Warner Has Tidal Hopes For Perfect Storm

Published June 25th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

The Time Warner unit is betting that the $120 million special-effects-filled film, starring heartthrobs George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg along with heart-stopping 100-foot waves, will rival box office blockbuster Titanic.  

It is a big task; the film about the great liner that struck an iceberg and sank became the biggest-grossing film of all time, collecting an estimated $1.8 billion worldwide. But the producers of Perfect Storm are willing to try and have mounted a publicity campaign as huge as those monster waves.  

Much like the storm itself ; documented with deadly precision in Sebastian Junger's best-selling book The Perfect Storm, the studio's PR machine unleashed wave after wave of television, radio, print and online reporters on Gloucester.  

The down-at-the-heels New England port, which has been fishing since before there was a United States, serves as a backdrop and sometimes a key player in the tragedy.  

"The story belongs to the town," Junger told reporters gathered under a white tent on a wharf next to the recreated, rusting, sword-fishing boat Andrea Gail. "It belongs to those six guys and the people who survived," he said, referring to the six-member crew of the Andrea Gail.  

The Perfect Storm is the story of their hair-raising struggle at sea to survive a furious October 1991 gale: A Halloween tempest spawned by a rare meteorological combination ‘a perfect storm’ that brought monster waves and wind and spread havoc across the Atlantic seaboard.  

"I knew nothing of this, of the long-line fishing and the life they live and how dangerous it is," said Clooney, who plays Billy Tyne, the Andrea Gail's captain.  

Wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a baseball cap almost as scruffy as his beard, the star of television's ER and films such as The Peacemaker and Out of Sight said Perfect Storm director Wolfgang Petersen asked the cast to keep the fisherman look until the film's Los Angeles premiere on June 28.  

The movie opens in Australia on June 29, across the United States on June 30 and in Europe and Asia in July.  

During a three-day publicity blitz in which he and other cast and crew faced 140 journalists brought to Gloucester by the movie company from as far away as Singapore, Athens and London, Clooney laughed as he tried to explain how he learned to steer the 72-foot steel-plated, green-hulled vessel.  

"I actually pounded into that dock over there a few times," he said, pointing to a neighboring pier with the banged-up replica docked behind him. "But then they asked me to take it down to the rubber pier where I bounced it for a while."  

Filmmakers spent about three weeks in Gloucester shooting exteriors and some water scenes but most of the movie was filmed on a specially reconstructed sound stage on Warner Bros. lot.  

"Brutal" is how Clooney described the filming that required most of the cast to be cold and wet for six months as they were thrown from one side of the battered ship to the other.  

Wahlberg said he sometimes "wished there was a SAG rep on the set," referring to the Screen Actors Guild union. "I got my ass killed and I was terrified," he said. Sometimes, after a 12-hour day being slammed into bulkheads and blown across and off the decks by wave machines and water dump tanks, he said he would go back to his trailer and just cry.  

But he, like all the actors in the film, said they would not hesitate to work with director Petersen again. A German director who first gained international acclaim with another watery film, Das Boot (The Boat), Petersen conceded he might have "gone overboard with (the actors). Was it just too much? Maybe with Mark. And I did not know that because he is such a tough cookie he would not tell me."  

"This is a physical movie," Petersen said, and the actors all knew that before they signed up. "This means you only get it right if the audience feels that you go through hell here, that you fight the elements and the elements are really there and the actor goes through hell with these elements… They were, at some points, at the end of their endurance."  

But Petersen did not test Warner's financial endurance. "The studio, they really like me," he said gleefully after boasting he brought the film in for $600,000 under budget.  

"In a film like that, the studio always braces for at least between $10 and $15 million over budget, because that's normally what happens with a film like that, especially with water films. We all know the Waterworld case or Titanic, and so on."  

Waterworld (1995), starring Kevin Costner, cost $170 million to make, a record at the time, and sunk like a leaky boat at the box office. Titanic wound up costing $200 million, but unlike Waterworld it set box office records.  

More than half of Petersen's budget was spent on special effects and most of that went to Industrial Light and Magic, whose computerized special effects create things that are impossible to create in real life — like dinosaurs for Jurassic Park — or things that are too dangerous to re-create in real life, like tornadoes for Twister.  

The key to doing this film, both from an economic and safety standpoint, was the computer. "We had so many computer people, you wouldn't even know," Petersen said.  

"Sometimes you see people on the Andrea Gail and they're ducking down with the plywood and they're computer-generated people — small, but great actors," he said, laughing. A cast like that keeps commissary costs down and does not complain. "You don't need trailers and they work beautifully and they act beautifully" –Reuters 

 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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