In the Heart of the Sea

 photo in_the_heart_of_the_sea_ver4_zpsnlbtbdyq.jpg photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgIn the Heart of the Sea is a solemn drama of outmoded style. It concerns the adventure that inspired Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby-Dick. Our 19th century sea faring tale begins with the American novelist (Ben Whishaw) visiting old Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson). Thomas was once a cabin boy and is the sole living survivor left from the doomed final voyage of the whaleship Essex. Herman has to bribe him to tell the unvarnished truth so he can commit Thomas’ words to the printed page. We then flashback to the events of his yarn. Why we needed this framing device is a mystery. It’s a construct that seemingly serves no purpose other than to derail the picture at inopportune moments. Every time something exciting starts to happen the narrative abruptly stops in its tracks to remind us we’re still listening to a story. I suppose observing two people talk in a dark room is slightly more interesting than watching someone silently write a book. However it’s less exciting than seeing people fight a whale attacking a ship. I figured a director as talented as Ron Howard would have understood this by now, but apparently not.

The proper tale takes place when the Essex leaves Nantucket, Massachusetts in 1819. The chronicle centers around Chris Hemsworth as dashing Owen Chase, the first mate, and Benjamin Walker as the more genteel Captain George Pollard, Jr. The aristocratic Pollard has a family lineage that accords him the position, as opposed to the more qualified Chase, who has the experience. Chase’s lower social status has unfortunately precluded him from commanding a ship yet again. The stacked set-up is a cliché. Nevertheless, their combative relationship is a fairly compelling plot point. Early in their voyage, Pollard tests his crew by ordering them to deliberately sail into a dangerous squall. This is amidst the protestations of Chase. The decision almost capsizes the ship, but somehow Pollard finds a way to hold Chase accountable for the debacle anyway.

I was quite enjoying the acrimonious affiliation between the Captain and his first mate . It sort of reminded me of Capt. Bligh and Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty, although I admit I am being very charitable when I say that. But then the whale shows up and the focus shifts to CGI spectacles. The whaling scenes pitting man against beast are jampacked but strangely, not thrilling. The action is undone by choppy editing that obscures what is happening exactly. The presentation has a colorful 2D aesthetic but it gives the visual spectacle a simulated muddy quality that lessens the excitement. As a result we’re less invested in their plight.

In the Heart of the Sea is constructed as an old fashioned epic that is anything but. Lots of details about the whaling industry are present. Few scenes stand out, but one features cabin boy Thomas (the narrator of our story, played as a youth by Tom Holland) entering a narrow hole cut into a dead whale’s head, to extract the supply of sperm oil inside. During the 2nd half, when the gang gets shipwrecked, so does the plot. Chase and Pollard promptly make amends and lose the personality that made their antagonistic relationship engaging. Watching the crew, which includes second officer Matthew Joy (Cillian Murphy), just waste away,  is pretty tedious. They do what they must in order to survive. This includes behavior that should be disturbing, but the environment is so dignified, it barely registers. Honestly, you could say the same thing about the entire film. It’s not awful, but it is awfully forgettable.

12-09-15

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19 Responses to “In the Heart of the Sea”

  1. I’m going to see this at a preview on Tuesday – thanks for the warning!

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  2. A Tale of Two Dans Says:

    A stale whale tale

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  3. Ah, I’m so disappointed by your review. Normally, I’d skip this, but my boyfriend is dying to see it. Blah.

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  4. smilingldsgirl Says:

    I really didn’t like it either. In fact, I think you were a little nicer than I was. I didn’t even think the visuals looked very good. The acting was fine.

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  5. As soon as Hollywood Howard’s name is mentioned. I jump ship. I’m not a fan at all.

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  6. I thought I was gonna like this. A huge scene of a whale in the beautiful water. I was in. Too bad the movie wasn’t good. Epic fail. 2 stars

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  7. I also wondered why In the Heart of the Sea needed that framing device. I agree that it’s disruptive to the picture. The dynamic between Pollard and Chase in the film is engaging, but unfortunately it doesn’t really remain the movie’s focus. Whaling scenes were the only thing in the movie bordering on exciting for me, however the editing is choppy and everything looks muddy like you point out. You sum up the biggest problem with the latter part of the picture perfectly when you say, “They do what they must in order to survive. This includes behavior that should be disturbing, but the environment is so dignified, it barely registers.” Well said. I wasn’t disturbed for a moment.

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