Tuesday, March 22, 2016

SS United States Silver Screen Review: The Water Horse (2007)

"A True Tale It Is..."
         - opening words on the screen, The Water Horse

I honestly was not looking forward to watching this movie. The trailers didn't do anything for me when it was in theaters in 2007. So here goes.

The story?
Boy named Angus is forced to overcome his fear of large bodies of water by almost drowning from riding a CGI water dinosaur. Said dinosaur causes a Nazi scare in the Loch, after which it jumps out of harm's way over an iron net wall, a-la-Free Willy.

The movie is set in Scotland at the Loch Ness during World War II, 1942 to be exact. So why does this movie have anything to do with the SS United States, a ship built in 1952?

Well, during a montage of Angus' mother in the groundskeepers' workshop, sadly looking around at her sons' things, one of the shelves has a small model of, what do you know, the SS United States!

Screenshot from The Water Horse (2007)

I got things to say, so let's break this down:

This movie could have chosen any famous, classic British liner (many were made in shipyards in Scotland), and they choose an American one? Nothing against the Big U, I'm sure it has its Scottish lovers, but not my first choice for setting the scene.

Is the model the SS America, or the SS United States? The SS America would make the most sense time-wise. The ship's maiden voyage was in 1940, so it is entirely valid of Angus to own a model of the ship. But is it really the ship? The America and United States had many similarities, but were not the same. Look at the bottom of the funnels. The America had a few white pipes and such poking out of it. The SS United States has white walls hugging the back of its funnels. America's funnels were also more forward to the bow, while SSUS's are in the middle of the ship. The funnels on the model are in the middle, with white walls hugging the back of the bottom of the funnels. It's definitely the Big U.

So it's an anachronism, right? A boat from 1952 used in a movie set in 1942? Actually, probably not. You see, this movie played a lot with history and geography, which has led me to believe it is in an alternate universe. It's similar to our own universe, but not the same. In this movie, Loch Ness is directly connected to the British Channel via a wide opening (Loch Ness isn't, and is above sea level). In this wide opening, there is an iron net, which can be raised to block Nazi subs from entering into the Loch from the Channel (never built). The famous black and white photograph of the Loch Ness Monster is taken at the end of the movie in 1942 (it was actually shot in 1934). So, in this weird alternate universe, maybe the SS United States already exists??

Movie: Did not care for it. Loch Ness Monster needs a reboot like Spiderman. 1/4
SS United States: you see a 3-5 second shot of a probably CGI model of a ship. 1/4

Monday, March 21, 2016

SS United States Silver Screen Review: Baby Mama (2008)

We continue our Silver Screen Series with Baby Mama! This 2008 comedy stars Tina Fey and Amy Poelher.

A quick review of the film:
Kat (Tina Fey) cannot physically have a baby, but really wants one. She meets Angie (Amy Poelher), who agrees to be a surrogate for Kate. Shenanigans ensue. It's "The Odd Couple" with pregnancy!

That's only the main plot. The secondary plot of the movie [briefly] involves the ship. 

Kate is a higher-up in a juice company. Her hippie/feng shui boss gives her a task: "I want to open a flagship store right here in Philadelphia. I want it to be the biggest store we ever built, I want it to be made of 100% recyclable materials, and I want it to be so beautiful that people want to get married in it." Cue montage of Tina Fey searching around Philadelphia. What does she run into on one of these outings? The SS United States! Kate walks around the dock where the ship is kept, briefly glimpsing the ship for less than 4 seconds. Don't blink, or you will miss it -- this was the ship's first cameo in 42 years! [May 2016 Update: The SSUSC has discovered the ship cameo'd in the 2006 film Invincible, so that claim is actually incorrect] The Big U has become a quick and easy visual landmark for Philadelphia's industrial side of town.

Would the SS United States have been a good location for the company's flagship store? It's in Philadelphia, it's pretty big, people have already been married inside of her, and she is beautiful, only needs a facelift. To redevelop her would be a reuse, not recycling. I could argue the terms reuse and recycle are very similar, almost cousins. At the same time, I think the ship would be TOO big for a juice store, even if it was the flagship store of the company. There is all of the legal debate, is classified a building or a ship, what codes does it have to abide by... it might be easier to stick to other options, Kate.

Movie: Funny. 4/4
SS United States: Appeared briefly, exterior only used as a visual landmark. 2/4

[Originally posted on my now-defunct Wave Breaker Blog, February 25, 2016]

SS United States Silver Screen Review: Bon Voyage (1962)

   “…When you step aboard this magnificent luxury liner, dull care will magically vanish, anxieties disappear. You will live five lovely, lazy, carefree days afloat.”
                - Harry Willard, Bon Voyage (1962)

   Bon Voyage is the story of a family who goes on the vacation of a lifetime to France. It was based off the 1957 book Bon Voyage by Marrijane and Joseph Hayes.

A quick review of the film:
   It was a happy Disney comedy. Very cute and simple. It’s runtime is its biggest detractor (132 minutes, and it can get slow). The teenage relationship between Amy and Nick seemed to have lots of major problems. It also approached some intimate, progressive subjects that would not fly for Disney today.

Now to the ship:
   For the book (which I found, bought, and read), the ship used was the RMS Queen Mary. So it was interesting that while many storylines and pieces of dialogue were word-for-word from book to movie, Disney chose to go with the SS United States. The story I had heard was Walt Disney took a trip on the SS United States and it became his favorite liner. It is possible he wanted to showcase the new ship, or that he couldn’t get permission to film on the Queen Mary. Another change from book to movie was father Harry Willard getting seasick from the QM’s rolling. The Queen Mary was known for rolling badly until she received stabilizers. While the United States did roll as well, this particular storyline was dropped, so Harry did not get sick.

   The ship is very integral to the plot by being the mode of transportation the Willard’s take to their vacation destination of Paris. Almost 30% of the movie was filmed with the ship [From start to 39 minutes of the 132].

   The beginning starts off with shots of luxury liner row and the United States’ bow, followed by overview and close-up shots inside the United States Lines’ Pier in New York City. Throughout the sea portion of the movie, there are many exterior shots of the ship sailing at sea. When there are scenes outside with actors, there are two locations used: the First Class Game Deck (deck behind the aft funnel) and somewhere on the Sun Deck starboard-side Open Promenade. For the Promenade, the camera shot beyond the railing (you can see the railing in many of the shots). I believe they might have lowered a lifeboat down to be able to achieve this shot.

   Only one interior location, the First Class Ballroom, I can verify was shot on board. The rest did not have any ship location I recognized. These would be the Library, a dining room used for breakfast, and the family’s stateroom and adjoining hallway. While these locations’ styles fit the ship, they feature furniture that looked wooden, which the ship was known for its lack of, more proof that these were most likely soundstage sets.

   I just have to say, I was surprised how bright the funnels’ colors were. Boy they were beautiful. I have gotten used to seeing the faded, flaking funnels of today. It was refreshing seeing the colors’ power. I really hope to see them like that again.

Look at that 'stack! Still from Bon Voyage! (1962)

Movie: Cute family movie, but too long and major problems: 2.5/4
SS United States: Important to plot, exterior and interior shots: 4/4

Read a review on Bon Voyage from the New York Times HERE.

[Originally posted on my now-defunct Wave Breaker Blog, April 9, 2015]

SS United States Silver Screen Review

Throughout the SS United States’ life, the ship of state has made numerous cameos in film. So, I will be starting a new series on every movie the SS United States appears in. I will review the movie, and then review how the ship's role in the movie, how integral its appearance was to the movie (or wasn't). 

Here is the List:

Here is a breakdown for the ship rating system I will be using:

1 star = model of the boat/not real boat used, barely in movie, not relevant to the plot
2 stars = actual boat passed by, barely in movie
3 stars = actual boat seen, some time on boat, may go on ship briefly
4 stars = actual boat used, locations shots onboard, extensive time on the boat, relevant to the plot

The documentaries SS United States: Lady in Waiting (2008) and SS United States: Made in America (2013) are excluded from this, because their subject matter already is all about the ship.

[Originally posted on my now-defunct Wave Breaker Blog, March 21, 2015]

Welcome the Wave Breaker Blog!

As part of my Digital Humanities class, I was trying out different features to use for my website. One such feature was a personal blog, which I titled the Wave Breaker Blog. It chronicled "my journey through helping the SS United States, any way I can." Much to my credit I did try it out, but I didn't use it often. When I did, it felt cumbersome to use. Blogger's a lot easier, and also feels silly to have two blogs, so I have made the decision to consolidate them all into this one. For all intents and purposes, this is now the Wave Breaker Blog. On my website, the link for my blog will redirect to here.

Blog posts from there will be transferred to here, including the Silver Screen Star Series (which I am starting to work on again)

So here we are, ready to cast the anchor and leave port... again!