Will Scare You Silly, Whether You Sail or Not...
(1989) Directed by Phillip Noyce; Stars Nicole Kidman, Sam Neill, Billy Zane
Couples dreaming about taking off to do some long-distance cruising might not want
to watch this film. The unsettling success of “Dead Calm” is the deftness with which the
filmmaker transforms an ordinary sailing trip from the idyllic to the horrific in the course
of a day. One moment, a then-unknown, 21-year-old Nicole Kidman and veteran actor
Sam Neill are trying to get
over the loss of their child
by taking an extended
cruise, becalmed somewhere offshore, and the
next they are surrounded
by evil. Not the supernatural kind but the human
kind, which makes the
twists and turns of their
ordeal all the creepier.
Kidman, trapped on her own sailboat with the intruder, must play a very tense cat-and-mouse game to stay alive. Think “Wait Until Dark” on a sailboat.
Also unsettling is that their tormenter, bad boy Billy Zane of “Titanic” fame, is not
unlike any flakey boat bum we have all met at marinas, waterfront bars or as part of sailing crews. There’s just something about him…
In the annals of unrealistic sailing scenes, this film has at least one, but it’s a minor
point. Since virtually every scene is on board a boat, there is plenty to authenticate the
boating scenes, creative use of a flare gun notwithstanding.
For major thriller/horror films that have tried to capture the cruising life, this remains
one of the best.
Photo courtesy of www.moviescreenshots.blogspot.com
(Global Race, Bizarre
(2007) Directed by Louise Osmond, Jerry
Rothwell; Stars Tilda Swinton, Donald
Crowhurst, Clare Crowhurst, Simon Crowhurst,
Best Trip Back in Time —
Life at Sea as it Really Was...
Master & Commander:
The Far Side of the World
(2003) Directed by Peter Weir; Stars Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Ian Mercer
Many sailors, but few moviegoers,
know the story of Donald Crowhurst.
“Deep Water” is more than a traditional
documentary as it weaves Crowhurst’s
strange progression from a plucky
Englishman cheerily setting about entering
the first solo, nonstop, around-the-world
race in 1968, to a severely disturbed man
struggling to maintain his sanity during
months at sea in a failing boat.
So set was Crowhurst on achieving
some success with his then-radical sailboat
design, a trimaran, he ignored even the
most basic red flags — his lack of experience, lack of preparation and lack of funding for such a campaign. Sadly, back then
there were no qualifiers for entering such a
race and no GPS, satellite phones, EPIRBs
or other devices we take for granted today.
Readers of the 20 Patrick
O’Brian novels knew it would
happen sooner or later: A
made-for-TV special or a feature film was crying out to be
produced. The late author’s
esoteric brew of naval battles,
heroes, exotic voyages and
masterful plots was too rich
not to give it a try.
Most fortunate was the
fact that Australian auteur
Peter Weir (“Gallipoli”, “The Year of Living Dangerously”, “Dead Poets Society”) took on the enormous challenge of directing what has become the best sea saga in recent years. You don’t
need a textbook on British naval history to know that the HMS Surprise was heading into
dicey waters in its chase around the world of an enemy French warship. The complex relationships aboard the ship are expertly handled by Weir, and the underlying theme that the
captain must always choose duty over friendship just adds to the tension.
Sweeping sea sagas have been done time and again but almost always with the sheen of
Hollywood. Here the gritty side of life aboard a warship in the 1800s is unglamorous despite
the star presence of Russell Crowe (and even he looks a little rough). Cramped crew quarters, weevils in the food, roughshod seamen of a dozen nationalities and, of course, the sad
results of battle. The beauty of a sea voyage and the terror of men in raging wind and waves
are a combination that never fails when the acting and directing are top drawer.
Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Photo courtesy of IFC Films
The film includes current-day interviews with Crowhurst’s wife, Clare, and
one of his sons, who even today are
haunted by what he did. Whether he was
immersed too deep into his own hype to
turn back or suffered from an emotional
breakdown prompted by the months
of solitude at sea, we will never know.
‘Round-the-world races continue today
and some elite sailors become rock stars.
But no one in recent decades went as far
overboard as Donald Crowhurst just trying
to prove something.