In the Heart of the Sea – 3 out of 5
The book Moby-Dick is pretty much required reading for most high school kids since the day it was declared it was a cherished piece of American literature. It’s been adapted into quite a few different productions over the years (including a puppet version by a friend of mine here in Milwaukee and one of Mastodon’s best concept albums) but we haven’t really seen a film version of the real events that inspired the story of the great white whale. Director Ron Howard decided to bring those events to life In the Heart of the Sea.
|That's basically how whales give "the finger."|
Based on the non-fiction novel of the same name, In the Heart of the Sea begins in the 1850s where author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) wishes to pay retired whaler Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) handsomely in order to hear the story of the last voyage of the whaling vessel the Essex. Reluctantly, he agrees and talks about when he was younger (and was portrayed by Tom Holland) in the early 1800s and was living in Nantucket. The ship would be commanded by George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and have the veteran Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) as the first mate. Hopes were high when the trip began but they soon found themselves sailing without a single lick of luck and unable to find the whales they so desperately need. Then, while docked near Ecuador, they are told of large pods of whales nearby but are warned of a vengeful white whale that stalks the waters. Ignoring the warning, the Essex sails to find the pod and quickly find out the rumors of the killer giant whale are true and they soon feel the monster’s rage!
|The hero that the other whales deserve.|
The strongest aspect ItHotS has working in its favor in the fact that the film is visually stunning. The visuals throughout the film, including some really great B-roll shot intercut into the action, look incredible. The striking use of color and shadow really makes everything pop and makes the action come to life. Additionally, the sets and costumes all look fantastic and it equates to a trip that easily sucked me into the story and believe that I was witnessing the era. Also, the special effects are awesome and the work they do to bring the great whale to life is spectacular. Finally, the film has some incredibly well put together action sequences that are endlessly exciting.
The film also contains a terrific cast that, aside from the likes of Hemsworth, Gleeson and Whishaw, also contains such talent as Frank Dillane (Fear the Walking Dead), Cillian Murphy and many more. Everyone is doing a great job and, it seems, that this film has all it needs to be a great film. Everything but one thing: A working story.
|"This tale will make a great book. It just needs an equally great title. How about...hmmm...|
The Dickhead Whale Who Needs to Die? Yeah, that'll work."
The story isn’t necessarily bad because the plight of the Essex is a very dramatic and interesting one. The lows the crew suffers over not getting any whales, to the battle against the great white whale that left them stranded at sea and all the way to the moment they have their last stand against the beast is exciting, dramatic and enthralling but the real issue comes with how the characters are handled within the tale. The crew of the Essex is big and even the actors in the background are doing a great job but most of the characters aren’t given enough screen time or, even worse, treated to lazy development.
|"The doomed expedition was worth it though for this pure whale piss!"|
There are times in the story where a character that isn’t played by Chris Hemsworth is given their moment to shine for plot purposes and these times often felt empty and lacked impact. Most of the characters in the film are introduced quickly and given a line or two (or, if they are lucky, a single scene) to establish who they are and what drives them. Often, this character is pushed into the background for so long that, by the time their moment comes for them to do their thang, I found myself feeling nothing for what they were doing or the situation they were in. For example, one member of the crew dies in what should be a very heavy and tear-jerkin’ way but because this character has such a tiny presence in the story this demise felt like a weak attempt at creating drama rather than a terrible but momentous point in the tale used to illicit a real response from the viewer.
|Even dying of starvation and dehydration, Hemsworth is more handsome than|
I'll ever be.
In all honesty, this was the one thing that really dragged the whole thing down for me with In the Heart of the Sea. Sure, there are some moments where the green screen compositing looked off and it made some scenes look really fake and shaky but, for the most part, the hardest part to deal with was how poorly handled the characters were used. That being said, I still found the film very entertaining and loved just how beautiful the entire thing looked. From a story and character perspective, the film is in the middle-of-the-road and passable arena but, visually, the film is beyond amazing. Had the story matched Ron Howard’s use of color, lighting, camera work and kept pace with the visuals this film never stops hurling at you, this would have been an absolutely stellar film…but, as it is, it’s still not bad.