“Based on the incredible true story that inspired Moby-Dick” There are many ways to take that sentence. Perhaps it indicates that this film much like Moby-Dick will be an epic for the ages. Or is it challenging Melville and arguing that given the same stimuli, the filmmakers could do better? Perchance it is simply the studio freaking out about releasing a movie that doesn’t have name recognition or a tie into the wider Marvel universe.
Personally I saw it as director Ron Howard challenging himself, sure why use one of the great American novels that already has dramatic arcs, compelling characters and deep underlying themes when you could use the un-honed inspiration behind it? Unfortunately as I got further into the film, Howard looked less like a professional upping the challenge by stacking the deck against himself and more like a mad old bastard trying to play solitaire with Uno cards.
I am neither a coroner nor a sewage worker; frankly I am not used to having this mess all over the place. So to make it tidier I have divided the problems into three key areas.
Script and Pacing –
There is a framing device in which Herman Melville seeks out the ex-cabin-boy (now old, alcoholic and Brendan Gleeson) of the whaling ship the Essex. Rather than giving historical context, this just constantly reminds us that there was a better story to come out of the sinking of the Essex. This conversation between Melville and the cabin-boy also constantly interrupts the main plot eating up minutes of both the films bloated run-time and ultimately the audience’s life.
So once we get past the self-congratulatory masturbation of having Melville in the film, we go back in time to find a salt of the earth, brilliant sailor (Hemsworth) who was promised a promotion but instead is relegated to be the first mate of an inept snob. This plays out so obviously that I thought it must have been essential to the plot later in the film, but instead it was there to make the captain an early antagonist (a fool’s errand considering a giant whale is soon going to take on that particular role). Digging into this further, the two had actually served together on successful previous journeys. So there you have it folks, historical revisionism to enable lazy screenwriting.
Not one actor gives a performance that would be described as anything better than “serviceable”. We spend almost the entire film with the same core five actors, the film really needed them to nail it and they didn’t.
The weirdest thing however was Hemsworth’s accent, between scenes it swapped seemingly at random between affected American accent and his natural Aussie one.
Early shots that have 1820’s Nantucket are shot at such a weird angle that they gave the illusion of tilt shift photography, completely breaking my immersion. Later shots also broke my suspension of disbelief with poor use of CGI that looked sloppy as hell. It is 2015 and you have a one hundred million dollar budget, animating a fuck-off big white whale shouldn’t be hard.
While watching (enduring) In the Heart of the Sea, I came up with the following 12 questions. For the sake of expediency, I have removed all questions in the vein of “When is this shit going to end”
1) In an age when television dramas are presenting complex characters, is it ok for a movie to give us leads who can be described in two words each (competent/peasant; incompetent/aristocrat)
2) Would I rather be watching Master and Commander?
3) Will I ever be able to see Chris Hemsworth as anything other than Thor.
4) How many days until Christmas?
A: Look it up yourself you lazy bastard, it’s the same date every year.
5) If this were a proper publication, would I fill my review with puns such as “Much like The Essex, In the Heart of the Sea takes on water and moves slowly” or “you won’t have a whale of a time”?
A: Perhaps, but this isn’t a proper publication instead I use vulgar language and tortured puns to make my point.
6) Since he (arguably) hasn’t directed a good film since A Beautiful Mind, should Ron Howard retire from directing to produce more Arrested Development?
7) Is it sad that one of the few 2015 blockbuster movies that isn’t a franchise, reboot or sequel is terrible.
8) Do I feel sorry for actors who lost heaps of weight for a movie that will ultimately end up on boring people’s Netflix queue?
A: No, I think it’s funny as anything.
9) There were a lot of elderly people in the cinema; it is possible that for some this will be the last movie they ever see?
A: Yes and that is sad.
10) Is it possible that one of them died in the Cinema?
A: It’s possible, it was a long film and the one on the walker looked particularly decrepit
.11) How many times has my friend checked his watch so far?
12) Would I recommend this movie to anyone?