Title: In the Heart of the Sea
Release Date: November 11th
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Ron Howard
Release Format: Theatrical
In the Heart of the Sea is a film that tries to be both grand in scale and offer small emotional moments, but sadly fails on both of these aspects. Using the ocean is nothing new for Hollywood as the sheer mystery and expanse of the sea offers far more questions than answers. Director Ron Howard seeks to capture this mystery and terror with his telling of the legend of Moby Dick. Though this has an admittedly clever way it ties in Herman Melville’s novel, this story is very much meant to be considered a reality. Sadly the movie falls shorts on too many aspects, making this epic come off as just a disappointing slog.
For those of you who may not have read Moby Dick in high school, we follow first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), Captain Benjamin Walker (George Pollard), and the rest of their whaling crew as they seek to survive an encounter with a massive whale. The overall concept for the plot is actually interesting as they stumble upon this monstrous whale by accident, lending a bit more reality to the situation. It’s easier to believe that a ship hunting in a highly populated area of whales could feasibly stumble upon a horror like this, which helps sell the urgent danger (and arrogance) of our crew. There is a clear running theme throughout this film about how man is dwarfed by nature in almost every aspect, but it seems to only be mentioned in the early half of the movie. Truthfully this film feels as if it had entire chunks missing throughout, as the pacing for In the Heart of the Sea is incredibly mismatched. The beginning starts off strong, but once we have our faithful encounter with Moby Dick it nose dives. If you were hoping for epic battles between man and whale prepare to be disappointed, as the beast shows up for maybe twenty minutes tops in the entire movie. This is where I feel parts are missing because once they are stranded you just get to watch them wither away for forty minutes. While it is important to the story, the film doesn’t break this up with any other amount of drama. Sadly, it gets incredibly boring to watch.
Now let me be clear, I am not against the lack of showing the whale more. In fact, I believe it was a smart move on Howard’s part to limit the amount of screen time he gets. The problem is whenever the whale isn’t present, the film’s tension quickly vanishes as well. The most dramatic and entertaining portions of the film are when the whale is directly involved or the threat of him (her?) returning constantly looms. It just seems as if the whales shows up at random intervals to remind you that it’s still around before vanishing again completely. If you removed the whale and just had them hit a rock instead the latter half of the movie basically wouldn’t be affected at all. Howard also doesn’t exactly seem confident in the ending, as it just kind of putters to a close. I do like that the story is told in flashback with Melville speaking with an older crew member about the accounts of the Essex. This does lend a nice “How did the myth begin” aspect to the story and offers the best emotional moments of the entire story.
Sadly, the actual crew members themselves are incredibly underdeveloped. Captain Benjamin Walker’s moral arc is so utterly predictable, that you can easily map out where and when his distaste for Owen Chase will fade. Cillian Murphy’s character Matthew Joy clearly has a tormented past, but the movie never comments on this; it just glosses over it as if it were nothing. It comes off as if Howard doesn’t have time to actually look deep into his characters, despite certainly having enough downtime to do so. Which is a shame given how interesting the characters could have been. They just fall into old tropes we have seen before and it becomes very by-the-books in terms of their development and personalities. Hemsworth does do a commendable job as Chase and watching his transformation is uncomfortable in all the right ways. Though Moby Dick, when actually on screen, is utterly terrifying and intimidating.
The cinematography is the best part of In the Heart of the Sea, despite the excessively apparent green screen backgrounds. While the shorts dipping in and out of the ocean can get a bit jarring at times, it never feels truly out of place. You feel the frantic nature of the whale’s attacks, letting you experience the true chaos of it all. Surprisingly enough, the whales themselves look absolutely amazing and it makes you wonder why the rest of the CGI is so completely obvious. Normally I wouldn’t complain as much about the apparent use of visual effects, but when I am trying to immerse myself in the fate of a crew, seeing a massive digital backdrop rips me right out of the experience.
In the Heart of the Sea is not an awful movie, but it fails to live up to the grand scale it needed to achieve. Hampered by both narrative and character choices the film feels too familiar overall. This was a movie that clearly needed to be longer than it was, and Howard needed to explain more aspects of the world he had built. We get only the briefest glimpses of what the film could have been, which is a shame since the film itself had massive potential. Sadly, the two-hour run time did not give the movie enough time to develop any aspect fully, offering only disjointed parts. This is not a voyage I would recommend paying for.
- Acting: The cast gives generally good performances, with Hemsworth standing out as first mate Owen Chase. Murphy and the rest of the cast do a commendable job, but the actual structure behind their characters weighs down their acting.
- Cinematography: In the Heart of the Sea is shot beautifully, but the over-reliance on CGI backdrops ruins the experience. Editing and sound are quite good, as the crash and boom of the mighty whale resonate beautifully throughout the theater. Some of the shots are on the border of annoying, such as the watery transition movements, though they are not overly relied upon.
- Story: If anything weighs down this movie it’s the overtly simplistic storyline. Hardly anything about the backstory of both Nantucket and the characters themselves are touched upon. This gives In the Heart of the Sea an unfinished quality, which becomes more apparent in the awful pacing that the film suffers from.
- Characters: Simplistic, underdeveloped, and incredibly predictable.
- Beautiful Camera Work
- Hemsworth's Performance/Transformation
- Whales Look Amazing
- Predictable Characters
- Pacing Issues
- Story Feels Unfinished
- Apparent CGI Backdrops
A recent graduate of Arcadia University, Collin MacGregor is a freelance video editor and writer. He covers video games, television, and film for The Nerd Stash. Collin currently is the head film/television reviewer for the site.