Friday, June 29, 2018

"A Perilous Journey"

You can tell there is nothing on TV when you spend your bedtime “cool-down” watching an hour-long documentary on cargo container ships.

Pity the documentary filmmaker, serving not boundless imagination but limiting factual happenstance.  As luck would have it – which is pretty much all you’re depending on – sometimes, during the boundaried “Shooting Schedule” nothing of import, tension or meaningful consequence takes place.  

What’s a poor documentary filmmaker to do?

(We’ve had direct familial experience in this regard.  Son-in-law Tim worked on an editing team for a series chronicling a mid-sized American city’s “First Responders”, which was cancelled because there were not enough colorful emergencies for the “First Responders” to respond first to.  Or for the underworked filmmakers to record.)

The same challenge faced the creators of the televised tribute the cargo container ship.  They tried their best.  But how do you successfully dramatize “mundane”?

Okay, it was the world’s longestcargo container ship.  Much longer, we were told, than the Titanic– built in 1911, so “Duh!” – and longer than the Empire State building (constructed more recently, but why are they comparing cargo container ships with a building?)

Imagine a giant “Bellows of Significance” pumping “serious import” into a show needing all the “serious import” it can handle.  The container ship’s multi-ton cargo is not missiles and weapons but DVD players and televisions.  (Factual Tidbit:  Do you know how much home entertainment paraphernalia was transported on the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria combined?  None! Okay, the bible.  But it wasn’t on Blu-Ray.)

The captain was asked about the pressure of helming this miracle of modern engineering and readily confessed there was plenty.  His reliable safety valve, he revealed, was standing on deck, and looking around. “Feeling the wind blow in your hair.” (An equallyilluminating insight would be hearing an “Uber” employee, extolling the joy of driving around with the window open.  “It makes all the difference”, Malcolm airily explained.)   

Every step of the cargo ship’s journey from South Korea to Rotterdam was filled with (injected) jeopardy and suspense.  Even the “just traveling on the seas” part.  For if it was not impeccably loaded for perfect balance – worst-case possibility, we were told – the ship could capsize!  (It didn’t.  So “Nice boat-loading, you guys.”)

The ship’s first stop in Hong Kong presented the daunting challenge of docking the massive vessel, similar – though the metaphor was not included – to parallel parking an incredibly long stretch limo.  (Where you think, “I wonder who’s in there.”)  If the ship’s docking maneuver was not precisely executed – worse-case possibility, we were told – the ship could capsize!  (Again, it didn’t.  Maybe the heightened expectations were my fault.  This was reality after all, not The Poseidon Adventure.)

The next leg of the journey involved perilously traversing of “Pirate Country.” 

Since pirates are famously indifferent to home entertainment equipment, their nefarious objective would be holding the ship’s captain hostage for ransom.  And, being restricted from carrying weapons, the ship’s only protective mechanism involved, I don’t know, some contraption that shot water out of it real fast.  

Guns against hoses.  

And we didn’t even see that.

An ominous light was spotted in the darkness.  But it turned out to be a harmless fishing trawler that had drifted off-course.  So no “Arrrrr”, and no action.   

Then, there was the Suez Canal, which, we were informed, cut the travel distance to their Dutch destination considerably, as compared to sailing around the bottom of Africa (which no one had done since the canal’s completion in 1867, but somehow this was treated as “Breaking News.”)

The world’s largest container ship, passing through the narrow Suez Canal, would be a troublingly tight squeeze, we were told, wherein – worst-case possibility – no, the boat would not capsize; there wasn’t enough room – but it could get seriously damaged, and the erring Egyptian engineers piloting it through would be in terrible hot water with their superiors.  (Egypt not being Canada, where they’d say, “Tough luck, eh?”)

The boat got through just fine.

I turned in before the final conclusion.  But I doubt the ship blew up in Rotterdam harbor.  I would have read about it in the papers.

Tallying up – four imminent difficulties – and nothing happened.  But boy, was it ever “drum-rolled” before every commercial it might.

The show’s ultimate “Suspense Level” was negligible.  The thing is, that’s all the poor documentarians had to work with.  

I do not know who deserves more of our pity.  

The people making the program.

Or the folks who found nothing better to watch.

No comments: