For a filmmaker as prolific as Ridley Scott he’s bound to have a lot of hits and misses. For every Gladiator (2000), there’s a few Someone to Watch Over Me’s (1987). It is some of the fascinating yet flawed outliers in his filmography that are the most interesting. Case in point: White Squall (1996), a dramatic recreation of the doomed school sailing trip lead by Dr. Christopher B. Sheldon on the brigantine Albatross, which sank on May 2, 1961, allegedly due to a white squall, killing six people. Adapted from Charles Gieg’s book The Last Voyage of the Albatross, the film received mixed reviews and, despite its cast, featuring a bevy of young, up-and-coming actors, performed poorly at the box office.
Scott shows us what it takes to get a boat such as the Albatross ready for sea, how everyone works together, and how a rookie mistake almost costs Chuck his life when he hangs himself on the rigging only for the Skipper to rescue him. Early on, the boat hits a rough patch of water, a foreboding taste of what’s to come, and we see everyone act as a team to rescue one of boys who is tossed overboard. To make up for the deficiencies in the lack of character development in Todd Robinson’s screenplay, Scott includes several scenes showing the boys bonding, whether its’s Gil’s tearful recollection of how his brother died or Dean admitting he’s a poor student that doesn’t know to spell. We slowly begin to care about what happens to these boys, which is crucial later when they are put in peril with the storm.
easy to see why the name actors in the cast such as Ethan Embry, Ryan Phillippe,
Jeremy Sisto, and Wolf went on to notable careers. They are most successful at
making their characters memorable but there is also Eric Michael Cole who plays
the bully in the group. Channeling a young Matt Dillon his character is full of
swagger and we eventually discover what’s behind the bravado as delivers an
impressive performance that should have garnered him more high-profile roles.
Todd Robinson met Chuck Gieg while on vacation in Hawaii and the latter told
him the true story of the Albatross.
Inspired by it and the book Gieg had co-written about surviving the incident,
Robinson wrote the screenplay with his close involvement, to ensure it stayed
true to the actual events, and took it to producers Rocky Lang and Mimi Polk
Gitlin. They shopped it around to various directors but they all wanted to
change it to fit their vision. The producers finally brought it to Ridley Scott
who bought it before Christmas 1994. At the time, he was considering directing Mulholland Falls (1996) but after
reading Robinson’s script in 90 minutes he immediately wanted to do it. He was
drawn to the lack of sentimentality and the coming-of-age aspect of the script.
the sequence wasn’t without its peril as Jeff Bridges recalled, “I’ve had some
real-life close calls when I’ve been surfing, and I know that feeling of
fighting for your life in the water. During the storm scene there were some
long takes where we were being hit with wind and waves and being knocked
underwater. You don’t worry so much about acting then--you just want to survive
the take.” Scott remembered one day of filming: “We got the water pretty
churned up and I saw Jeff sticking his arm rigidly in the air with his fist
clenched. I thought he might be screaming, ‘Right on,’ but it turned out he was
screaming, ‘Stop, I’m going under.’”