You know these moments when there´s a craving inside your belly for the seas, for adventure. You are longing for a big story, big waves, storms and ships sailed by old salts, conquering stormy oceans and winning the hearts of a beautiful lady. This is what happened to me yesterday. Initially I had planned to put a “click” onto “Master and Commander”, one of my all-time favourite classy movies, but the amazon algorithm was putting on an ad for “In the Heart of the Sea” underneath Russel Crowe´s beloved face and that got me interested.
As I learned from the trailer, this movie was made in 2015 by Ron Howard, one of the big names in Hollywood director who made such gems as “A beautiful mind” (there he is again, Russel!) or “Cocoon” and “Apollo 13” to name a few. As the main character was played by “Thor” Chris Hemsworth and the general Plot kind of derived from Melville´s epic classic “Moby Dick” I preferred to watch this one instead of the adventures of H.M.S. SURPRISE. Well, in the end, I do have rather mixed feelings. Kind of the same I did have after watching “Solo – A Star Wars Story”, also made by Howard.
Believable Plot – unbelievable Effect
First of all, the plot indeed is a nice and fresh approach to “Moby Dick”. In fact, I found it really appalling and gripping. It is told through the eyes of an old, grumpy Thomas Nickerson who we learn is the last living survivor of a whaling ship called ESSEX. This ship was lost – officially – due to a grounding event and so Thomas Nickerson, devoting himself to Whiskey and depression, was met by Herman Melville. Yes, the Herman Melville, who, as a young writer, is looking for the story of his life. We all know that this would later become “Moby Dick”.
The movie switches between Herman, old Thomas and the fateful years around 1820 – 30 years earlier – where me meet Mr. Owen Chase, First Mate and of lower birth, and the new Captain of the freshly refitted whaling ship ESSEX, Mr. George Pollard. The latter is the newest of one of Nantucket´s noble seafaring families and although totally inexperienced is appointed Captain. The ground has been laid for an interesting conflict between those two. And Pollard does the best he can to insult and upset the disappointed by well-respected and much experienced Mr. Chase, played by Chris Hemsworth.
As the story develops, due to bad seamanship by Captain´s order, the ESSEX is badly damaged in a storm. Instead of lumping back home – empty – both work together to fill her loads with whale oil and be able to part as rich men. In this, after some whales have been hunted down and extracted for oil, the meet the mighty White Whale. What I found unfortunate was the excessive use of – sorry to say that – cheaply looking greenscreen and animation effect. All the city-scapes, the ocean, the whale and the whole surrounding looked … well, kind of cheap.
Barely gripping, mostly entertaining
And that is the problem that I have with this movie. First of all, the choice for Chris Hemsworth as main character is a bit odd. He is a great actor, indeed, but for this role too “nice” looking and too perfectly shaped. He stands out of the rest of the cast, which, by the way, was believable and for the most part played by good actors. Secondly, the dramatization of the motivation of each character, be it the First Mate himself, a father in-being, leaving at home a pregnant wife (also, too beautiful), disappointed for not being the Captain, was too short. The pressure on the other hand that was exerted on his counterpart by the family tradition and the “good name” of his father, in my view, left open so many questions and could have been staged and written much better.
In this, the story does not really “take off”. There is no real emotional connection between the audience and the characters. When ESSEX finally lifts her anchors, there is hardly any excitement or joy felt by the audience. Very much the exact opposite of what happens in “Master and Commander”, where the emotional motivations of the main characters are masterly laid out and the audience feels the excitement of setting out to sea.
As the overall looks of the film are very artificial – I was always reminded of this awful Star Wars Episode 2 green screen overkill. This fact together with the not-so-believable acting is very sad as the movie does not live up to the otherwise pretty awesome plot-idea. To tell a “Moby Dick”-like story and make it the “making of” “Moby Dick” is a great twist and idea. Nevertheless, I never felt touched, not even during the heart wrenching scenes when the crew of the ESSEX finally leaves their ship and strands on a deserted island, setting off to the seas again in small rowing boats just to die one after another. It´s just no emotional connection there …
A quite reasonably (Happy) End
Well, but it is not all bad at all. I found “In the Heart of the Sea” fairly entertaining and not too bad at all. It was quite a nice evening at the screen and especially the ending of the film was – unlike the rest – very well written and played. The last 15 to 20 minutes are a kind of compensation for the first one hour 20 minutes. All strings of the story find their Happy End, Mr. Chase (Chris Hemsworth) finally gets his own small merchant ship, Mr. Pollard frees himself from the shackles of his aristocratic family and does the right thing.
Herman Melville and old Thomas Nickerson end this movie with an emotional parting: That was a very nice sidekick and well played. As the times of the whaling industry are on the verge of a sudden end, he says: “I heard a rumor they´d found oil in the Mid-West. Oil! In the ground! Could you believe that?” Such a great, deep thought ending, clever and thought provoking, I wouldn´t have expected in a movie like this. A good, conciliatory ending. “In the Heart of the Sea” can never reach the quality of “Master and Commander”, it´s a reasonably made, quite well played movie that could have been much, much more, but is as well not a waste of time.
My overall assessment of “In the Heart of the Sea” is 5 out of 10 points
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