Epic tale of Nantucket whaling ship hits rough waters

11 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Action film In the Heart of the Sea is an underwhelming voyage.

London – Oscar-winning director Ron Howard revealed that the new epic adventure, In The Heart of the Sea was one of the most complicated movies he has ever worked on.Though 3-D has largely been a bust in the United States, there has been a trend in recent years of talented, high-profile directors dabbling with the technology on remarkable movies. The American director told Channel24’s Leandra Engelbrecht during an interview in London that every approach in the history of movies was applied to making this sea adventure. He added, “I was very grateful to have the experiences of Apollo 13 and long ago Cocoon and even the action scenes in Rush to bring to this story.” The film tells the true story of 19th century whalers who find themselves stranded after their ship is attacked by a whale.

But the director did spend some quality time on Nantucket, specifically at the Whaling Museum, and called on Philbrick regularly while making the picture. “It was optioned back in the fall of 2000,” he said. “The screenplay was written years ago, but I thought it had gone the way of most book projects nowadays. The film is based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s 2000 non-fiction book of the same name, about the ill-fated whaling expedition in 1820 that inspired Melville’s Moby-Dick.

The tension between the capable first mate, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), and the privileged but inexperienced captain, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), is palpable as the ship searches for whales. In opening scenes depicting a computer-generated Nantucket Island circa 1820, a time when the world demand for whaling oil had turned many inhabitants, a large part of them Quakers, into millionaires, we meet Owen Chase (sexiest man alive and Marvel superhero Chris Hemsworth), a strapping young man with a beloved, pregnant wife (Charlotte Riley). Over and over again, other great seafaring movies popped into my head while watching Howard’s folly, a film that treads water and fails to catch wind. First though, a mammal must be harpooned and pierced with a lance that causes the whale to bleed and choke (and send a shower of blood raining down on the men) before it’s towed to the ship and carved up.

Not only is the Essex commanded by a greenhorn who decides to “test” the men by sailing into a savage storm, but the ship has yet to locate any whales. “To return to port without even a single barrel [of whale oil] would be a mistake,” Chase warns but the ship’s luck seems to turn around when sperm whales are spotted and the call is, literally, “All hands on deck.” But fortune turns to misfortune when the men, on a rare stop in Ecuador, hear about the white whale and hundreds of others in the same vicinity. Melville tries to get the aging, often sodden, “soul in torment” Thomas Nickerson (Irishman Brendan Gleeson) to tell him the real story of the whaling ship Essex, on which a 14-year-old Nickerson (new Spider-Man Tom Holland) was a ship’s boy. According to Variety, the flick opened poorly overseas and estimates are that it will make just $12 million to $14 million this weekend. “A disastrous launch,” said the show-biz bible. The blubber business was essentially the first oil industry, and the early 19th-century Nantucket we see (and almost smell) has the bustle, greed and grime of any boom town. “Without you, the world plunges into darkness,” a whaling-ship captain is told, because the oil “fuels the machines of industry forward, as our noble species evolves.” Of course, some members of the species are more noble and evolved than others.

Played here by Ben Whishaw, he shows up late one night at the home of the aging Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the last living survivor of the Essex, offering every penny he has if the aging mariner will tell his tale. It’s too tempting for the bland Pollard who figures if the Essex sets sail immediately, it can be home in six months with a bounty of whale oil and the approval of his father. In a scene that is as unlikely as it is contrived, Captain Pollard denigrates “off islander” Chase and talks openly at dinner about Chase’s father being “incarcerated” to humiliate his rival for the sailors’ affection. Chase, meanwhile, his lapel bristling with “whale pins” indicating his kills at sea, bonds with young Nickerson, but is a completely stock hero and a bit of a bore. The 80-ton whale attacks with ferocity, killing some of the men and forcing the survivors to turn to desperate measures to try to stay alive long enough to be rescued or to find a safe haven.

But the over-the-top action makes you yearn for the “Master and Commander” sequels that never were and is a presage of wet and dreary things to come. The two lead characters are characterized by their backgrounds — one a working-class man promised but denied the captaincy of a vessel, the other the scion of an established whaling family — while most of the others register little or seem underdeveloped as with Cillian Murphy. If his name is unfamiliar, it won’t be for long — he’s been cast as the latest iteration of Spider-man, and he will star in “Captain America: Civil War” next year, and his own film the year after. Nickerson, who is stern and insistent, but refers to her husband only as “My love.” But Cillian Murphy and the aforementioned Gleeson are stuck with a water-logged screenplay riddled with cliches.

A talented young man who resembles a young Jamie Bell, he’s already proved himself in pictures such as “How I Live Now” and “The Impossible.” Somehow, he rises above the film’s oft-trenchant dialogue, in ways even thespian lions such as Gleeson cannot. We do get the story though. (And, yes, one supposes it’s a whale of one.) The ship heads out, a storm happens, the captain misjudges it, a sperm whale goes all Jaws-like, the Essex sinks and the unspeakable things that happen aboard the lifeboats account for the horror the cabin boy has carried with him all these years.

Interestingly enough, in “The Impossible,” he had another water-soaked role as the eldest of three sons of a British couple caught in a tsunami in Thailand at Christmastime 2004. Melville’s great strength, if you can get past the chapter on knot-tying, was to make his novel be about the interior man, and how that is reflected in the exterior world.

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