First look at ''The Perfect Storm''--Armed with pricey F/X wizardry and stars George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, the new film is sure to take audiences on a wild ride

By Steve Daly
Updated April 21, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

What’s the scariest, hairiest ocean wave you’ve seen in a movie? The tsunami that kicks off The Poseidon Adventure? The gusher that decimates New York City in Deep Impact? Forget ’em — they’re hokey tub splashes compared with the roiling, 120-foot swells that crash down on salty dogs George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg in The Perfect Storm, the action flick set to crest June 30. Adapted from Sebastian Junger’s best-selling 1997 nonfiction book about a small fishing vessel lost in a freakishly intense 1991 maelstrom off the coast of Newfoundland, the film rewrites the rule book on computer-generated aquatic effects. ”This has never been done before,” says director Wolfgang Petersen (Air Force One, Das Boot). ”In movies like Titanic, you see just calm seas, and then shots with scale-model boats. That’s over. This is an enormous step forward in creating a photo-realistic world you’ve never seen, how ships and helicopters and para-rescue jumpers cope with raging seas.” Warner Bros. has poured more than $100 million (but less than the reported $140 million, say the filmmakers) into the effort. Now all it has to do is float the audience’s boat.

Sea Is Believing
After Nicholas Cage and Mel Gibson declined, George CLooney signed on as Captain Billy Tyne, the real-life Massachusetts fisherman who piloted the Andrea Gail into disaster. Says director Petersen, ”George blends into this world without popping out as a big movie star. He’s an ensemble player.” You won’t see Clooney popping out jarringly against computer-generated backgrounds either, thanks to new tricks from George Lucas’ ILM F/X gurus for eliminating fringy outlines in process shots; detailed preproduction artwork and full-motion ”animatic” storyboards helped forecast the exact content of final shots.

Final Sail
For the role of crewman Bobby Shatford, feelers went out to Ben Affleck, but ”I think he didn’t even read the script,” says Petersen; in fact, Afflect had just about committed to making Bounce with his former girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow for Miramax. After Warner execs gave Petersen a sneak peak at Three Kings, the director instead tapped Wahlberg to step in as the twentysomething blue-collar lad. Some execs worried about the been-there-done-that factor in reteaming him with his Kings costar so soon, but Petersen said, ”What the hell, I don’t care. They’re both great and totally right for the parts.” You won’t hear former singing star Wahlberg vocalizing any haunting love themes over the closing credits (even though the score is by Titanic composer James Horner, who turned ”My Heart Will Go On” into chart magic), but you will hear a symphony of sound effects enhancing the rain-blasted on-screen action. Says Petersen, ”I was very inspired by Sebastian Junger’s descriptions, and I think he got them from fishermen, of how storms sound. They vary from a shriek to a moan to a scream to a cry. At Force 12, it sounds like a thousand electric organs being banged on by a thousand kids.”