In the Heart of the Sea
Directed by Ron Howard
Written by Charles Leavitt, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Ben Wishaw, Brendan Gleeson
“In the Heart of the Sea” is based on the sinking of the Whaleship Essex, based Nathaniel Philbrick’s book “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex,” the incident is notable for providing inspiration for Herman Melville’s novel “Moby-Dick.”
The “Moby-Dick” association of the story is the film’s greatest weakness because it seemed that Ron Howard wanted to make “Moby-Dick” rather than make “In the Heart of the Sea.” Howard does this wired “Jaws: The Revenge” thing where the whale follows the survivors of the Essex throughout their journey, which turns the whale into the antagonist of a narrative that does not need one. “In the Heart of the Sea” is not about the hunting of a whale, it is the story of survival, and if you wanted to dive deep (pardon the pun) into the story thematically, it is the story of man vs. nature. Sailors are superstitious and give weight to omens both good and bad, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” for example, explores this idea. In the Essex incident, the whale rams the ship, not once, but twice, a phenomenon that would have had the survivors questioning why them during their three months adrift at sea. While, “In the Heart of the Sea” does contain elements of this man vs. nature theme, it is not as fully developed as it should have been.
“In the Heart of the Sea” is a beautiful looking movie. There are shots in the film that have the look of a 19th-century oil paintings, and these shots are beautiful. The CGI on the whales and the whale attack scenes is well-done; however, the whaling scenes had that obviously shot on a green screen look to them. It is strange case of how can CGI in one movie be simultaneously great and dreadful. You would assume that it would be wholly one or the other, not both.
There are some things that bug me about the movie but are not criticisms. One of them being that Melville wrote “Moby-Dick” after reading Owen Chase’s account of the incident “Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex,” not through interviewing Thomas Nickerson. Nickerson would not even write his account until after the publication of “Moby-Dick,” and his account would remain unpublished until 1984. The other is the last scene between Chris Hemsworth and the whale. Without spoiling it, when Hemsworth raises the harpoon he should have said “To the last, I grapple with thee; From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee; For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.” That would have been an awesome allusion to “Moby-Dick,” it does not necessarily have to change the way the scene is played out, but he should have said it.
“In the Heart of the Sea” is a little too much “Moby-Dick,” and too little true story of the whaleship Essex. Ron Howard should have just made “Moby-Dick,” it has been a while since someone made a film of the book. The most recent versions I know of were television miniseries, but the last film version was done in the 1950’s. Remaking “Moby-Dick” would be fine because it is like Jane Austen or Shakespeare, if it has not been done in a while, then you can do it again.