There once was a man from Nantucket. So begins the screenplay by Chuck Leavitt. Melville’s his name, Moby Dick is his fame, and if you think I’m going to write my whole review like this you can suck it.
In the Heart of the Sea won’t threaten the man from Nantucket remaining the city’s greatest claim to fame. Truly the greatest reaction the film earned was my immature giggling when the town was identified on screen.
A survivor (Brendan Gleeson) of the Essex whaling shipwreck tells Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) his story, which also begins in Nantucket. First officer Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) protests the nepotism of hiring George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) as captain, but agrees to go on the voyage when promised his own captain gig if he meets the whale oil quota. Tensions of leadership style and family prejudices are rendered moot when a giant whale destroys the Essex, leaving the crew to survive adrift at sea.
I was never bored watching In the Heart of the Sea. It’s a good enough seafaring adventure, full of whale chases and harrowing survival desperation. It just never surpassed “good enough.” Never did I feel a sense of the wonder of the vast ocean and its creatures, nor that the characters felt that, and least of all that the filmmakers had any passion for the sea.
Chase wants a captain job because he’s earned it, and I gather it’s one of the higher paying positions of the time. His wife laments the life of a whaler’s wife with her husband at sea for years at a time, so what is this life he’s fighting for? The process of how they actually harvest the whale oil is interesting and gives us some context, but it’s still just a paycheck to the guys gagging on whale carcass.
I did not see this film in IMAX but could tell many angles were chosen to accentuate the immersive qualities of the enveloping screen. As such, the regular theatrical version is in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, surprisingly small for an epic film, but the ratio itself doesn’t determine epic-ness. Back to the Future, Lethal Weapon and many other fantastic films have used smaller aspect ratios.
Many angles look like the GoPro angle from a small corner of the mast or other ship parts. Given that those angles reminded me of popular low-res miniature cameras often used to shoot web videos, I can’t imagine how they were intended to make us feel like we’re on board a whaling ship on an epic adventure.
There are good sequences. Chase screaming into the rain allows us to gather the position of the boat and the danger it’s in. A sequence with the whale pulling a harpoon rope builds really well. I wish I could call the destruction sequences Whaletanic, but they never come close to the level of James Cameron scale. To be fair, it is a much smaller boat.
In the Heart of the Sea just goes through the motions of disaster and survival movies, with each character only speaking when they need to fulfill their one dimensional role, including but not limited to the cynical self-preservationist, the noble self-sacrificer and the faithful optimist.
I didn’t mind watching In the Heart of the Sea but it just seems like a lot of work and expense just for a movie I’m going to forget about and never watch again. Shooting on water isn’t cheap, there are visual effects, and the actors went through quite an ordeal. Movies are hard enough to make, but just making them more difficult to make doesn’t make them better.