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The Sea Gypsies
(a.k.a. Shipwreck)
(1978)

Director: Stewart Raffill
Cast:
Robert Logan, Mikki Jamison-Olson, Heather Rattray


Though my life is certainly not perfect, I realize that I have a life that is more fortunate than the lives of many other people. Some of it was due to luck, being in the right place at the right time. But for the most part, I worked my way to my present life with careful planning and preparation for potential obstacles. This is something that I continue to do today, because I certainly don't want my life to go badly. A few years ago, an apartment complex just a block away from the building that I live in suffered a major fire. Ever since that happened, I realized that something like that could happen in my building, and when I have a spare moment I consider the various ways I could get out should a fire happen where I live. (So far, I have come up with three escape routes.) Not only that, I have been making plans as to what I should do after escaping from my building should a fire happen, both short term plans and long term plans. But planning for a possible fire is not by far the only thing I am preparing for. On the island that I live on, there is a significant cougar population. Though you might think that living in a major city I wouldn't have to worry about that, cougars from time to time have left the countryside and made their way into my city. But from various media, I have learned what to do should I bump into a cougar (Don't look it in the eye, and make yourself look big and threatening enough so you can scare it off.) Yet another thing I have prepared for is should I decide to go to one of my city's local beaches and swim in the ocean, and I get a cramp. What I know beforehand is that I would not want to swim in the ocean in the first place, because that is where my city dumps all of its sewage.

While I think it's wise for everyone to think of bad things that could happen to them so they can plan as to what they would do about them, I admit that sometimes I get a little bored. When I do, I think about situations that are much less likely to happen to really give my brain a workout. One such wild situation I have sometimes thought about is what I would do if I were shipwrecked on some lonely island. What would I do? Well, the first thing I would do is secure my self-preservation. I would do this by looking on the island for fresh water, food, and shelter. Once I had done all of that, I would explore the island to spot any possible dangers or things that would help me. Then I would try to construct some signals in case I would see a passing ship or airplane. And if after some time had passed and I was still stuck on the island, I would think about constructing a raft to try and take me to civilization. As you can see from all of that, I have really prepared for that dire situation should it happen to me. But what I really would like to someday have is a certain ability that Robinson Crusoe had. It's been years since I read the book in elementary school, so I am unable to confirm a report I read about the book. The report stated that not long after Robinson Crusoe is shipwrecked on the island, he sees the wreck of his ship on some rocks not far off the shore. He swims naked to the ship to raid it for supplies. And when he is on the ship, he subsequently stuffs his pockets with various items. I think the ability to grow pockets out of nowhere would be a really handy skill to have.

As you saw from the above paragraph, I have certainly thought long and hard about the idea of being shipwrecked. So it probably comes as no surprise that when it comes to movies concerning the subject of being shipwrecked, I am just as interested in them. Such movies in the past that I The Sea Gypsieshave enjoyed include the 1990 Disney movie Shipwrecked, and the 2000 movie Castaway, the latter of which I especially enjoyed because Tom Hanks (an actor I can't stand) goes through much hardship throughout the movie. So you can probably guess that I was pleased when I found the shipwreck movie The Sea Gypsies in a thrift store. In fact, I was especially pleased because it was a family movie from the 1970s. For some reason, I have a soft spot for family movies from that decade, maybe because I spent a lot of my childhood in that decade. The star of the movie, Robert Logan, had just three years earlier starred in the wildly popular family movie The Adventures Of The Wilderness Family. In The Sea Gypsies, he plays a man called Travis MacIaine, a single father who decides to sail around the world with his two daughters Courtney (Rattray, Mountain Family Robinson) and Samantha (Shannon Saylor). Coming along for the trip is a female reporter named Kelly (Jamison-Olsen, Ski Party), as well as a young stowaway named Jesse (Cjon Damitri Patterson) who is discovered some time after the boat sets sail. When Travis' boat is near Alaska, it gets into a fierce storm, and the five eventually find themselves shipwrecked on an isolated stretch of Alaska. Naturally, the five soon find themselves not only having to find food and fresh water, but have to battle assorted dangers ranging from bears to wolves. They manage to survive against all odds, but winter is soon drawing near, and they realize they have to get off that island one way or another.

I do approach all shipwreck movies with the main intent of just being entertained, but as I suggested earlier in this review, to a significant degree I also watch to possibly learn some survival tips which might be handy to remember should I ever be shipwrecked sometime in the future. With The Sea Gypsies being aimed at family audiences, I wasn't sure if I would learn that much since children crave entertainment more than education. As it turned out, survival tips are few and far between in the finished movie. Apart from making a hunting spear and (vaguely) showing how to build your own homemade boat, the movie seems quite reluctant to show how people can take of themselves cut off from civilization. Actually, despite The Sea Gypsies having just a few lessons on shipwreck survival, I did learn a number of other things throughout. I learned that if you are just one day into a sea voyage around the world and discover you have a young stowaway on board, you shouldn't just turn around and head to home port - instead, you should travel for a number of more days to the next port. I also learned that once shipwrecked, if you can't successfully hunt caribou or musk ox, you shouldn't think of clubbing and eating the friendly seal your kids adopt. Another interesting fact showcased was that you can smoothly shave with a switchblade knife day after day, even if it's also used on the tip of a spear for hunting purposes. It was also a surprise to learn that contrary to popular belief, the waters off Alaska will prove to be almost as crystal clear as the South Seas should you want to go diving. And rescue parties, at least in Alaska, will go for over a month searching for you in case you get lost in the wilderness.

The animal life in Alaska proves to be interesting as well, from bears that are attracted by loud and harsh noises, to orcas that are actually threatening to humans. And... well, I think you get what I'm illustrating about this movie. Obviously, writer/director Stewart Raffill (The Philadelphia Experiment) should have had his script reviewed by, well, practically anyone before filming started. Though I have a feeling that most family audiences won't be as nit-picky with details as I have been. But I think that they'll agree with me that the movie still has some severe problems. Now, when it comes to the look of the movie, things are fine. Despite watching the movie with somewhat undesirable conditions (a VHS copy that used an aged print), there are some impressive visuals. Filmed on location in the wilds of Alaska (and Canada as well), the backdrop looks spectacular. You really do get the feeling that the protagonists are stuck very far from civilization, and that they are in wild and untamed wilderness. Raffill manages to get some good atmosphere here. However, he doesn't seem able to generate much in the way of excitement or giving the feeling that the protagonists' lives are in danger. Instead, more often than not there is a matter of fact feeling to the so-called peril. When Jesse early on in the movie falls off the boat and is swept away, you never feel that he could be killed in short notice. Instead, you know for sure that he'll be rescued quickly without any harm. Later on in the movie, there is occasionally a little tension that bubbles up  - the shipwreck sequence, bear attacks - but even then it seems pretty weak. The movie seems afraid of depicting events in a way that might worry kids in the audience - or adults for that matter.

The more often than not bland feeling certainly hurts The Sea Gypsies a great deal, but I think there is another reason why the movie doesn't manage to engage the audience, and that is with the characters in the movie. The actors, for one thing, have to share some of the blame for this. Take lead actor Robert Logan. I will admit that he does have a little charisma, and watching him you get the strong feeling that he is a nice guy in real life. But his line readings are bland as his surroundings often are. He doesn't usually put any emotion into whatever he says. For that matter, his co-stars don't really stand out in their performances as well. While they don't give performances that are really irritating, they all the same act in a way that's utterly forgettable. Watching the mediocre acting by all, it didn't take me very long to come up with a likely explanation as to why the cast wasn't more passionate with their performances; the characters are not written to be particularly distinctive in any way. Logan's character, for one thing, wants to sail around the world with his young daughters, but why exactly? What do his daughters think about this? Why does stowaway Jesse think it's a good idea to hide on a boat that's about to take a long journey around the world? Questions like those are never answered, including why Logan's character and the female reporter suddenly out of the blue find themselves in love with each other towards the end of the movie. Aside from the scenery, there is not much else positive to say about The Sea Gypsies, except that the generation gap between child and adult viewers will be momentarily bridged with both groups equally finding the movie to be very unengaging.

(Posted November 5, 2021)

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See also: Earthbound, The Savage Wild, White Wolves

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