“Adrift” tells a true story of challenge and triumph on the high seas
Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2018; PG-13 for injury images, peril, profanity, brief drug use, partial nudity and thematic elements; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: Commentary with director Baltasar Kormákur and producer/actress Shailene Woodley
IT SHOULD have been a wonderful summer adventure at sea when Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp agree to deliver a 44-foot long luxury yacht from Tahiti to San Diego for $10,000.
It became a nightmare instead when a Category 5 hurricane, with 140-knot winds and 40-foot waves, capsized and wrecked the boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
“Adrift,” the film by Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur (“Everest”) and first-time producer Shailene Woodley (“The Fault in our Stars”), is based on a real life voyage: Tami Oldham’s biography, “Red Sky in Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss and Survival at Sea” published in 1998.
Kormákur shot the film in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in and around the Fiji Islands, subbing for Tahiti, hoping to be as authentic as possible. The 26-year-old Woodley was completely engrossed in the project, playing Oldham with complete conviction.
When Tami arrives in Tahiti, she’s a free spirit from a middle-class upbringing in San Diego. She gets a job doing boat repairs and stumbles into Englishman Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), who’s been sailing solo in the South Pacific on a sailboat he built himself. “It’s full of danger, loneliness, and seasickness,” Richard says. The couple’s love of the sea and the unknown brings them together. By the time they agreed to deliver the yacht, they’re engaged.
Kormákur uses non-linear storytelling in his film, cutting back and forth between the couple’s romance and the horror they experience after being hit and capsized. Below deck, Tami is injured; she awakens with a serious head wound 27 hours after the storm to find Richard missing. Barely conscious, she calls out for him, crawling and swimming through debris. The camera follows her, pulling back to provide a bird’s eye view overtop the sailboat and roaring sea. Tami duct tapes a hole in the boat, makes a small sail, and begins searching for Richard.
During the in-depth commentary she shares with Kormákur, Woodley describes the difficulties of filming sequences inside a water tank in New Zealand, while immersed in freezing cold water. One side of the yacht was cut away so the camera could maneuver inside. It took Woodley and Kormákur nearly 20 takes to get this one hurricane scene right. For the most violent waves, a sailboat was mounted onto a gimbal to ensure the safety of the actors and the crew.
Kormákur, who grew up sailing, is a known, world-class sailor. But for the first days of filming on the open seas, everyone was puking except the director and cinematographer, Woodley told a Singapore newspaper. To lose weight for the survival scenes, her diet consisted of a can of salmon, a couple of eggs and steamed vegetables per day. An excellent swimmer, Woodley discovered the waters off Fiji were heavily infested with sharks and deadly sea snakes.
Kormákur says the snakes are not likely to bite, but if they chomp down between fingers or toes – you’re dead.
Woodley also recalls the terror of navigating the massive sailboat on the open water. In one particular shot, the boat was heeling at such a strong angle, when the film crew’s helicopter whizzed by, the extra gust nearly tipped it over. “It was definitely the scariest movie moment for me,” she says. She kept telling Kormákur, “I can’t control it, I can’t do this!”
The Blu-ray delivers a very good picture, with excellent color toning and sharp detail. It was most likely made from a 2K master (2.39:1 aspect ratio). As usual, three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson (“Hugo,” “The Aviator” and “JFK”) has provided stunning visuals. It’s just too bad the film isn’t available on a 4K disc or 4K streaming.
Audio arrives through an extremely active eight-channel DTS-HD soundtrack. Wind and waves whirl around the room; clear dialogue is delivered front and center, while music cues from German composer Volker Bertelmann enhance tension, romance and drama.
“Adrift” didn’t set any box office records during its summer run. Most likely, it only broke even after production and marketing costs. Still, it’s well worth your time and investment for home viewing.
― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer