Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"All is Lost" was Lost on Me

Aquaman left on a shrimp boat today for a month or so. We all hope he'll be home in time for Christmas. Before he left, we rushed to see a movie that was high on our list.

I had high hopes for All is Lost, the film starring Robert Redford aboard a doomed sailboat. I must tell you that I can watch Robert Redford all day long. The Natural is one of my favorite movies - I even have the soundtrack. Don't even get me started on The Sting (also have the soundtrack), Out of Africa, The Way We Were, A River Runs Through It, Legal Eagles, Up Close & Personal - not to mention the films I only remember seeing as my folks watched them: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men, The Great Gatsby, A Bridge Too Far and Downhill Racer. He is a Hollywood icon. Besides being easy on the eyes and a damn good actor, he is also the one to thank for the Sundance FilmFestival and the Sundance Channel. Oh, I almost forgot the Sundance Catalog. He's classy. Like I said, high hopes.

I - and Aquaman - along with The Redhead, Thing 1 and Thing 2 - were very disappointed. And here's why:

1) You don't even know the guy's name.

Seriously. It is never stated. They aren't kidding when they say he is the only actor in the movie. In the credits, he is simply listed as "Our Man."

2) There's no reason to care about this guy.

The film begins with "Our Man" reading a letter he has written - from whence the line "All is lost." comes. But we don't know who the letter is to. He's apologizing, but we don't know for what. Blech. We also don't know why in the hell he's out in the middle of the Indian Ocean, how long he's been there, where he came from, and where he's going to. I need these details, people. I need to know my character.

3) There's no backup handheld radio.

Here's where the fact that I'm married to a marine biologist probably began to ruin things for me. I see Aquaman charge his handheld radio before every trip on any kind of boat. I've been on a sailboat with him in Prince William Sound, Alaska, and while I know little to nothing about sailing, I do know enough to know that there is navigational equipment on board that very well could have been ruined by water pouring in when the sailboat is hit by a floating container, as is portrayed in the film. And I know enough to know that any sailor worth his salt would have a backup, battery-powered radio. Which leads me to my next point.


For the benefit of those of you who are not mariners nor married to one, you may not know what an EPIRB is. I'll enlighten you. It's an Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon. Aquaman is REQUIRED to have one on him when he is offshore in his gig as a Fisheries Observer. These lifesavers interface with an international satellite system for search and rescue. Since 1982, they have become commonplace and you can get them at any store like West Marine (whose name was stickered across a pole used in the first 5 minutes of the movie. Great product placement.). An EPIRB can be activated manually, by a crash, or a sinking. Aquaman also had one as a Ski Patrol member in Alaska for Avalanche Search and Rescue and planes also have them. I only know what I've picked up just by being around coastal towns and extreme environments, and even I know the rudimentary basics of this. But here's a visual that explains things much better.

Illustration from the Coast Guard Compass, the official blog of the US Coast Guard.

An EPIRB transmits a signal with location data (because you're required by the FCC to register it) that is quickly transmitted to a national authority -  most commonly the Coast Guard. But even an unregistered beacon is better than no beacon. Not only are there EPIRBs for your person (like Aquaman has) but most vessels have one mounted that is automatically deployed with increased water pressure that would happen in a sinking. It is legally required on all US commercial fishing vessels, uninspected passenger vessels carrying more than 6 people and uninspected commercial vessels. So technically, "Our Man" didn't have to have one. But most, if not all, sailors setting off for the Indian Ocean alone would.

So here's where All is Lost lost me. There was no personal EPIRB nor vessel EPIRB and there was no explanation as to why.

5) The sextant he saved was useless for navigation when he finally pulled it out.

"Our Man" goes to great effort to save a mysterious package from his sinking sailboat that turns out to contain a beautiful, unused sextant. It is presumably a gift from someone - but "Our Man" only briefly looks at the card and sets it aside, leaving us still unsatisfied as to any human connection he may have. He also has a book, a guide to celestial navigation. Navigation is impossible at this point. He is floating on a life raft. He should have used the sextant and book in the first hour that he awoke to find his electronics destroyed aboard the Virginia Jean. All it can do for him at this point in the movie is make him aware of where he is drifting - which is into a shipping channel. He can't do anything about it. But he can at least keep an eye and ear out for huge ships that might spot him. Which he does. In my opinion, this should have been made clear. He is not navigating. He is merely determining his location - over which he has no control.

I won't spoil things for you by telling you the ending, not because I hope you'll go see the movie, but because I still love Robert Redford. I blame myself, you see. In regards to boat-y stuff, I just know too much - purely by osmosis. The life of the wife of a marine biologist. Sniff.

I will recommend another movie, also boat related (technically, a ship), that is excellent and based on a true story.

I adore Tom Hanks. I watch Castaway any time I'm flipping through channels and it is on. I can't even begin to list all of the movies he has been in that I love, but Apollo 13 and Philadelphia come to mind. I have loved him since Bosom Buddies. He is superb in this film. I love that it is based on the book written by the real Captain Phillips, A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS and Dangerous Days at Sea. I don't know anything about pirates, and a dear friend of mine whose husband actually travels these seas as a ship's captain might be able to point out all kinds of Hollywood inaccuracies in this film like I just did in All is Lost, but somehow I doubt it. It is gripping and left me wondering when in the hell we will develop regulations that better protect the wheelhouse on huge ships.

Sadly, All is Lost wasn't my first disappointing experience with movies about the sea.

The first time I saw The Perfect Storm was in a movie theater in Anchorage. I loved it. It was riveting and also based on a true story and the excellent book by Sebastien Junger. Do I even need to go into my infatuation with Mark Wahlberg? I'll spare you. The second time I saw The Perfect Storm was in a makeshift theater in Cordova, Alaska - a small fishing village where we lived for eight years. The room was full of commercial fishermen. Real fishermen. And you should have heard them. "That never would've happened!" they shouted at the screen. "He would've had his survival suit on 20 minutes ago," they informed me out of the corners of their mouths. Inaccuracy after inaccuracy, so obvious to these fishermen, had been undetectable to me in the theater weeks before. But you know what? I still love that movie. You care about the characters and you're rooting for that little New England fishing village. I once heard Linda Greenlaw, the only female swordfish boat captain in the US who is portrayed in the movie by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, speak at a conference in Portland, Maine. She was wonderful to hear and has written numerous books about the sea.

Now I'm thinking it wasn't such a good idea to start talking about The Perfect Storm and other movies depicting the dangers at sea when Aquaman headed out into the Gulf of Mexico a few hours ago in rough seas.

I'll never learn.