List: Top Six Miami Vice Boat Scenes
Rule of thumb for all aspiring film and TV makers: having a scene on a boat is guaranteed to propel drama and excitement to unspeakably high levels. Nothing emphasizes this lesson better then Miami Vice (sorry, Horatio Hornblower). In this post, we offer a mastercourse in excellent filmmaking by showcasing six of our favourite Miami Vice boat scenes!
The scenes are in no particular order, since it was pretty much impossible to rank them (because they’re all too awesome). This post was originally designed to go along with video of the scenes, but NBC Universal just couldn’t get it through their heads that our copyright infringement was good publicity. So, in lieu of videos, we’ve gone with screencaps in an effort to capture at least something of the “feel” of the scenes.
Season 1, Episode 1: “Brother’s Keeper”
Song: “Miami Vice Theme,” by Jan Hammer
Duration: 5 minutes
Anna: I like pretty much everything about this entire scene, from Crockett’s peach jacket on downwards. The use of the theme music is classic, and especially fitting for a car vs boat chase. I feel like you could probably describe Miami Vice to an alien as “cars vs boats—which is cooler?” Except the best thing is you don’t have to decide, because Vice gives you both boats and cars, at the same time, in direct competition and mutual respect.
My favourite thing about this scene is how the action is really more aesthetic than visceral. Like, the chase is prettier than it is exciting, more about the joy of movement than the outcome (which doesn’t end up mattering very much, anyway). The symmetry of the car and boat, and the road and canal in the long shots, combined with the contrast of the muddy darkness and streaming lights—the overall effect is almost trance-like. The cars that spin out behind Crockett even seem like they’re in slow motion. This is Miami Vice style at its beautiful best.
David: Outside of the odd James Bond movie, it’s unusual to see a car/boat chase. Further still, in the confines of Miami Vice, pitting Crockett against brother-from-another-mother Tubbs (short of amnesia or an especially grating girlfriend – ahem, Kim Griest, Pam Grier) makes for an exciting scene. Of course, this is the first episode, and that friendship has yet to develop. Crockett and Tubbs are strangers playing undercover criminals. Because of the hamfistedness of Crockett’s colleagues Switek and Zito (whose incompetence will be a recurring theme), Tubbs makes off with Crockett’s “$100,000 speedboat” (which is itself the seized property of the Miami PD).
The chase begins with Crockett weaving through the streets next to the waterway where Tubbs is making his escape, nonchalantly cutting people off and going up on two wheels. All the while, Tubbs seems to be fixated on Crockett, to the point where he almost steers into a slow-moving barge. Tubbs drops his guard when it seems that traffic’s gotten the better of Crockett, and slows down. Never do this in a car/boat chase! (We’ll come back to this later.) Crockett doesn’t seem to move very quickly while on camera, but he apparently gets to a bridge ahead of Tubbs, and jumps onto the boat, apprehending him. It’s here that he finds out that Tubbs is NYPD. Thus begins their epic friendship.
Anna: Oh man, how did I forget about the bit where Crockett goes up on two wheels? For, like, no reason? Or the fact that Tubbs is so fascinated by Crockett he nearly crashes. But I mean, who wouldn’t be. That peach jacket.
I also love the bit where Crockett’s up on the bridge and the Jan Hammer soundtrack is all sparkly, matching the light. You know, on Crockett’s peach jacket. No fooling though, that’s actually a beautiful shot. (And a beautiful jacket.)
David: Getting back to the topic of “cars vs boats”… I think it’s an age-old question, and I’m not sure this scene really gets to the bottom of it. What this scene does establish is that Crockett in a car is slightly better than Tubbs in a boat. I think this makes it clear why when they’re in a boat together, Crockett is the one driving.
Anna: That, or Crockett’s just a dick about “his” boats. When you get right down to it, maybe that’s what this scene is really all about. Oh god, maybe that’s really what this entire series is all about…
David: Let’s move on.
Season 1, Episode 8: “The Great McCarthy”
Songs: “Born to be Wild,” by Steppenwolf and “The Great Boat Race” by Jan Hammer
Duration: 10 minutes
Anna: I remember the first time I watched this scene, thinking: “I can’t believe this has gone on this long. (I hope it never ends.)” Only Vice could pull off a 10 minute-long boat race, virtually without dialogue, where you barely have any idea what’s really going on besides: “Here’s some boats. They’re going really fast. One of them is called RENEGADE.” The first half of the race with the Steppenwolf song is a bit jarring—like they’re having a bit too much fun experimenting with all the different ways you can films boats. I kind of prefer the second half with the Jan Hammer song where it’s mostly long shots, and all the boats are making those lovely long trails through the water. Hammer’s soundtrack screams “the 80s in motion,” and that’s exactly what this scene delivers.
Also, I <3 Crockett’s Carerra goggles.
David: This scene certainly wins the award for length of time and number of boats. In this episode, instead of doing regular policing, Crockett and Tubbs have to win a speedboat race (and also Zito is there). Just like in a real boat race, you can’t understand what’s going on, or why it’s happening, but it seems dangerous when vessels made to stay buoyant look like they’re about to disintegrate each time waves crash against their hulls. Also, “Born to be Wild” by Canadian band Steppenwolf is playing. I’m not sure if this is before or after this song was played to death to connote high speed/adrenaline, but it certainly loses its affect when I hear it now. Some things of note: It looks like Crockett has a piece of straw in his mouth (although it’s actually a microphone to communicate with Castillo), and Crockett and Tubbs are both wearing really cool goggles. These are the types of things that make a boat scene great in the same way that having Zito on your boat makes you wonder why winning the race even matters.
After “Born to be Wild” ends, there’s this part where you think the race is over and Crockett/Tubbs/Zito have won, but then they notice the enemy, McCarthy is out in front. How did he do it? Answer: two boats. Two identical boats. One of which started the race close to the finish line. Then C/T/Z kick their boat into high gear, and win the race. Who’s the best at boat scenes? Crockett and Tubbs (and to a lesser extent Zito).
Anna: Do you think Crockett and Tubbs (and to a much lesser extent Zito) are naked under those jumpsuits?
David: That’s the only reason anyone wears a jumpsuit as far as I’m concerned. But I think the real question is: how much longer could this scene have been? Maybe with three boats—three different boats?
Anna: Three boats equals, what? Nine penises? Nine different penises?
David: I’d have to double-check your figures, but I think that adds up.
Anna: Next scene!
Season 1, Episode 20: “Nobody Lives Forever”
Song: “Heartbeat” by Red 7
Duration: 2 minutes
Anna: Okay, I just have to get it out of my system: this scene is hella sexy. And slash-y. I mean seriously. At the beginning of the montage, it’s all about Crockett and his girlfriend, but by the end of the montage, it’s all about Crockett and Tubbs and Castillo (and the pained, angsty looks exchanged between them). But I digress. This scene is also hella sexy because it features Crockett driving his speedboat with no hands, wearing a tank top and smoking a cigarette against the backdrop of an ex-bassist from Genesis emot-i-thon and a rising sun. At least, I think the sun is rising. Which would suggest Crockett’s been doing this all night long…? Or is this just how Crockett gets ready to face the day?
David: This scene proves that you don’t always feel fucking awesome on a boat. Being on a boat can also mean smoking a cigarette and thinking about how caring about people in your personal life is interfering with your work. They say you’ll never be on your death bed wishing you’d worked more, but who among us wouldn’t regret not being on boats more? Crockett wouldn’t.
Going by the position of the sun in the sky, it isn’t easy to tell if Crockett’s driving his boat at dusk, or if he’s been brooding all night. He’s haunted by montages of his smiley new girlfriend Brenda, Tubbs (who’s been beaten up because Crockett slept in with said girlfriend), and a very disappointed Castillo. This last one hits you the hardest. When Crockett’s lying on his deathbed, not regretting how often he’s been on boats, this image of Castillo will probably haunt him.
Anna: Yeah, Crockett’s so devastated about letting Castillo down. It’s like the total collapse of his personal life is nothing compared to looking irresponsible in front of his boss. That scene at the beginning of the montage, where Crockett’s trying to finish his cigarette and just stay cool, but instead has this totally gut-punched expression on his face… dude needs a hug. But I guess anyone who gets stared at by Castillo probably needs a hug.
Question: what percentage of his time do you suppose Crockett spends on boats? I mean, he sleeps on a boat, so it’s gotta be upwards of 50%.
David: That’s a good question. I’d go as high as 70:30. It also seems like he’s in cars (say, on stakeouts) more than in buildings (say, having steak out).
Anna: And when he is in buildings, they usually have a lot of glass bricks, so they’re basically transitional zones.
Season 2, Episode 14: “One Way Ticket”
Song: “Rum Cay” by Jan Hammer
Duration: 3 minutes
David: In this scene, a French Canadian hitman tries to flee the Vice squad by running for a boat like it was filled with tourtiere. One of the first things he does in the course of his getaway is knock over a jetskier, which I’m hoping was intentional to allow the audience to identify with him more. (Also, who knows what mischief he stopped when he capsized that jetski? I’m sure that guy was up to no good. I mean, he’s got a jetski.) His escape is doomed from the beginning; Crockett and Tubbs are pursuing him by car, echoing the car/boat chase in the Vice pilot. If Crockett could snare Tubbs in this scenario, what chance does this guy have? Or you? Or anyone? No, Mr. French Canada’s deer-in-headlights expression is definitely suitable given the unbeatable odds he’s up against. Jetski aside, this boat scene lets me down because the bad guy really has no chance at all.
Anna: This chase also strikes me as a bit sad. It’s a combination of the music and the pacing, and the fact that they’re chasing down Jesus of Montreal (Lothaire Bluteau). Sure, he was a horrible, murdering scuzzbag within the context of this episode, but I can’t help but feel a pang watching these Miami hotshots humiliate that poor French Canadian. Doesn’t seem quite fair. Like you said, the odds are really stacked against him. Four outboard motors or not, nobody beats Crockett in a car vs boat race. While it’s got a good general ambiance, this scene also looses a few points with me for having some sloppy stunt work. That’s definitely not Bluteau in those shots from the back. But I guess you just can’t duplicate than one-of-a-kind French Canadian mullet.
Season 2, Episode 19: “Payback”
Song: “Payback,” by Jan Hammer
Duration: 2 minutes
Anna: I love the sloppiness of the hand-to-hand fight in this scene. I don’t know anything about how you go about filming a scene like this, but it has a surprising (for Vice, anyway) sense of “reality” to it. Crockett’s just so exhausted by the end of the struggle. Like, he’d give anything to get out of that white suit and into some Adidas track pants, and maybe, for once, he wouldn’t even care who sees him. The soundtrack works really well, too, in-time with the money spilling out the back of the boat; it’s actually sort of heartbreaking in a frustration-dream kind of way (you know, like when you’re trying to run the 100 metre dash through four feet of mud).
I’d argue this scene represents one of Crockett’s rare total fuck-ups. Of course, his major mistake was learning to trust portly what’s-his-face DEA guy (against his better, initial judgement that no one with such lousy fashion taste could possibly be any good). But his more immediate mistake was not zipping up that damn duffel bag. This is Crockett’s world: he loses his cool for one second, and look what happens—Frank Zappa puts a bounty on his head.
David: In this episode, Crockett and a DEA agent (who we know isn’t legit because of his lack of “moves” and style) have some scheme to catch a drug dealer played by Frank Zappa. When Crockett goes into the cabin to get a beer and finds the erstwhile missing bag of money Zappa thinks he stole, he hears the DEA agent shoot the boat’s driver. Crockett rushes back up on deck and throws the bag of money, aiming for DEA’s unstylish face. For the next minute, the boat’s speeding across the water, money’s going everywhere, and Crockett and DEA pummel each other. Then you hear a gunshot, and you’re like: “It sure ain’t Crockett that got shot.” But also, you’re all like: “How’s Crockett going to pay back all that money on his $400 a week salary?” I sure wouldn’t want to ask Castillo for a raise.
Anna: Castillo would totally give Crockett a raise, though. Castillo would give Crockett anything he asked for.
David: Tubbs, on the other hand…
Anna: Are you disappointed that future episodes never followed up on the Zappa threat? I mean technically, Crockett’s cover should be blown from here on out.
David: I think it was established in this episode that you can survive perfectly well having a reputation as a crooked cop. In Miami Vice world, criminals don’t seem to care. As long as Crockett knows he’s a good cop, he’ll be alright. (That’s probably something Castillo said to him before.)
Anna: (Castillo voice): “You know the truth. That’s what matters.”
Season 1, Episode 5: “Calderone’s Return, Part II”
Song: “Voices,” by Russ Ballard
Duration: 5 minutes
Anna: I know the internet has long-since ruined the word “epic,” but damn… I feel like on any other show, in any other context, this scene might be terrible. Done the wrong way, it could be obnoxiously gratuitous in all the wrong ways. But here, on Vice, it’s badass and spectacular. I think it’s the simplicity of the shots of the boat that make it work. There’s no quick-cutting to try and manipulate you into feeling excited. Instead, the excitement comes from the composition, the hypnotic rhythm of the crashing waves and the camera that spins around the boat to remind us how small Crockett and Tubbs are, and how big the ocean is. I also adore Crockett and Tubbs’ stoic demeanor. They’re all business in this ridiculously fun setting—the epitome of cool.
David: In the setup to this scene, one of the pencil-pushing nobodies at Miami PD reminds us that Calderone is responsible for the death of Tubbs’ brother. At this point, the most 80’s buzzsaw synth sound ever goes off in Tubbs’ head, which initiates a song called “Voices” by Russ Ballard and a boat scene with montages of Tubbs’ brother being gunned down in New York. It’s like the boat cutting over the waves is how he feels, man. Not one to let Tubbs have his own moment, Crockett gets montage scenes too, in which the police chief takes a bullet for him, and a hitman almost kills his family (which he never visits).
I can’t believe you talked about the rhythm of the waves, but neglected to mention the rhythm of Russ Ballard.
Anna: Oh my god, how did I forget to mention the song?! That sense of excitement I mentioned also comes courtesy of Russ Ballard, and his amazing synths.
Also, in defense of Crockett’s flashback, he was showing some gratuitous midriff in the scene on the yacht where Rodriguez gets shot. One of Miami Vice’s subtler attempts at equal opportunity exploitation.
David: Crockett’s all like: “Look at my torso. It’s doesn’t have any bullet wounds.”
Anna: And that just about wraps things up. Thanks for reading!
–Anna and David
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