Marky Mark in a box

Went to see Contraband last night. Even with the possibility that my wife would feed me to the fishes, for the thought of spending one night with Mr. MM, I think he’s done some good work, in the past… but Contraband is not some of his good work.

50% of the movie Contraband occurs on a container ship – yup, a real life big cargo ship, painted with a MSQ on the side, I imagine they used an MSC boat for their aerials. Anyways ports and ships are prominently filmed in this action movie.

Allot of the action occurs in the eerily quiet engine room of the “MV Borden”, with a bad guy / good guy (?) chief engineer, a dirty coverall clad, chain smoking brute, who cowers at the very sight of the clean uniformed third officer, who’s usually about two steps behind the Admiral… huh sorry, got confused with all the uniform get up, I meant the Captain. By the way, the Borden is home to “hundreds of crew” – according to the official movies website.

The display of shipboard life is as full of holes as the story. The only accurate thing was probably the silly representation of Custom Border Patrol, although the scene where they “take down” a 60,000 ton ship with a couple of speed boats and some helicopters, as the ship is leaving / and again, when entering the busy harbour is quite laughable. Of course Hollywood and the Government loves to flatter each other, anything that gets the “law heroes” boys to show off there big nuts. In one scene, two sour looking CPB agents (see, there was some accuracy) interview the star, and ask him “do you think were stupid”, which left me thinking, is that a rhetorical question?

In one scene they have sold us on the idea that draining oil from the lube oil storage tank in the engine room, “but… not too much”, results in the “pitch propeller” to start smoking, almost as much as the burly chief engineer. The engine of course is at full speed, and they are unable to control it, heading towards the docks at about 15 knots hurling towards some Panama container yard. This reminds me of that equally bad scene in Speed 2.

But of course, the captain orders the anchor to drop, which only the star of the movie can seem to release, using an 10 pound sledge hammer – remember this is a 5-7000 teu container ship. The anchor drops, but as underwater filming shows us, has some trouble setting. But when it does, it stops the ship in about 50 meters, making a perfect parking job. Some might say a “minor” allision ensues – sending rows of containers tumbling upon the dock, but these are just details.

In the next scene, with workers cleaning up the cargo using push brooms in the background, the captain is given a dressing down by the Panamanian security guard, “What kind of engineer do you have on there ^&#%&^$@, first time Chief Engineer????” to which the captains sighs in defeat. About three hours later the container ship sails out of port… wow that is some film!

And on IMDB the “goof” they had registered –

“Factual errors: Captain Camp would not have been at the helm while his ship was passing through the Panama Canal. Panama Canal pilots take over the ship during passage.” 

Are you freakin kidding me, that’s the only thing people noticed??? Why the hell was the ship – from New Orleans – transiting the Panama Canal, to fetch a couple hundred boxes, just to return to New Orleans. Are people so out of touch with shipping… their world, to even notice this? Friends, we are in deep shit as seafarers, this “film” gets overall positive buzz everywhere I look.

Here’s the trailer. A little more ‘splainin’ from the production notes off the official website

Filming on Ships 

Much of the interior shots of Captain Camp’s ship were filmed aboard an actual U.S. Maritime Administration vessel, the S.S. Bellatrix, anchored at Marrero, Louisiana. Although the ship, measuring at almost 900-feet long, might have looked spacious, the crew had its challenges maneuvering the camera gear in such tight quarters. Shares Kormákur: “I love that the boat is a huge metal monster that becomes a character.”

Interior shots of the ship were accomplished during a week aboard the S.S. Bellatrix. The ship’s engine room is five-stories tall, with catwalks throughout it, and allowed for incredible shots that could never have been captured on a conventional set.

Exterior shots were filmed in the New Orleans harbor. Finding a huge container ship that was not in use, then garnering permission to shoot the vessel as it sailed down the Mississippi, was a big challenge. Fortunately, seasoned marine coordinator TROY WATERS was enlisted to sort out the myriad details.

According to Waters, there are several factors to account for when choosing to shoot onboard an actual ship. He explains: “Weather is a huge consideration because of continuity. The other consideration is the underway shots. Those shots require the cooperation of various river pilots, as well as governmental authorities like the Coast Guard and Harbor Police. So everyone has to be onboard, so to speak.”

Waters explains that it took five months to find the perfect vessel. He began his search through a worldwide network of brokers, but in the end, found the ship himself. While the script called for two ships, they only needed to use one. The art department helped to turn this 325-foot vessel into two ships by building an addition to the craft and painting the outside with two different names. For the opening scenes in which Andy is captured, the blue-hulled vessel was the B.B.C. Romania. By painting a section of it black, with an added exterior section to make the ship look much larger, this craft became the Borden. For the latter part of the film, it was now under the command of J.K. Simmons as Captain Camp.

Sailing the huge ship down the Mississippi involved considerable negotiations by Waters and his team. The marine coordinator says it was the U.S. Coast Guard who offered them the most help. “We work with the Coast Guard quite a bit on these types of productions,” he explains, “because they have authority in every navigable waterway in the country. So if they don’t get a warm fuzzy feeling with something that we want to do, we have to tone it down. But the Coast Guard group in New Orleans was very cooperative, and we were able to accomplish everything we wanted to shoot.”


The art department had its work cut out when it began to populate the ship with hundreds of containers…one of which contained a quite valuable van. They not only had to remove the logos from the many containers, but also had to hire a company to place the crates on the ship at the Port of New Orleans. This was accomplished by the aid of enormous gantry cranes.

In addition to the “hero boats” seen in Contraband, there were many marine vessels used behind the scenes. Along with the boats that were dedicated to various film departments, camera boats, safety boats and shuttle boats were all used in the production.

Not enough? There was also a green-screen barge that was used to accommodate specific scenes that had to be filmed on green screen…but look as if they were shot on the river. Waters explains that this was “the biggest green screen” he had ever put on the water.”

Some scenes on the ship were lensed in Panama. These occurred while the vessel was actually transiting the Miraflores Locks as it went into Balboa to the container terminal. Marine coordinators worked with the Panama Canal Commission and the multiple film authorities to secure the required permission for the shoot.

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