Plot – A recounting of a New England whaling ship’s sinking by a giant whale in 1820, an experience that later inspired the great novel Moby-Dick.
Director – Ron Howard
Released – December 2015
I must admit that it’s only upon the second viewing of In the Heart of the Sea, I fully came to appreciate Ron Howard’s decision to bring the story of how writer Herman Melville (Whishaw) heard the true story of the sinking of the whaling ship The Essex and gained inspiration for his most famous work, Moby Dick.
At first, you might find it strange that Howard chose rather than just remaking Moby Dick he embarked on a production that in many ways is more complicated, involving mutiple time jumps back and forth between the story of The Essex and Melville learning of these events 30 years later, but in a way, it makes for a more exciting and less predictable movie, one filled with stunning cinematography and excellent solo performances.
I’m not going to pretend that this film is an action-packed epic and those looking for a Captain Ahab type character in a one-man battle with a giant whale will likely be disappointed. Here we have a more character-driven story somewhat centred around the power struggle between an inexperienced captain Pollard (Walker) and bitter second in command Chase (Hemsworth), one in which majority of the film is devoted to character development and setup, with the whales not showing up until an hour of the movie had passed. This sometimes worked quite well in the classic creature-feature b-movies of the ’40s & ’50’s such as Godzilla or the Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, which gave the films chance to build up the suspense and drama before the expected disaster occurs, unfortunately, when it comes to In the Heart of the Sea, you can’t help but find this a little boring due to the movies inability to properly create enough tension during the lead up to the ships sinking, while the plot taking itself entirely too seriously for the audience to warm to the characters.
For a film where a large percentage takes place on the open seas, Howard managed to make In the Heart of the Sea visually breathtaking from start to finish, especially the whales who feel almost magical at times, principally the white whale that fights back against the whalers, reminding us of the sea monsters of legend, with the CGI perfectly blended to the point where you’re unable to notice where the practical effects end and the SFX begin. Even the gorier sequences depicting the harvesting of whale parts or when the hunger consumed the crew didn’t feel out of place or unwarranted.
As I mentioned before, some of the main cast do an excellent job to encompass the roles that were given to them, Hemsworth, exudes the charisma you have become accustomed to in the Marvel films and Holland as the young boy who develops from little more than a way in which to introduce you to the world of whaling into an interesting character you want to follow, however, it’s Gleeson and Whishaw who’s performances I found the most compelling and wished both characters were given more time on-screen.
After a second viewing, I can safely say that this isn’t a perfect movie, the pace is slow for a start, some of the characters feel underdeveloped, including that of Captain Pollard. But it did grow on me, contained some lovely visuals and certainly holds the viewer’s attention if you can get past the first hour or so.