In the Heart of the Sea, based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s non-fiction book documenting the events that inspired Moby-Dick, totally needed more big fish-on-man action. What we end up with is a rather sentimental shipwreck movie with one very aggressive, but elusive, sperm whale.
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Chris Hemsworth is mighty and heroic with the ocean air whipping through his blond locks. Tom Holland, as the ship’s youngest crew mate, looks frightened most of the time; nothing here indicates whether or not he shall make a good Spider-Man/Peter Parker. Ben Whishaw (Q from the 007 movies) plays Herman Melville himself, who is interviewing a survivor of the ill-fated Essex, the ship upon which the notorious events took place. (The main story is told in flashback.) Cillian Murphy is…
I just can’t seem to muster the energy to write more about the cast.
The real stars here seem to be the ropes that makes up the ship’s elaborate rigging, raising and lowering its massive flapping sails. There are also tons of loving shots of taut cord stretching up into the sunlight and violently unspooling when taken out by a harpooned whale.
Second place goes to the whale, Moby-Dick himself. (Or herself.) (Well, he’s not exactly Moby-Dick here yet, but simply a sperm whale with a bad skin condition and a serious hard-on for killing humans. Melville will eventually name the leviathan but… Oh screw, you know what I mean.)
We don’t get much actual screen time of the whale, just mostly frames of a large dark gray mass moving in the water. Occasionally there’s a fin or an eyeball, and a few scenes of tail, but all the beast’s imposing majesty is portrayed via the cast’s frightened faces or Roque Banos’s loud, foreboding music score. For once, we aren’t barraged with enough blockbuster CGI creature porn. One can probably see better whale footage everyday on their Facebook feed. (And viewing this film in 3-D is not worth it. If anything, there’s just a lot of splashing sea water coming at you.)
There’s a great moment straight out of Melville’s novel (and probably Philbrick’s book as well) that shows us the nasty, penetrative method for collecting whale oil. And as for the scenes involving cannibalism after the sailors abandon the Essex, for better or worse, we don’t exactly see anyone chowing down on…anyone; it’s basically Life of Pi minus the tiger.
Ron Howard‘s direction has a curious lack of epic-ness but, as his wont, a heavy hand is used with meaningful glances and characters taking forever while saying farewell to one another. The one subtlety Howard employs is a certain restraint regarding the contemporary condemnation on the slaughter of whales. There is an appropriate mournfulness to the killing sequence that should shame the Japanese as well as Sea World supporters. But on its own merits, In the Heart of the Sea isn’t much of a movie without its literary origins. Melville fans are probably better off tackling their favorite fishing tale again.
In the Heart of the Sea is now playing in theaters everywhere.