A federal judge has sunk a lawsuit that claimed the reality-based George Clooney blockbuster The Perfect Storm portrayed several characters--including Clooney's doomed skipper--as "unprofessional, unseaworthy and incompetent."
In a 12-page ruling issued Thursday in Orlando, U.S. District Court Judge Anne C. Conway said the 2000 Warners Bros. film was protected by the First Amendent and that the studio was well within its rights to fictionalize the account of the ill-fated sword-fishing boat Andrea Gail and its crew.
Launched in August 2000, the suit was originally filed by the family of the Andrea Gail's captain, Frank William "Billy" Tyne Jr. (played by Clooney), and joined by the family of Dale Murphy (portrayed in the film by John C. Reilly). Doug Kosko, another fisherman briefly depicted in the movie, also called out the lawyers.
The gist of their complaint: The flick, adapted from the megaselling book by Sebastian Junger, played fast and loose with the facts, showing Billy Tyne as "reckless" and "obsessed," and "as having suffered a self-imposed death, abandoning his crew and any hope of survival." The plaintiffs also claimed they never gave permission to filmmakers to use the names of their deceased family members.
The suit named Warners and the two production companies responsible for The Perfect Storm as defendants and sought a cut of the film's receipts. The Perfect Storm raked in about $183 million in North America alone and millions of dollars more from video and international sales.
Based on Junger's account, the film tells the story of the Andrea Gail, which vanished in a vicious North Atlantic storm in October 1991; Tyne and his five shipmates apparently drowned--the wreckage and their bodies were never found. Warners and filmmakers admitted they took dramatic license with the story, inventing scenes on the boat (including a shark attack) and showing Clooney's Tyne forcing himself into a watery demise. (Junger didn't write the screenplay and therefore was not targeted by the suit.)
Warners trumpeted its victory in a press release. "We are extremely pleased," the studio said. "The plaintiffs' theory that Warner Bros. needed their permission to make The Perfect Storm...profoundly threatened free speech.
"The court's ruling is a huge victory not only for Warner Bros. but for all writers, artists and filmmakers who may now continue to find inspiration in historical events without having their creative visions censored and controlled by anyone with a connection to those events."
The plaintiffs, meanwhile, are mulling an appeal.