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Hollywood overboard?

Thanks to technology (and the Hollywood tradition of follow-the-leader), audiences may leave theaters a little waterlogged this summer.

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Mr. Gilmore, who has been working on "Sinbad" for four years with a team of 600 people, says it would have been difficult to make a film with 50 percent ocean 10 years ago. "If you made a big ocean vista - you had to draw every frame of moving ocean," he says.

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The film was made using software that gave artists a virtual ocean with which to more creatively convey the classic story of Sinbad, he says. It offered "an ocean with calm seas, different levels of foams ... controls that allowed us to show sunlight going through waves."

Creating the perfect storm

The live-action realm presents a whole different set of challenges to filming on water.

"Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," starring Russell Crowe and based on the series by Patrick O'Brian, was filmed in the same multiacre, 40-feet deep horizon tank used for "Titanic" in Mexico. The tank sits on a bluff and blends in with the Pacific Ocean.

A big challenge was simulating Mother Nature. In sunny Mexico, filmmakers had to use a fog machine and water hoses attached to jet engines to create stormy conditions. Boats also sat on devices that would rock them in sync with tidal waves generated by machines, says Leon Poindexter, a shipwright who advised filmmakers about the historical design of the ships.

Creators also strove for accuracy on the main ship, which represented the early 19th-century HMS Surprise, Mr. Poindexter says. It was a French boat captured and converted to the British fleet, he says, and details reflect that era - including the rigging weaves, the cannons - even the chickens and rats on board.

But going overboard with razzle-dazzle effects can sometimes mean that dialogue and human-interest elements get lost in the storm.

"There may be more sea in seafaring films, but sometimes to the detriment of quality," Thompson says, pointing to a lack of compelling dialogue in "Titanic."

Conscious of this balancing act, "Sinbad" filmmakers hand-drew their characters, so they would appear more personal, says Gilmore.

For another oceanside-based film, "The Whale Rider," the human-interest aspect is intended to carry the story.

"With contemporary filmmaking, we are used to being thrilled or amused or excited. But very few films give you the opportunity to feel," says Niki Caro, director of "The Whale Rider." Set on New Zealand's East Coast, it's about a Maori girl and her tribe's relationship with the sea.

"It was the right time for this story.... I think that in the beginning of this millennium we are overwhelmed by technology," she adds. "We crave a connection with something. This story ... shows us a community of people who live simply, according to the laws of nature and to beliefs they have held on to for 1,000 years."

Not that much walking the planks

For their part, sailors who have spent their lives riding the ocean say filmmakers' track record at sea isn't great. A group of boatmakers and sailors from Martha's Vineyard, Mass., say that such blockbuster films have fallen short on plot development and accuracy.

"Most of these films are just overdramatized. The films would be better ... if they had an honest presentation of storms and life at sea," says Nat Benjamin, who crafts schooners and takes people on commercial sailing trips.

He points to "The Perfect Storm" as a "grossly exaggerated" example. "They are in the storm of the century fighting for their lives, and [one character's] main concern was keeping his Diet Coke from spilling," he says. He adds that he liked the 1981 German film "Das Boot" because "you felt the terror of being in a U-Boat."

Hollywood also tends to glamorize sea life and ignore the mundane side of it, says Scott DiBiaso, a commercial sailor and boatmaker who has worked on several films, including the recently completed "Pirates of the Caribbean." "It's a lot more work than people think. You prepare the food, clean, change the sails," he says. "They take the most outrageous part of seafaring and try to make it seem like everyday life.... But a film about day-to-day life - that won't sell tickets."

Another sailor, Jim Lobdell, says his ship was featured in "Message in a Bottle." When the boat tips over, it's obvious, he says, that filmmakers had to remove the lead balance because his boat wouldn't have blown over in the conditions they showed.

Mr. DiBiaso, who cites "Captains Courageous" when asked for a good sea yarn, was irked by a scene in a "The Perfect Storm," when the fishing crew cheers after surviving a large wave. "Any situation I've been in that was dangerous, the last thing I was doing was high-fiving. You are seriously humbled," he says. "You can't be arrogant [with] the sea.... When you have a 30-foot wave coming after you and it's freezing cold, it teaches you a lot of respect for nature." He adds, "You find a greater appreciation for the simple things when you do return."

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