In the Heart of the Sea

A recounting of a New England whaling ship’s sinking by a giant whale in 1820, an experience that later inspired the great novel Moby-Dick.

 

Director: Ron Howard

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Benjamin Walker

Rated: PG-13 (intense sequences of action and peril, brief startling violence, and thematic material)

In the Heart of the Sea

By Cole Schneider

Ron Howard (“Apollo 13”) is one remaining member of a shrinking group of directors who have the Hollywood clout as well as the ability and willpower to make a blockbuster spectacle with more on his mind than a mass produced remake or superhero sequel. Howard, along with Ridley Scott (“Blade Runner”, “Gladiator”), Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”, “Inception”), and others have grounded their spectacles with cerebral thought and respect for its audience’s thirst for more. For this, they should be applauded. That doesn’t mean, however, that their work is always great. For every success there’s a “Kingdom of Heaven”, “The Da Vinci Code”, or “The Dark Knight Rises” to remind us that when this kind of film fails, it truly falls flat. What might be fascinating turns dull and what might be thought-provoking turns ponderous.

Unfortunately, “In the Heart of the Sea” leans this direction, though it would be unfair to lump it in with something truly miserable like “The Da Vinci Code”. “In the Heart of the Sea” tells the story of a boy and his accompanying crew and their struggle with a great white whale. It is the story that inspired Herman Melville to pen “Moby Dick”. The film reminds of that often with several flash forwards to a night when Melville was interviewing the boy, now an old drunkard and these persistent flash forwards insist the audience beg the question: “Why didn’t Howard just make a Moby Dick movie?” Indeed everything he’s trying to get across in terms of cinematic engagement and thematic weight is there, but without his sentimental bore. Oh well, we could do worse the week before “Star Wars”

2.5 out of 5 Stars

 

In the Heart of the Sea

By Matt Greene

Heart of the Sea is a mass-produced still-life painting: technically proficient but as flat as the canvas it’s on. Technically, it’s fine; the cinematography is interesting, the actors hit their marks, the sound is on point. But other than a few moments of nice humor and mild sea-faring thrills, the film lacks any spark. It’s like director Howard and co. weren’t that interested in creating an emotional, cerebral or exciting film, but more focused on simply getting the job done.

The story of 19th century whaler Owen Chase (played by an oddly-accented Hemsworth), the influence for the literary classic Moby Dick, is a story worth knowing.  However, the giant scale and obsession inherent in this tale is never fully conveyed, as Howard opts for computers and green screens, in lieu of the actual sea, to tell his story. So instead of a propulsive thriller or even a thoughtful psychological study, we get a generic and forgettable action/adventure, couched in boring characters. And much like the crew of the Essex itself, we are stranded in a seemingly endless sea of lackluster storytelling

It also features some of the worst cinematic framing ever. Instead of just filming  Moby Dick itself or just the story of real-life Owen Chase, they opt for a messy mash-up, constantly cutting away from the Essex’s voyage to a recounting of the story to Melville; like bad narration taken to the nth degree. Even some marginally compelling moments showing the survival instincts of desperate people can’t save this sinking ship. Watch Jaws, All is Lost, or Master and Commander if you want to take a worthwhile trip to the heart of the sea.

2 out of 5 Stars

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