shown Their Work: A goodly portion of the original book details the history and mechanics of Gloucester's fishing industry. Since we don't know exactly what happened in the storm, giving the context and inferring the details from that is the next best thing.
    • The most likely hypothesis from the book was that the boat was pitch-poled, capsized end over end, and the movie reflects that, with the Andrea Gail hitting a monstrous rogue wave, pitch-poling, and sinking.
  • Spinoff: The book was originally supposed to be a single chapter in a book about dangerous jobs, but as the book's author, Sebastian Junger, learned more about the context of the disaster, the narrative took on a life of its own and was turned into a full-size book.
    • Linda Greenlaw, the only female captain in the American swordfishing fleet and one of the key players in the narrative of both the book and the movie versions of The Perfect Stormnote , wrote a Spiritual Successor of a book called The Hungry Ocean, using as its plot a fishing trip that occurred several years after the events in The Perfect Storm, as a way to show what a typical commercial fishing voyage would look like. She has since gone on to a career as a writer, with several more books having already been published.
  • Testosterone Poisoning: The crew engages in nearly every bout of masculinity short of taking a tape measure to the biceps. So much so — and so much of the "reconstructed" story — that several next-of-kin sued over the portrayals (they lost).
    • One of the reasons the next-of-kin of the crew were no doubt angry is how the film weaves this into the meta-narrative. The decision to plow through the storm, while the crew are concerned, can be read as a macho or immature overestimation of abilities. One of the USCG crew even sarcastically comments "They're always from Gloucester."
  • Threatening Shark: At one point, the crew ends up bringing a shark (most likely a mako, given its size) onto the boat. The shark soon bites Bobby's leg, which gives Captain Tyne time to shoot the creature in the head.
  • Title Drop: The meterologist, Todd Gross, provides the trope, as seen on the page quote.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Half the trailers (and most of the posters) showed a huge rogue wave about to eat the boat. Though technically, none of them showed that the boat was capsized by the wave.
    • Subverted in the case of reviewers, who generally refrained from giving away the ending. One article even stated that "for their own reasons, none of the Andrea Gail's original crew have offered comment" on the film's accuracy.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The crew's decision to risk the storm (which didn't happen in real life) is depicted as being because Bob Brown didn't immediately get the Andrea Gail a new ice machine when Bugsy told him they needed one just to save money. With a fully operational ice machine, the crew could have waited out on the Flemish Cap until the storm had died down without fear of their catch spoiling.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Enforced. The events of the voyage and sinking are unknown, due to none of the crew surviving.
  • Worf Effect: Cleverly invoked in a short scene where two large ships we saw earlier — Van Ruyn (an oil tanker) and Aeolis (a container ship) desperately call for help as they are being hit hard by the waves. It hammers home that if such enormous vessels are helpless against the eponymous storm, then Billy Tyne and his crew, on a mere 70-foot swordboat are royally screwed.
    • This mirrors a mention made by Sebastian Junger in his book about the ordeal of Contship Holland container ship, which weathered the same storm. She is 163 meters long, has 10,000 ton displacement and it could easily take the whole Andrea Gail as cargo. Nevertheless, when she got into the storm, she took a hard beating, her course became dependent on the waves as she stopped responding to the helm at some point, and thirty-eight of containers she carried were swept into the sea like toys. Sebastian Junger outright stated that Billy Tyne was facing a storm which forced a 10,000-ton container ship off course and made her crew struggle to keep it afloat.
    • Averted by USCGC Tamaroa. Though tossed like a bathtub toy in the heavy seas, the hardy Coast Guard cutter, which by that point had fought in WWII and had been in continuous service for almost fifty years, not only weathers the storm, but successfully rescues the New York ANG Black Hawk crew in the process.
  • Worst Aid: When Captain Tyne is performing the CPR on unconscious Murph, he does it completely wrong, putting his hands on the breasts (one on each side), rather than pressing them both against the sternum. Also, he never does the mouth-to-mouth insufflation.

"They say swordboatmen suffer from a lack of dreams, that's what begets their courage."


Video Example(s):


Perfect Storm

The Perfect Storm ends with a monster wave taking out the boat of fishermen.

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Example of:

Main / GiantWallOfWateryDoom

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