In the Heart of the Sea

Laurence Green enjoys the IMAX spectacle of Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea but finds the dialogue and script waterlogged.

In the Heart of the Sea

The true story that inspired the legend of 'Moby Dick' is revealed in Ron Howard's latest big budget film In the Heart of the Sea (released on Boxing Day), which is based on Nathaniel Philbrick's best seller.

In the winter of 1820 the crew of the Nantucket ship Essex set sail on a standard whaling trip, unaware of the violence that would be unleashed upon them. The action takes place before the discovery of oil from the ground when whale oil was used to light lanterns. Apart from the vessel's veteran first mate Owen Chase, there are, among others it's inexperienced captain, George Pollard, Chase's loyal friend and second mate Matthew Joy, and young deckhand Thomas Nickerson. Pollard, himself was descended from a famous seafaring family and earned his captaincy not by skill but by name.

After a near disaster in a heavy storm, the crew of the Essex are more determined than ever to gather as much whale oil as possible and return home. They come upon fellow whalers off the coast of South America and are warned that as far out into the Pacific as they dare venture a pod of white whales lie in wait. But before they might reach the pod, a devilish white whale, the largest they've ever seen would be waiting to lay them to ruin, as it did the ship before them. As expected, the crew ignore the warning, head out in search of the whales and encounter the great white beast that provided the subject of Herman Melville's classic novel. On this epic voyage, the men must brave storms, starvation, panic and despair and call into question their deepest beliefs, from the value of their own lives to the morality of their trade.

The film is told in flashback sequences in a conversation between author Herman Melville and the lone survivor of the Essex, an ageing Thomas Nickerson, almost 30 years later. The impact of the movie, though, is reduced by a plodding script that tends to overstate the obvious. That said, the action sequences are thrilling in particular the big storm sequence with mountainous waves lashing over the decks of the ship and the camera swooping into the air and gliding down over the vessel pinpointing its position in the deserted ocean and the uphill battle to keep it afloat.

Chris Hemsworth makes a rather colourless hero as Owen Chase but manages to exude a degree of conviction. Ben Whishaw and Brendan Gleeson are persuasive as Herman Melville and the older Thomas Nickerson respectively and there is good work from Benjamin Walker as George Pollard and Cillian Murphy as Matthew Joy.

In short, the film doesn't measure up to John Huston's brilliant movie Moby Dick but can be enjoyed on its own terms as a diverting Boy's Own-type adventure, best seen on the gigantic IMAX screen.

In the Heart of the Sea

Released in cinemas nationwide from Boxing Day 2015.

Last modified: December 21, 2015

Written by 4:38 pm Film