In The Heart Of The Sea
Sometimes even the most famous pieces of fiction can have their foundations in historical facts. It is reasonable that most people are aware of the literary classic, ‘Moby Dick; written in 1852 by Herman Melville. Even over 160 years it remains the quintessential story of revenge and obsession. Although it is not commonly discussed as completely at it warrants Melville did incorporate an infamous account of an exceptionally large sperm whale that utterly destroyed the Nantucket whaler, Essex, on November 20, 1820 leaving only seven rescued out of a ship’s compliment of 20. The prolonged time before being rescued led to desperate measures including acts of cannibalism; an aspect of the story not often including in its telling. Among the few that returned to New England were the First Mate, Owen Chase and cabin boy Thomas Nickerson. Each of them separately published their accounts of the tragedy which Melville used as inspiration and source material for Moby Dick. For sheer realism ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ provides a visceral experience that surpasses previous treatments of Melville’s novel. This sensation of immediacy places the audience on the deck of a Nantucket whaler far surpassing previous treatments of Melville’s account of the story. This greatly heightened by Ron Howard’s expert use of 3-D. For the most part it is seamlessly included as part of his storytelling process was battling to save the ship from a squall or rushing into the hunting boats to excitedly pursue their prey. While I suppose that lengthy stretches crew going about your chores is realistic it does make it difficult for even direct as accomplished as Mr. Howard to properly maintain a level of excitement the audience. As it is with many enterprises whaling system weeks if not months of trying to keep busy followed by the frantic activity in a whale is found. Despite everything Mr. Howard does he falls short of driving this film to reach its full potential.
The film opened in 1852 when a very determined young author, Herman Melville and (Ben Whishaw) seeks entrance to an inn despite it being closed. The end is owned by Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) when his youth served as a cabin boy on the doomed last voyage of the whaling ship Essex. Note that has got together all the money has an office in exchange for one evening with Mr. Nickerson detailing everything he can remember about the tragic voyage. It was well known that the ethics had been sunk by an albino sperm whale bull of extraordinary portions. At first Nickerson declines ordering Melville out but his wife (Michelle Fairley) reminds her husband that they are in dire need of the cash so reluctantly he wants to talk to the author. As Mrs. Nickerson venturesome risking for the men husband begins his account.
Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) was an ambitious man determined to have his own captaincy of a whaler. His wife Peggy (Charlotte Riley) is reticent to see him go having just learned that she is pregnant. The owner of the ships I promised to make him captain, a rank he has dreamt of the most of his life. Unlike most of the seamen of New England Chase is not born of a seafaring family, his lineage were men that work the land as farmers, circumstances that would have him filled in derision all involved in the dangerous enterprise. Much to his shock when he gets to sign on for the voyage was bluntly told that he will be first mate and the captaincy would go to George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) a man who is never commanded a whaling ship before but came from one of Nantucket’s founding families and a major financial battle for the voyage. Chase is naturally upset that he would have to serve under such a novice especially since he wears on his lapel a pair of miniature harpoons call from the bones of whales that he killed. When the two men finally meet there is immediate animosity between the two despite Pollard’s statement that he will welcome advice from his first officer.
There’s an incredible level of excitement captured on film as the Essex and its crew into the Atlantic. It is undeniable that Ron Howard is one of the great directors of his generation having one two Academy Awards for Best Director. It takes a very specific skill set for a filmmaker to transition to incorporating the illusion of depth into his method of telling a story. To his credit Mr. Howard does remarkably well in this his first foray into this renewed technology. Through the use of some imaginative camera angles as to how it does maintain a high level of excitement during the action sequences. During the more mundane shots uses the 3-D technique to heighten the natural feel of the film creating a degree of intimacy with the audience. The first major action sequence is when a sizable storm is sighted, Chase strongly urges the captain to steer clear in order to out run the violent rather Pollard is determined to test the mettle the crew. The result was some structural damage to the ship and the loss of a whaleboat. The greatest scene was framed what the audience onto the heaving deck with 3-D was able to actively depict how dangerous a boom can be been moving freely in a storm. There were some unavoidable use of the Hackney cylindrical object thrust outside the plane of the film but that was restricted to a realistic part of the environment such as harpoon shafts, beams and rope.
Captain’s goal was to bring back 2000 barrels of whale oil but as they sailed around the Cape of Good Hope there one encounter with the whale place less than 50 barrels in the hold. Stopping for provisions they meet a Spanish captain who tells them of a hunting ground some 2000 miles west, deep into the Pacific. He has never seen so many rounds in one spot but before they could harvest any they were attacked by the giant white whale. Undaunted by the warning Pollard orders the crew to the particularly rich area of the ocean another variation from the traditional telling of Moby Dick is that the initial encounter with the white whale is brief and extremely violent. As with the previous encounter between the ship crew and their victim how it does managed to let the sheer magnificence of these animals come through. Unfortunately at that time the oil boiled down from their blubber was the primary source of fuel for lamps that illuminated homes and the streets. From the viewpoint of the whalers they were engaged in an honorable and necessary profession, bringing light to the world of course from our more enlightened perspective the film does show the abject horror and cruelty of harvesting these magnificent creatures. After the Essex is destroyed by the whale surviving crewmembers of force to take three of the whaleboats and travel hundreds of miles with exceptionally limited provisions. Keeping true to the historical account the film does depict how the situation became so desperate that they were forced to cannibalize the dead. This is something that Nickerson is kept buried in the dark recesses of his mind all these years unable to admit this participation in one of the most extreme taboos of humanity.
In the traditional story the conflict is generated by man versus a vastly overpowering nature. This theme diluted considerably by the conflict between Captain first mate, a familiar situation for people no matter what profession they may pursue. Of course this is a necessity must be kept in mind that this is not the same story is Moby Dick. It is the historical account that inspired Melville to write his most famous novel. The performances are exceptional particularly in depicting the strained relationship between Captain and first mate as portrayed by Benjamin Walker and Chris Hemsworth respectively. It does however diminish the anticipated main thread futility of man challenging the might of nature. Again this is not the fault of anyone in the production but rather the understandable anticipation of the audience and expecting another interpretation of a well-known story. Interpersonal conflict opens the floodgates for too many extraneous plot points such as the perennial battle between the privilege classes, as represented by Pollard and the workingman see through the eyes of Chase. Despite Pollard being dangerously ignorant of commending a vessel in these conditions, nepotism won out over the safety of the men. Although valid and historically accurate it muddies the central theme considerably.