How accurately is the cruise industry portrayed in feature films?
Cruises are in the limelight this film season with the recent release of Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked and Jack and Jill. Product placement has been a Hollywood staple for years, and with this recent boom in featuring cruise lines, it's timely to assess how the industry has been cinematically portrayed.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (2011)
Despite being set on one of the 'fun ships,' this Alvin sequel is not nearly as amusing as the first two pictures. From the very start of this film, the delightful 'fab fur' throw us off by apparently boarding the Carnival Dream in Cozumel, Mexico. In truth, no Carnival itineraries begin at that port, but film productions by practical necessity often use other locations in place of authentic ones.
In typical Alvin fashion, the titular prankster is quick to commandeer the bridge's PA microphone to announce that all kids are now allowed on the adult-only Serenity deck, a creative way to showcase one of the ship's actual features. Kid-friendly elements such as the water slides make a showing as do many of the outer decks, albeit often only from ankle-height, as the short chipmunks scurry about. Although 'dressed' with genuine Elemis toiletries, the featured stateroom, a massive suite, as well as the casino and bar in the film definitely appear to be sets.
The captain himself is portrayed as keeping a keen eye on the behavior of the children – surely the captain in reality would have more important things to attend to – up until the chipmunks' mischievous pièce de résistance. After grabbing on to another kid's kite, they are caught by the wind and carried off the ship followed by Dave, their father figure, similarly from a parasail. For the sake of safety, neither a kite nor a parasail would ever actually be allowed off a ship. Nonetheless, this sequence marks the end of the Dream's film appearance, and only stereotypical line's like, "it's been forever since our last all-you-can-eat buffet," refer back to the ship.
Jack and Jill (2011)
Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas is featured as the vacation of choice in Adam Sandler's latest family comedy where Sandler plays a set of twins, one male and one female, with an estranged relationship. Fans of Sandler's goofball humor will appreciate the antics of the film which are surprisingly more heartfelt than expected.
Lines such as, "one more passenger on the cruise ship, and it will sink," delivered in an attempt to dissuade the twin sister from joining the family cruise, anticipate the ship's abbreviated inclusion in the film. Many of the scenes, shot onboard the vessel shortly before its actual maiden voyage, were removed from the final cut. Still, the ship shines bright in a number of helicopter beauty passes along with several shots of kinetic activities typical of Royal Caribbean.
The film is flawed to incorrectly suggest that porters roll luggage behind passengers on the upper decks upon embarkation, the onboard public bathrooms have attendants, and the Allure sails a European itinerary – it doesn't, at least not currently. And it's very unlikely that an extravagance of Christmas decorations worthy of Neiman Marcus would actually grace the outer decks. Despite such inaccuracies, the Royal Caribbean brand is featured front and center throughout Allure's time in front of the camera.
Based on the beloved disaster classic, The Poseidon Adventure, where a rogue wave rolls an ocean liner upside down on New Year's Eve, this remake is a mess of action effects and poorly developed characters vying for the audience's attention.
The filmmakers at the very least rendered a beautiful modern cruise ship via extravagant sets and photo-realistic computer imagery – down to the the minutiae of a slightly dimpled hull as a result of actual building imperfections. But despite such incredible attention to detail, one of the biggest film mistakes ever made stands out as severely disappointing – that the lifeboats on the fictional ship are oriented in reverse.
The film is riddled with other fallacies too, namely that there would ever be gas explosions in the ship's galley – all onboard cooking appliances are electric powered – or the possibility of a crew member bringing onboard a stowaway – cruise ship security is extremely tight. And in reality, ship captains are extremely knowledgeable of the vessels they command unlike the stupefied cinematic counterpart represented here.
Of course, the biggest question to arise from a movie like this is whether or not such a disaster could ever occur on a real cruise. Modern ships are amazingly stable and are certified to be able to recover from a roll of up to 49.5 degrees. Even older ships have started to receive upgrades such as stern interceptors, a duck tale-like structure often found on newer vessels, specifically to reduce ship listing. In truth, rogue waves do exist, but it would take a massive wave to ever topple a cruise ship. Such waves have become easier to track, and ship captains are ever vigilant to stay entirely clear of dangerous seas.
In the extremely unlikely event that a ship ever was to roll upside down, however, there unfortunately would be no truth to an air pocket keeping the ship afloat and the interiors dry. The superstructures of cruise ships are not water tight; only the hulls are. Even if you were to accept the poor logic of an air pocket, it would likely be far easier to make it out through the bottom of the ship than the movie indicates since the stairwells on most cruise ships – by the nature of their design – would function on almost every deck upside down just the same as right side up. This film requires a heavy dose of 'suspension of disbelief.'
After the Sunset (2004)
This caper about diamond thieves, played by Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek, also stars the Seven Seas Navigator, formerly of Radisson Seven Seas Cruises when the film was made but now of Regent Seven Seas Cruises. The film is set primarily at Nassau, Bahamas and fictitiously claims that the cruise ship is docked there as part of its maiden cruise – in reality, the ship was introduced in 1999.
Highlighting a hypothetical gem exhibit, the "Diamond Cruise" represents the luxurious cruise line very accurately. There are glamour shots of the ship's atrium and promenade and pool decks supplemented by sets edited seamlessly together. As with any heist picture, security is made to look far less impenetrable than it really is. He may be James Bond, but even Pierce Brosnan could not hop aboard the ship so easily.
Deep Rising (1998)
This monster movie takes place like Poseidon on an imaginary cruise ship, the Argonautica, which is attacked by pirates – a real but thwarted threat to cruise ships in certain parts of the world, unlike the kraken-like creature in the film. Despite the initially authentic depiction of a luxury cruise ship filled with valuables and plausible bridge crew activity when the ship is first crippled, the picture quickly resorts to cruise stereotypes like elevator music playing "The Girl from Ipanema."
As with Poseidon, the movie follows the space-saving paradigm of requiring that all sets depict ship spaces unfaithfully as multipurpose venues consisting of the casino, show lounge, restaurant, etcetera combined. All in all, the graphic B-movie is a rather suspenseful ride with bits of fun humor thrown in. The pirates debate whether or not they need their guns should the passengers attack back, replying with quips such as, "with what: margaritas and tanning oil?"
Out to Sea (1997)
In what could have appropriately been titled Grumpy Old Men at Sea, Walther Matthau and Jack Lemmon reprise their classic odd couple personas onboard a cruise. Holland America is stereotypically but somewhat accurately portrayed as a cruise line catering to the elderly as the comic duo reluctantly fills the role of dance hosts under the tyranny of the pretentious cruise director, skillfully played by Brent Spiner (Data from the TV show, Star Trek: Next Generation). In the film world, this character is hilarious, but in the real world, thankfully cruise directors aren't so ridiculous.
The film does a fine job of showcasing both an earlier Westerdam, a ship iteration since retired from the line, as well as the original Queen Mary as a stand in for the HAL ship. The small stateroom shared by the dance hosts is poked fun at with Lemmon claiming that, "a good fart will give you a concussion." And the ship being referred to as a boat in dialogue, a mistake all to common in most of the films discussed in this article, is forgivable if only because the film is otherwise so talented.
Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997)
After watching this sequel, you can't help but wonder if Seabourn ever read the script before agreeing to be a part of this atrocious film. The Seabourn Legend is lampooned by the embarrassing depiction of the luxury ship as a circus full of incompetent crew, unintelligent passengers, and a total lack of security. The only thing that shows well in the movie is the beautiful ship design having received plenty of screen time thanks to the film production's entire month spent onboard.
From the beginning, embarkation is inaccurately presented as boarding the ship uncomfortably with luggage via tender only to be welcomed by an overly aggressive ship's photographer. One of the actual onboard suites shines on its own for a brief moment before being overrun by an obnoxious room steward prematurely thanking the passengers for a generous gratuity. And jewelry is shamelessly paraded and hocked in the dining room of all places.
The audience is meant to believe that a disgruntled computer programmer is a sufficient villain with the ability to infiltrate the entire ship, throw the captain overboard, and outthink the ship's 'capable' crew but not an LAPD officer – the same officer that plays hero to the extent of fully commanding the ship's crew through the entire crisis.
There is even a moment of parental concern for a deaf teenage daughter, fearing her inability to hear the ship's alarm. In reality, ships cater to passengers of all abilities, and there are plenty of visual cues that accompany the ship's audio alarm to inform deaf passengers of emergencies too.
The movie features a parade of such implausible scenes like passengers getting stuck onboard because of a malfunctioning lifeboat deployment – there is always extra lifeboat and raft capacity in such cases – and Sandra Bullock freeing the same passengers, stuck this time behind a fire door, with a gas-powered chainsaw. In truth, fire doors are manually releasable, and there would never be a chainsaw onboard a cruise ship.
All this chaos accumulates towards the grand finale where the Seabourn Legend, incapable of being shut down, is slowed and eventually stopped by partially flooding the ship, jamming the propeller, letting the anchor down, and finally plowing through a marina and pier at St. Martin. It has been said that there is no such thing as bad advertising, but this film surely must qualify.