There’s only one wide release today, but it’s one I’ve been fairly interested in. Even if I have found it also a little frustrating. And maybe mildly infuriating.
Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea is an adaptation of the National Book Award winner by Nathaniel Philbrick that recounts the story of the crew of the whaler Essex after their ship was sunk by a sperm whale in 1820. The bulk of the story is about how the crew survived adrift after the sinking, attempting to find safety in South America. Sounds like a great basis for a film, right? Men against the sea, against nature, struggling for survival.
The problem is that the trailers for Howard’s film have made it out to be two hours of Man vs. Whale. Which I get. It’s clearly your money shot, that whale taking down that boat. That’s what’s going to get asses in seats, not the prospect of watching Chris Hemsworth slowly dehydrate in the South Pacific. But I feel like the marketing has sold that aspect of the film woefully short, and that there’s a risk of audiences thinking they’ve been tricked. They got lured in with the promise of a great big whale fight and ended up with something else.
But then they went and added this framing device of a young Herman Melville talking to an Essex survivor, “and thus Moby-Dick was born!” Now Melville definitely was partly inspired by the story of the Essex when he set out to write his novel. But he himself had also spent five years at sea. And had undoubtedly heard numerous tall tales about seemingly monstrous whales that would not die. To pinpoint this In the Heart of the Sea down as “the legend that inspired Moby-Dick,” and to weave Melville into the narrative himself, strikes me as a disservice to both books.
And yet I’m still struck by the imagery of the film. Deep open water and what might be lurking beneath it is one of my primal fears, and this looks to play right into that. The whale truly looks like a monster, and its attack harrowing. But how well does Howard pull off the admittedly less exciting scenes of the crew adrift on the ocean? That’s the real question.
So I’m conflicted, but I’ll still probably see this. I mean, I should probably at least see something non-Star Wars before the rest of the month gets completely consumed.