In The Darkrnhy George McCartneyrnThe Best RealityrnMoney Can Buy?rnWith few exceptions, there is an inversernrelationship between a film’s special-effectsrnbudget and its artistic imagination:rnCall it the Jurassic Law. When StevenrnSpielberg sicced his computerized dinosaursrnon us, he proved unequivocallyrnthat the more money spent on makingrnthings look dazzlingly real, the slackerrnthe plot and the flatter the characterization.rnThe Perfect Storm conforms perfectlyrnto the Jurassic Law. Director WolfgangrnPetersen was given a cool $ 130 million tornadapt Sebastian Junger’s best-selling accountrnof the devastating storm that hit thernNortheast coastline in 1991, sinking,rnamong other things, the ill-fated fishingrnboat Andrea Gail off Gloucester, Massachusetts.rnHe spared no expense lavishingrnthe screen with computer-generated imagesrnof monstrous weather and savagernseas. Spectacular? Without question, especiallyrnthe weirdly (if improbably) illuminatedrnnight scenes. They’re nothingrnless than darkness visible.rnAs hellish spectacles go, however, thisrnone quickly loses its power to unnerve.rnOther than actually drowning, the worstrnthing about being lost on the high seas,rneven vicariously, is the sheer monotonyrnof the experience. Watching waves approachrnin an endless, swelling paradernnumbs the emotions, making on-screenrndrama difficult to sustain. StephenrnCrane recognized this problem in “ThernOpen Boat,” in which he recounted hisrnexperience of being adrift in a lifeboat afterrnsuffering shipwreck. He remarks thatrn”a singular disadvantage of the sea lies inrnthe fact that after successfully surmountingrnone wave you discover that there isrnanother behind it just as important andrnjust as nervously anxious to do somethingrneffective in the way of swamping boats.”rnIn these conditions, he sourly concludes,rn”one can get an idea of the resources ofrnthe sea in the line of waves.” Crane resortedrnto irony because he knew therernwas no other way to make his reader payrnattention to his waterlogged predica-rnThe Perfect StormrnProduced by Baltimore Spring Creekrnand Warner Bros.rnDirected by Wolfgang PetersenrnScreenplay by William D. Wittliff,rnbased on Sebastian Junger’s bookrnReleased by Warner Bros.rnThe PatriotrnProduced by Centropolis Entertainmentrnand Mutual Film CompanyrnDirected by Roland EmmerichrnScreenplay by Robert RodatrnReleased hy Columbia Picturesrnment.rnUnfortunately, Petersen doesn’t havernCrane’s wit. To avoid trying our patience,rnhe repeatedly cuts to another crisis,rnthat of the sailing sloop Satori, caughtrnin the same storm off Hyannisport.rnThere’s warrant for this juxtaposition inrnJunger’s book, but on the screen it onlyrnsucceeds in disorienting the viewer. Ragingrnseas off Cloucester look remarkablyrnsimilar to those off Hyannisport; prettyrnsoon, you don’t know where you are.rnWliat’s worse, you don’t really care. Likernthe poor souls in their boats, you feelrntrapped in a hideously unvarying nightmare.rnAs for characterization, Petersonrnleaves it so undeveloped that the fate ofrnthe Andrea Gail’s crew seems less tragicrnthan irritating. If he and his scriptwriter,rnWilliam D. Wittliff, have it right-andrnthat’s a big “if in this speculative recreationrnof events to which there is no livingrnwihiess—we are to believe the fully seasonedrnand highly regarded Captain BillyrnTyne (George Clooney) would havernbeen boneheaded enough to try to getrnhome by sailing directly into the storm,rnwhen he could just as easily have stayedrnout of its range. Furthermore, he is supposedrnto have made this decision afterrndiscovering that his radio was out of commission.rnThe script tries to make this decisionrnplausible by having the ship’s refrigeratorrnbreak down, thus leaving the men with arnprofitable catch of swordfish that willrnspoil unless they return home as soon asrnpossible. I may be an ignorant landlubber,rnbut this doesn’t wash. This was not arnCaribbean cruise; it happened in Octoberrnoff the coast of Gloucester. In thernfilm, the men are always dressed in thermalrnshirts, sweaters, rain slickers, andrnwoolen caps. We’re never shown a thermometer,rnbut I suspect the temperaturernwas rarely above 40 degrees Fahrenheitrnand often considerably lower. Just howrnquickly would the fish go rotten? Wouldrnthere not have been time to wait thernstorm out? Whatever happened on thernAndrea Gail, the film’s scenario seemsrnmore ersatz pathos than honest realism.rnPetersen wants us to see Clooney and hisrncrew shouting their defiance at the stormrnand plowing bravely into its tumult.rn”We’re Gloucester men,” Clooney remindsrnhis stalwart crew, as if this werernreason enough to behave with suicidalrndisrespect for nature. I can’t help suspectingrnTyne and his men have beenrndone a grave disservice.rnAlthough there are no storms to speakrnof in The Patriot, it nevertheless sinks ofrnits own leaden cliches. Still, there’srnmuch to commend in this story of a manrndrawn reluctantly into the AmericanrnRevolution.rnFirst, there’s the recreation of revolution-rnera South Carolina, seemingly exactrnin ever)’ detail. Charleston’s pastel rowrnhouses, its merchant’s exchange, the searnwall, the surrounding estates all look absolutelyrnconvincing. Then there’s the reenactmentrnof 18th-century warfare thatrnpowerfully captures the sheer madness ofrnmen marching across fields in formation,rnfiring their muskets at each other. Thesernyouths present themselves to their enemiesrnas living targets, occasionally vomitingrnand wetting themselves with fear.rnThere’s a harrowing dreamlike quality tornthese clockwork engagements, with eachrnrow of soldiers taking its turn to load andrnfire. With each fusillade, another 20 orrnso men pitch forward, spurting bloodrnfrom bullet wounds. In one scene, arnBritish cannonball whizzes through thernline, taking with it the head of a haplessrn54/CHRONICLESrnrnrn