By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
First published in 1851, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick would go on to make a huge impact on English Literature. Not only would the novel find its critical acclaim, but it would make its way on the required reading lists for high school and college-level literature classes. Melville’s story has also been adapted for cinema twice and has a greater share of television productions as well. Ron Howard’s latest film, In the Heart of the Sea is not so much an adaptation of the Moby Dick novel, but is based on the true events which inspired Melville’s work of fiction. The film offers a fascinating look at the story and real-life characters who inspired the literature classic and also makes for thrilling entertainment.
In 1820, American whaling ship, The Essex, embarked on a lengthy mission to hunt and kill whales for their natural source of fuel. Led by Captain George Pollard, Jr. (Benjamin Walker) and First Mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) the mission comes to a catastrophic end when the ship and crew are attacked by a massive bull sperm whale. Several years later the facts behind this tragedy intrigue young author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) who pursues an interview with ex-cabin boy Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) who may be the only surviving member of the Essex crew.
Based on the non-fiction book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick, Howard’s latest film offers a genuinely intriguing and exciting time at the cinema. With an adapted screenplay by Charles Leavitt, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver, Ron Howard delivers nautical machismo galore, but also doesn’t shy away from critiquing the folly of the characters which gets them in this seriously treacherous predicament. The writers develop the characters well, offering an insightful portrait of their personalities and flaws.
With lovely cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle, the film does have a gorgeous look, but this suffers when the special effects don’t always hold up. The use of green screen and CGI is often all too obvious and this really took me out of several moments. At the screening I attended, the film was presented in 3D, so this may be responsible for making the use of effects stand out. Regardless of this problem, the 3D presentation adds little to the presentation and actually takes away from the beautiful camera work by Mantle.
Despite the flaws of the effects and the 3D presentation, the film’s story and characters still kept me engaged and invested in their fate. The writing and the exceptional cast are to thank for this. In addition to Hemsworth, Whishaw, and Gleeson, the film features superb work by Cillian Murphy, Michelle Fairley, Tom Holland, Paul Anderson, Frank Dillane, Charlotte Riley, and several others.
Fans of Moby Dick or period nautical movies should most definitely see this movie. Even casually interested movie goers should check it out because this film tells a truly fascinating story and offers exciting entertainment. For the most part, the film doesn’t break any cinematic ground or change the way we look at nautical movies, but it does add a little meat to the Moby Dick mythos. I feel it is worth the expense of a full-priced ticket.