Now here is a concept for a movie, how about DEAD POETS' SOCIETY
GOES TO SEA? So you are not enthralled? Well, too bad, that movie has
been produced, and it is called WHITE SQUALL. This is a movie that
should have never been made. It is a low quality rehash of the classic
teaching high school kids movie that has been made more times than I
can count. This picture has nothing original to say, and the acting is
way below par. Imagine making a show about kids and then not putting
in a single kid (or adult for that matter) that you care about.
WHITE SQUALL is based on a true story that occurred in 1960. A
bunch of high school students elect to have their senior year aboard a
sailing ship called the Albatross. The ship will travel the Caribbean
where the students will learn sailing as well as English and Biology.
Most of all, thanks to the stern and sadistic Captain Christopher
Sheldon (Jeff Bridges), they will learn self-reliance. Captain
Sheldon's wife, Alice (Caroline Goodall), is the ship's doctor and the
boys' biology teacher. The other older people on the boat are an
English teacher, Mr. McCrea (John Savage), and a cook, Girard Pascal
There must have been a dozen or so boys. They include Chuck Gieg,
whom I thought must have been Tom Cruse's brother, but actually turned
out to be played by Scott Wolf, Tod (Balthazar Getty), Frank (Jeremy
Sisto), Preston (Eric Michael Cole), and the canonical tough kid named
Gil Martin (Ryan Phillipe).
The Captain alternates between berating the boys to inspiring them
with little homilies such as, "If we don't have order, we have nothing.
Where we go one, we go all." In a typical scene, we have a boy who has
a deadly fear of heights so the Captain forces him to climb high up the
masks while they both yell at each other making the sounds of wild
animals. We also learn that sailing is a dangerous activity. From the
beginning people get hanged by getting caught in the ropes, they get
thrown overboard in high seas, and in general death is around every
corner. Sailing was not like this in my day. Guess it got a safer
quickly since 1960.
The derivative script by Todd Robinson is filled with cliches.
The boys go into town and in a scene straight out of PORKY'S, they rent
a prostitute for the most inexperience boy. They fight a lot too.
When girls come aboard the ship, the boys claim no knowledge of what
they would say to a girl. Sure. Another kid keeps hitting himself in
the head and crying while repeating, "I'm a moron," because he is
having trouble learning a subject. Another shoots a dauphin just
because. There is not much of a story really just a series of almost
unrelated and completely trivial incidents. I will not give away
anymore other than to say they did not choose the title of the movie at
There is no chemistry among the boys or among anyone else in the
cast. There is not a single decent acting job by any of the boys.
None of the characters are acted believably thanks to poor direction by
Ridley Scott. I know it is a true story, but somehow I do not think
the kids were really this boring or the Captain this mean. Bridges's
performance is especially pathetic. He never warms up to the part and
seems to be spaced out in most of the scenes as if he wishes he were
somewhere else rather than in this film. Perhaps he was suffering from
sunstroke during the filming.
The cinematography (HUGH JOHNSON) is full of dark blues and greens
with heavy use of shadows to create an overbearing feeling of impending
tragedy and doom. Sometimes they use extreme close-ups for reasons I
could not figure out.
There is a single good part of this movie. It starts on the
lovely out of the way island of St. Vincent, and as they sail away for
the first time, you get a beautiful shot of tiny Young Island right off
St. Vincent. Since my wife and I spent eleven wonderful ten day
Thanksgiving Holidays in a row there, it brought back wonderful images
to my brain. Too bad we have not been there in years, but the movie
served as a one minute travelogue for me. Now, that is it; there is
nothing else worth seeing in this film.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes