Since I’ve been watching The NeverEnding Story this year as part of the Cinema 52 experiment, I thought I might gain a greater understanding of the movie by watching as many Wolfgang Petersen films as I could get my hands on. There are certainly more in his filmography than the ones I plan to watch, but they are nearly unattainable here in the United States. Come with me as I watch the evolution of Petersen across more than three decades of moviemaking.

[Missed earlier installments of Wolfgang Bang? Check out Part 1 and Part 2.]

THE PERFECT STORM (2000)

A crew of fishermen decide to try to squeeze in one more haul after a poor season. Captain Bill Tyne (George Clooney) is eager to provide for his crew and offers them the chance to make more money. All the men need dough for some reason or other and agree to try to cash in one more time before the season closes. Captain Tyne takes the Andrea Gail all the way to the Flemish Cap unaware of the weather convergence that’s building between them and home.

Looks fine to me.

The crew has some disagreements here and there, but they all agree that they need the money to keep their lives on track. As they decide to head for home, they plot a course into the middle of disaster.

The Perfect Storm is based on a book based on real life events, which makes the tension of each person’s interaction with the storm doubly intense. Wolfgang Petersen juxtaposes other rescues and encounters with the storm to further highlight the serious danger the crew of the Andrea Gail is in. By focusing on a small group of people, Petersen returns to his earlier work, Das Boot, perhaps in an attempt to add more depth to the characters. Even though a lot of the special effects have not held up over time, Petersen captures the breathtaking destruction of the storm.

I still love this shot.

The Perfect Storm is a movie I enjoy watching with my mom. It’s not really excellent, but the effort to make it a good film is evident and appreciated. However, I must say that, as a Mainer, I found everyone’s accents unacceptably horrible.

Even Mahk Wahlberg sounded retahded.

It really detracts from the characters and rips the audience from the film. It would have been better to just have the actors not use any accents at all. Also, I was more interested in the rescue teams’ efforts than the Andrea Gail. The crew is a bit flat and one-dimensional. The stand-out character is certainly the storm itself.

TROY (2004)

Troy is about the Trojan War. If you don’t know the story, Paris (Orlando Bloom) steals Helen (Diane Kruger) from her husband Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson). Menelaus asks his brother Agamemnon (Brian Cox) to help get her back. Agamemnon has been conquering parts of Greece and sees this opportunity as a chance to get Troy under his rule. Agamemnon brings his army (most of Greece) including Achilles (Brad Pitt), Odysseus (Sean Bean), and other great heroes to the shores of Troy. Battles are fought. People die. There’s a giant horse.

A time when looking a gift horse in the mouth is a good idea.

Based on Homer’s The Iliad, Troy is an epic that falls flat. Petersen creates some amazing visuals and mixes model work with CG effects. The action is fantastic and the fights are well choreographed and executed. Sean Bean makes an excellent Odysseus, too. In fact, the large cast is well-handled and everyone puts forth great performances. Those on both sides of this futile war suffer losses. It’s a battlefield where men only care about their reputations and eternal glory rather than the immediate effects of their actions.

Troy had the potential to be a fantastic film, but the script lacked direction. The film often feels like it should have been called Achilles. Achilles mopes around about being remembered forever even though he’s already the greatest warrior in all of Greece. His intentions and commitments are unclear, which could make an interesting character study.

Hmm, interesting indeed.

Instead, the film jumps around to several characters to underline the pointless nature of war. We get this. The reason for the war is already silly enough, so focus on one or two things to drive home some point or theme, Wolfgang. Also, the Trojan War lasted for years, but the film condenses it into about two weeks. Petersen has proven that he can show the passage of time during war effectively in Das Boot. He utterly fails to do so in Troy even though it would have added to the film’s atmosphere. The film lacks depth in a story that could be plumbed for a treasure of themes.

POSEIDON (2006)

On New Year’s Eve a cruise ship gets hit by a rogue wave and flipped upside down. A small group of survivors are determined to reach the propellers, which are above water. Along the way they encounter many obstacles and gain a greater trust in one another. The cast of characters includes former Mayor of New York City Robert Ramsay (Kurt Russell), , his daughter (Emmy Rossum), her fiancé (Mike Vogel), suicidal millionaire Richard Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss), grifter Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas), hottie mom (Jacinda Barrett), her adorable son (Jimmy Bennett), and a stowaway (Mía Maestro). You can fill in the rest of the story from there.

I still don’t remember any of their names.

Poseidon is a re-adaptation of the novel by Paul Gallico. Petersen made a fun action film with forgettable characters. Again, Petersen’s history of dealing with a group of people in a small space who must rely on each other to survive should make Poseidon an excellent film. There’s certainly plenty of suspense and tension in the film, but the special effects are mediocre and look less real than The Perfect Storm.

Nice wallpaper for my computer, though.

Poseidon is lackluster. Except for the action, which remains on par with the rest of Petersen’s films, but there is no investment in any of the characters. They’re all irksome and boring. Any attempts to make them interesting falls flat. Even their interactions seem forced. Seeing them all fail and drown would have greatly improved this movie. It seems like Petersen didn’t really care about this film even though the story seems perfect for him. Just go watch The Poseidon Adventure instead.

People you give a damn about.

THE ROAD SO FAR

With these final three films in the can, here’s a list of qualities that make them “A Film by Wolfgang Petersen”:

  • Novel adaptations
  • Special effects
  • Excellent action sequences
  • Men being manly

This final outing was a chore. Petersen’s film quality takes a severe dip. He returns to making film adaptions of books with little success. His love of special effects can still be clearly seen. Despite Poseidon being a waste of time, the impact of the wave on the ship looks amazing. (There are people are falling out of on-deck pools!) Troy had a great mix of model work and computer generated effects, too. Plus, the fight scenes were amazing. The women in Petersen’s films are back to being lame tertiary characters that are there to ensure that the manly movie men are virile. These last three movies are all attempts at being blockbusters in the worst sense of the word.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Wolfgang Petersen is a director who has become too Hollywood. His early works show a love of crafting film. His more recent forays are generic action-adventures that are easily forgettable. It’s very strange to think that the same man who made Das Boot is also responsible for Poseidon. If he were to release another movie soon, I would still go see it because his track record has been so stellar in the past. I might get burned, but I could also end up seeing a new masterpiece.

Petersen’s current downfall seems to be that his movies no longer have heart or characters that are relatable. I found more commonalities with Thomas and Martin in Die Konsequenz than with any of the characters in his last three films. Even though I’ve never been President of the United States, I was at least engaged in the story and action in Air Force One. Petersen can also hit both ends of the spectrum (romance and action) aptly. His early successes make me elated as a film lover. I can only try to keep movies like Die Konsequenz, Das Boot, and Air Force One in mind as proof that he can make films that are both compelling and entertaining.

I still love this guy.