Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea is a Hollywoodized, semi-true story of the true story that inspired Herman Melville’s classic whaling book, Moby Dick.
Let’s start with what really happened. In 1820, the whaling ship Essex was whaling when an 85-foot sperm whale attacked and sunk the ship. The stunned sailors were stuck a thousand miles from land with few supplies.
That led to serious troubles, and eventually cannibalism.
Howard’s film has Chris Hemsworth (Thor) as the movie’s main character. He is the ship’s first mate Owen Chase, who butts heads with the ship’s rookie captain George Pollard, played by Benjamin Walker. You know him as Abraham Lincoln in the dreadful Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
The film starts with Ben Whishaw’s Melville paying Brendan Gleeson’s Tom Nickerson for his story so he can write his book. As a young boy, Nickerson served on the ship and was one of its survivors.
That’s not exactly how it happened, but it’s close enough.
While Melville’s book has deep and probably important themes like revenge, loyalty and defiance, they have never really been successfully translated in movies. Like all classic stories, the tale has been told a bunch of times, including by cartoon stalwarts Woody Woodpecker, Rocky and Bullwinkle and Tom and Jerry.
None have really rocked my world, but neither did Melville’s book and neither does this movie, or any Moby Dick movie. But that may not be a fair assessment, since Moby Dick was required reading in high school English classes when I was more akin to skipping classes, avoiding homework and reading anything — especially the classics.
It was also then that we were required to see John Huston’s famous, Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab version. More yawns.
What separates Howard’s version from Huston’s and the animated fare, is a different story and impressive special effects. I caught this in 3-D, and sometimes it was stunning, but at other times, it almost gets in the way.
Effects aside, it’s still basically Moby Dick, and in 2015, it’s about the politically incorrect business of hunting and killing whales. Even with strong hints from one of the characters that maybe it’s wrong, the movie doesn’t really resonate.
There is one positive: It might do what other versions haven’t and introduce Melville’s story to today’s youth.
In the Heart of the Sea
Director: Ron Howard
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Brenden Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Tom Holland
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, some violence. It’s playing at Regal’s Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
Mr. Movie rating: 2 1/2 stars
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen.
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don’t bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.