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By Dave Beuscher | December 7, 2000

For those who will be buying their first DVD player, or PlayStation 2, this year, you can’t do better than “The Perfect Storm” in terms of showcasing the capabilities of the format. For those who don’t have any interest in watching it for the 3 behind-the-scenes documentaries, the 3 feature length commentary tracks, storyboard/conceptual art galleries or even the film itself, this is a DVD worth owning as a reference disc for sound and picture. Warner Bros. has put as much care into their DVD release of “The Perfect Storm” as they did in their outstanding presentation of “The Matrix.”
“The Perfect Storm” belongs alongside “Backdraft,” “Dante’s Peak” and “Twister” in the “man battles the natural disaster” genre where corny characters and a pedestrian story serve only as a springboard for amazing special effects. This tale of foolhardy Gloucester men of the sea and the women they leave behind contains no surprises. While on its surface it may be masquerading as a tribute to the motley crew of fisherman from Gloucester who did battle with the worst storm of the century, at its heart, everything in “The Perfect Storm” is a vehicle for the visual effects.
No uncharted territory is explored within the psyche of the Gloucester swordfishermen. This is disappointing considering the project was helmed by the talented Wolfgang Petersen who, 17 years earlier had directed “Das Boot,” one of the most insightful and realistic anti-war films ever. “The Perfect Storm” is very much in the vein of Petersen’s other recent slick Hollywood action films like “In the Line of Fire” and “Air Force One.” Annoying product placements (the entire town of Gloucester either drinks Pepsi or Budweiser) pop up frequently. In the end, what mattered were the visual effects.
Laid back, likable George Clooney is serviceable in the lead role as the Andrea Gail’s no-nonsense, grizzled, tough-as nails captain, though he is not ideally cast. The supporting performances are good, particularly Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Linda Greenlaw, the captain of the Andrea Gail’s sister ship the Hannah Boden. On a side note, the real Linda Greenlaw criticized the film as being preposterous. She has stated publicly that it would be impossible for anyone to walk on a deck (much less swing from a ship’s mast) while caught in the middle of a Force 12 storm.
Warner Bros.’ “The Perfect Storm” DVD serves as a perfect showcase for the excellent work by the folks at ILM, they have to be thrilled with this presentation. What stands out immediately is its razor sharp anamorphic (2.35:1) transfer, which has been enhanced for widescreen televisions. This film must have presented a monumental challenge to compress onto a single dual layered DVD. Nearly the entire last hour takes place in the dark in the middle of a torrential rainstorm, which, a couple of years ago, would have meant heavy compression artifacting. Having screened the action sequences at the 3X zoom mode on my DVD player, I found no hint of artifacts and only brief glimpses of film grain in the darkest areas of the picture.
The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio mix that places the viewer right inside of the hurricane. The mix was extremely active in the rear surround channels. The DVD also provides the option of an EX extension for a rear-center-channel. The sound mix also serves as an outstanding showcase for James Horner’s thunderous score.
On the DVD’s first commentary track, director Petersen provides insight into his casting choices. He reveals that he had originally thought of using first Mel Gibson then Nicholas Cage before giving the captain’s role to Clooney. On the second commentary track, visual effects producers Steen Fangmeier and Helen Ostenberg Elswit point out exactly which shots were filmed on stage and which were computer generated. What is perhaps most interesting was that the two mentioned that Petersen also relied heavily on ILM’s technology to make unwanted items vanish from site. Visual effects partially cover up a child’s tears in one scene and a tattoo on Mark Wahlberg’s neck in another. On the third commentary track, the book’s author, Sebastian Junger concentrates on the writing of his book as well as chronicling the history of Gloucester.
The first documentary is a 20-minute featurette entitled “HBO First Look: The Perfect Storm” which encapsulates the highlights of the production. The short presentation provides information such as to how live-action and CGI effects were blended. For a project this massive, (the film reportedly went $40 million over budget) a more extensive documentary was definitely in order, like the one found on the “Jaws” DVD. “Creating an Emotion” is a five-minute documentary short that records composer James Horner’s involvement in scoring the film. The best of the three documentaries is “Witnesses to the Storm.” It features interviews with the real townsfolk of Gloucester and how they remembered surviving the storm. The only shame is that it is 5 minutes in length. It would also have been interesting to have heard the townsfolk’s reactions to the film.
Though this DVD is not officially labeled to as a “Special Edition” it is one in every sense of the word. The amount of material included could easily have been stretched onto a 2-disc set with no complaints about wasted space. “The Perfect Storm” is one of the best-looking DVDs on the market. This disc is a steal at its $24.99 retail price.
Check out the [ Film Threat Review ] of “The Perfect Storm” in our Review Archives.

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