The inspiration for today’s Roundtable should be pretty obvious. With ‘Captain Phillips’ setting sail for box office glory this weekend, let’s take a look at some of our other favorite movies involving boats.
Please note: To qualify, it is not required that the entire movie take place on a boat, merely that some important scene or aspect of it involve a boat.
This week’s topic was a no-brainer for me, as my all-time favorite film features a boat. That would be none other than ‘Jaws‘, Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece about cinema’s most infamous killer shark. Yet the movie has always been so much more than three guys out on the water searching for a big fish. The scenes where Brody, Quint and Hooper bond aboard the Orca by comparing scars, and by Quint telling his harrowing tale about the U.S.S. Indianapolis, are the heart of the movie, and the reason why it has become a classic over the years. By the time the trio starts singing “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” they’ve got us – hook, line, and sinker.
Michael Spike Steinbacher
I have to say my favorite movie featuring a journey on a boat would be ‘Apocalypse Now‘. A relatively simple Navy patrol boat called “Erubus” embarks on one hell of a journey up the Nung River into the heart of darkness, to find and bring down the deranged, renegade Colonel Walter Kurtz. Captain Willard and his crew experience a sort of hell on earth along the journey, and redemption has a high price indeed.
I have a weakness for Alan Alda movies. What can I say, the guy is just charming. I’ve always liked one movie in particular. It’s also a movie that I think a lot of couples might find helpful in the way that it looks at relationships and the ways men and women, married and otherwise, often love each other – “puppy love,” as Alda and his on-screen wife Carol Burnett describe it – while other times fighting tooth and nail about anything and everything.
‘The Four Seasons‘ follows three long-married couples throughout the course of one year. One of the key scenes takes place on a boat after one couple has divorced, and the now single husband brings his much younger girlfriend on a sailing trip to the Caribbean with the rest of the gang. The cramped quarters, the all-too-thin walls between bedrooms, and the ways the older, still-married men unwittingly make fools of themselves while trying to impress their friend’s new love interest, is the stuff great comedy. And the way the wives see what their husbands are doing, and let it pass without comment, offers what I think is a pretty realistic example of one of the many ways long-term relationships survive. Also, for anyone who has ever tried to get some sleep in a place where the walls did nothing to dampen the sounds of an amorous neighbor, the nighttime scenes on the boat will be all too realistic.
Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)
As much as I was not exactly enamored by Leo DiCaprio’s performance in ‘Titanic‘, the fact is that James Cameron made one hell of a movie about a boat. From the historically accurate details in the first class cabins and dining halls to the incredible CGI recreation of the actual sinking (sorry, spoiler?), ‘Titanic’ deserves a spot on anyone’s Top 25 Cinematic Achievements list. Also, cash grab though it was, the recent 3D conversion actually looks excellent. I was hard-pressed to tell that it was actually a conversion and not natively shot in 3D. My kids’ recent interest in the film motivated me to watch it all over again (on Blu-ray 3D), and I found that it has held up pretty well, and looked even better than I recall it looking in theaters when it was originally released. Now, where’s the sequel?
One the films in my Top 10 of 2013 (so far) list is Jeff Nichols’ ‘Mud‘. Functioning like a mix of ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘Stand by Me’, the movie follows a Southern boy as he and his friend become involved with fugitive trying to meet up with his girlfriend. Not only does a good chunk of the story take place on Arkansas’ river channels, but a major plot point involves a boat that became stuck in a tree during a storm. While on a little adventure, the boys set off to locate the rumored tree boat, only to find the wanted Matthew McConaughey living in it. ‘Mud’ is one of those great meaty movies that’s fun to chew on and analyze to no end. On top of that, it’s well-rounded in terms of acting, writing, directing, cinematography, etc. It’s a masterpiece.
I was completely taken with Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pi‘. I almost used it as an example of a confined space movie for last week’s Roundtable. It works for both, really. It’s one of the most visually stunning movies to come along in quite a while. However, the film doesn’t solely lean on its visuals as a crutch. Instead, it uses them to tell a heartfelt story of survival, determination, fortitude and finding one’s self. Even though some people thought that Lee was a surprising Best Director winner at the last Oscars, I felt that the prize was well-deserved.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
As many times as ‘Mutiny on the Bounty‘ has been translated to the silver screen over the years, the 1935 adaptation starring Charles Laughton and Clark Gable is far and away my favorite. Though I appreciate its epic scope, spanning one end of the globe to the other, the defining aspect of the film isn’t its spectacle, but its rich characterization and its remarkable lead performances.
Bligh is a character that could so easily be reduced to a thundering snarl, but Laughton ensures that the unrepentantly cruel captain comes across as a man. As is often the case with great antagonists, Bligh has absolute certainty that his decisions at the helm – harsh and often fatal though they may be – are right. He’s not a sadist who revels in the agony of the men under his command. This is what he believes it takes to lead this less-than-stellar crew through such a punishing voyage. Bligh has a humanity here that’s often lost in other adaptations, such as the quiet pride he takes in being a self-made man, his more relaxed demeanor when alone with the officers on the H.M.S. Bounty, and how visibly wounded he is when spurned by them.
Gable is nearly as extraordinary as Fletcher Christian, here a steeled man rather than the preening fop that Marlon Brando would portray several decades later. He respects the need for discipline, and Christian himself makes choices well before the mutiny that others might see as unduly harsh. He wields a lifelong respect for the chain of command and respectfully makes his disagreements with Bligh’s cruelty known to the captain. When Christian is pushed past the breaking point, it means more here than in any other adaptation of the novel that I’ve come across. Mutiny violates everything Christian has ever known or believed. Raising arms feels like an unfortunate but necessary defeat rather than an act of heroism.
There’s so much more that I admire about this early adaptation of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, such as a playful sense of humor that never diminishes the shockingly graphic cruelty elsewhere throughout the film, the exotic allure of Tahiti, the way the natives are presented as a healthy civilization rather than barbarous or primitive, and the film’s thrillingly epic scope. If you haven’t yet experienced this adaptation of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, it’s a richly rewarding discovery on Blu-ray.
Predominately set on board an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic, the four Marx Brothers are stowaways who create quite a bit of mayhem for the captain, crew and passengers in ‘Monkey Business‘ (1931). It was the stars’ third movie and the first not adapted from their stage shows.
While filled with many funny gags, my favorite bit occurs when the brothers disembark and go through Customs. Using the passport of French singer Maurice Chevalier, which they have just stolen, each tries, one at a time, to convince the Custom agents that he is Chevalier. Looking nothing like the man in the passport photo, they attempt to prove their identities by singing his popular song “You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me.” The mute Harpo comes the closest in a very inventive way. The scene is classic Marx Brothers because it’s more important that they’re funny than the story making sense.
After ‘Jaws’, one of my favorite films that takes place on water is ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl‘. While the pure joy may have been tarnished by its three sequels, there’s no doubt that the original is a blast (with an excellent Blu-ray to boot). One of the most memorable scenes has Jack Sparrow (again, sequels can hurt) stepping nonchalantly from a boat’s sinking mast onto the dock as his introduction to the audience. Two more scenes (the moonlight revelation that the Pearl’s crew are the cursed undead, and their later underwater march) perfectly nail the movie’s fantastical tone.
My pick has to be ‘Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World‘. Peter Weir has the rare distinction of being a director who’s never made a bad film – and this is no exception. Following Weir’s common theme of characters exploring alien lands, ‘Master and Commander’ is a fascinating, old-fashioned adventure with an uncommonly high I.Q. The film is set primarily on board the British Naval Vessel HMS Surprise as it explores the South American coastline in the early 19th century, all the time tracking the Archeron, a lethal French warship. Whereas most big budget historical epics these days tend to focus more on visceral action and overdone visual effects work, Weir takes his time to develop a wide cast of characters, from the officers right down to the cook. When we reach the climactic battle between the two ships in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we’re invested in the survival of the crew. I doubt another film in the sails & sword genre will ever top this.
We need a submarine movie in this mix. One of the best is Woflgang Petersen’s superlative WWII drama ‘Das Boot‘ (literally “The Boat” – how much more perfect could it be for this topic?). Set inside a U-boat patrolling the Atlantic in 1941, the film forces us to question whether it’s OK to sympathize with Nazis. That’s a thorny question, both for modern Germans (who have a very complicated and uncomfortable relationship with their country’s past) and international viewers raised on a diet of patriotic war films about freedom-loving Yanks kicking the butts of dastardly Nazi scum.
The characters here aren’t ideologues or jackbooted villains. They’re people – mostly young boys who know nothing of politics, but hunger for the adventure of war, and believe themselves to be serving their country. The film depicts the camaraderie of these men, their conflicts, their boredom, their excitement, their terror, and their growing disillusionment. In its most profound scene, the crew cheers at having destroyed a British cargo ship, and then watches in horror as the sailors from that ship leap off its flaming deck and desperately try to swim to the submarine for help they will not get. It’s a sobering moment, both beautiful and haunting.
The Blu-ray edition contains two different versions of the movie, both the 149-minute 1981 theatrical cut and the 208-minute 1997 Director’s Cut. This is a case where the longer version really is an all-around better movie, both technically and artistically. (An even longer 293-minute TV miniseries version is available on DVD, but I haven’t watched that one yet.)
Honorable Mentions to ‘The Hunt for Red October’ (R.I.P. Tom Clancy), Hitchcock’s ‘Lifeboat’ and Polanski’s ‘Knife in the Water’.
What are some of your favorite movies involving boats? Tell us about them in the Comments.