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[whitespace] 'Perfect Storm'

Wet and Wild

Moviemakers have always gotten a kick out of riding the big one

By Richard von Busack

A TSUNAMI OR TIDAL WAVE can't build enough suspense on its own to hold up an entire movie. If the hero breasts it, somehow, giving the "thumb's-up" sign after surviving a 500-foot-tall drop, it's a rebuke to the special-effects designers and an insult to the intelligence of the audience. Ergo, all tsunami movies (which are just as often about big waves that aren't really tsunamis--moviemakers aren't oceanographers, after all) offer lots of drama before landfall: either man (with all of his family and marital problems) against nature, with a heroic sacrifice at the end--or else criminal masterminds with their tidal-wave machines being foiled by our Secret Service, Coast Guard, etc.

Tidal Wave (1918) and Tidal Wave (1920). Two silent films about tsunamis, without stars to enliven them or cults to remember them. Probably never to be seen again until the sea gives up its dead.

SOS Tidal Wave (1939) Ralph Byrd, best known for playing Dick Tracy in the serials and on early TV, stars as Coast Guard troubleshooter Jeff Shannon, who hunts a criminal who claims he has the technology to give New York City the bath it's been needing for a long, long time.

Portrait of Jennie (1948) Artist Joseph Cotten is hypnotized by a strange girl who turns out to be some sort of sea spirit released from her watery grave during a tsunami. Very serious, very wet.

Krakatoa, East of Java (1969) Everybody remembers that Krakatoa was actually west of Java, and who could forget Brian Keith taking one long last look at that big, bad tidal wave--punishment, as this ex-11-year-old recalls it, for adultery.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972). "I don't believe it. An enormous wall of water, heading for the ship!" As the captain of the unfortunate S.S. Poseidon, Leslie Nielsen solemnly pronounces the line that makes his fortune as a comedian.

Nippon Chinbotsu, a.k.a. Japan Sinks, a.k.a. Submersion of Japan (1973) Japan sinks, and the rest of the world just hems and haws and basically lets the country drown. No respect! Imported here, stripped of its tasty subtext, and given an injection of Mr. Lorne Greene to insure U.S. marquee value.

The Abyss--The Director's Cut (1989) Includes previously censored footage of a wall of water on pause, ready to clobber the Earth depending on the outcome of earthling/alien peace talks.

Tidal Wave: No Escape (1997) Corbin Bernsen stars as an ex-Naval Intelligence officer called out of retirement to find out what kind of insane sick terrorists would set off tidal waves for ransom money.

The Perfect Storm (2000) Mondo humongous gargantuan XXXXXL wave (not tidal, but pretty darn big in a digital way) threatens tiny fishing boat, drawing crowds who have to snore through "If you go out there and long-line those swordfish, I may not be here when you get back" dialogue.

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From the July 20-26, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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