"The villain, of course, was the storm," explains screenwriter William Wittliff. "I wanted to show the villain from his infancy, which is to say from the beginning of the hurricane, and then the storm over Sable Island, and even the cold front that dropped out of Canada and caught a ride on the jet stream. So I tried to grow the villain from a gust of wind, until it was this monster of monsters, and let the storm be a living thing."
Using footage from Gloucester and Stage 16, the digital-effects designers at ILM were assigned to bring this "monster of monsters" to life. Sandell had already spent weeks studying a video library of actual storms at sea: "We probably saw every big-wave, violent-action, and real-storm sequence ever filmed with somebody's camcorder," recalls Sandell. "And then we asked, 'Is that enough?'" Because, after all, no one could have ever seen or photographed what the crew of the Andrea Gail faced, and survived.
For Clooney, the story's unflinching climax was part of its appeal. "The truth is, what was attractive to me was doing an action film, which it is, about six guys who die in the end," he says. "That's interesting to me. We're not going to give you a Hollywood ending—we're going to give you the real thing."
For Wittliff, adapting the dark, alluring story of The Perfect Storm meant confronting a mystery
beyond the mystery of what really happened to the Andrea Gail. "This may sound strange," he says, "but if you try to talk too much about what pulls any person to risk their life in the middle of natural forces, if you try to explain that pull, it kind of goes 'poof!' But if you don't try to think about it, you understand.
"There's an old line," he continues, "that if your life gets boring, risk it. I don't think that's what these six guys were doing, but that kind of experience has pretty much gone out of daily life. Yet we have this deep-seated, subconscious yearning for that test. It's something way down deep in the blood and down deep in the bones. There's part of us that simply wants to tempt the gods."
Fans of Sebastian Junger's book (or the movie) may wish to support The Perfect Storm Foundation, which seeks to provide educational and cultural opportunities to young people whose parents make their living in the commercial fishing industry. For more information, log on to www.perfectstorm.org.