Don’t know Dick
There have been a lot of Moby Dick adaptations over the years, the best one being the bizarre John Huston version with Gregory Peck going bonkers as Ahab. There just isn’t enough room in this world for another take on the Herman Melville classic right now.
Strange, then, that somebody with a lot of money thought there was room in this world for a movie about the actual events the classic novel was based on.
In the Heart of the Sea tells the story of the Essex, a whaling ship out of Nantucket, Massachusetts, that was sunk by a whale in 1820. The alleged culprit of the sinking was a sperm whale (like Moby), and the ship sinking resulted in many days out at sea on lifeboats for the remaining crew, and eventual cannibalism.
Chris Hemsworth plays Owen Chase, first mate of the Essex. The crew includes Tom Holland as Thomas Nickerson (Thor and Spider-Man!), Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow!) as the resident recovering alcoholic, and Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln!) as Captain Pollard, all people who actually existed. The story portrayed in the film goes way off the real-life script.
As Ron Howard’s film will have it, the whale that did the sinking pulls a sort of Jaws: The Revenge and follows the survivors as they float aimlessly in the sea, eating crackers and growing beards. Chase, who published his own true account of the tragedy back in 1821, goes a little crazy in this movie, believing a sperm whale—spotted with white blotches—is out to get him.
That never happened, of course. Yes, a whale sank the ship and, yes, some crewmembers became lunch. No, the whale didn’t follow the survivors and taunt them. It busted up the Essex and then disappeared into the sea for some plankton and leisurely swimming.
That’s too boring, so the second half of the movie involves starving men trying to evade a vengeful whale. A whale movie hasn’t been this stupid since Richard Harris pissed off a killer whale in Orca.
By the way, me referencing Jaws: The Revenge and Orca is not a good thing. It’s actually a very bad, bad thing, and doesn’t bode well for this picture.
The film has the odd framing device of Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) interviewing an older Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), who tells the story of the Essex as if it had never been told previously. Surely, the story had gotten out long before, as noted above with Chase’s published account. So the whole revelatory framing device rings false.
Stupid and nonsensical (re: whales with vendettas) can be forgiven in an action movie as long as the effects are up to snuff. Such is not the case with Sea, which betrays the fact that its CGI sucks within the first few minutes of the movie.
The whale that eventually attacks the Essex is not a convincing entity. It looks like Hemsworth is battling the product of many artists who just couldn’t get things quite right. The blend of live and animated performers is awful, as are the 3-D effects—if you should be so unfortunate as to have laid out the extra dollars for 3-D.
Hemsworth fares better than he did in the awful Blackhat released earlier this year, but I have no idea what accent he’s trying to use. I think it’s a Massachusetts accent? Or Hungarian? Or Klingon?
Holland, a fine actor who was excellent in The Impossible, is tasked with looking scared and hungry, which he does admirably. He essentially has the Jamie Bell role from King Kong, that of the young “golly gosh” novice who has gotten himself into a harrowing nautical situation. It makes sense. They look very much alike.
Howard has made a lot of movies, and this one rests somewhere near the bottom of the pile with The Dilemma and The Da Vinci Code. Regrettably, his next effort will be a second sequel to Code, dimming his chances of rebounding from this waterlogged dreck.