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In the Heart of the Sea 3D
Warner Bros. // PG // March 8, 2016
List Price: $44.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Walking into a Ron Howard film you can rest assured that the movie, at a minimum, will be technically well done, feature solid performances, and some beautiful scenes. Viewers get all of that with his latest picture, In the Heart of the Sea, a man-against-nature sea adventure that is epic in scope, but not a lot more. A proficient and at times enthralling movie, the film is well worth watching but falls short of the mark the director was shooting for.
Based on a true story that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick, the movie is about the last voyage of the Essex, a whaling ship out of Nantucket. As told to Melville (Ben Whishaw) by the last surviving member of the fateful crew, Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson as an old man, Tom Holland as a young boy) reveals that the story of the Essex is really the story of two strong-willed men who do not get along at all: Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and First Mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). Chase is an experienced seaman who is an excellent whaler and after his last voyage was promised a ship of his own to captain. Unfortunately, the company that he works for reneges on their promise and sends him to sea under the novice Pollard who comes from a prominent family and is well connected.
The voyage starts off poorly with Chase arguing with the captain in front of the men, and Pollard driving the ship into a storm just to prove to the crew, and his First Mate, who has the real power on the vessel. To make matters worse, the whaling is very poor. After months at sea they have very little oil in the hold and there are no signs that the situation will change any time soon. The whales have been hunted too aggressively and are now few and far between.
Landing on an island to take on provisions, Chase and Pollard talk to a stranded French captain who tells of an area of the ocean that is rich with whales, far off in the middle of the Pacific. The problem, aside from the distance, is that there is a monstrously huge white whale there that destroyed the Frenchman's ship as well as taking his arm. With the promise of filling their hold, the Essex sets out for the distant waters only to find the rich hunting grounds, and the white whale.
There is a lot that works with this movie. Ron Howard does an excellent job making the film a joy to watch. The whales are epic and impressive, and it seems impossible that the small men in their small boats could ever take one down. The underwater scenes are particularly good, and add a lot to the atmosphere of the story.
The acting is good across the board. Hemsworth shows that he can do more than just swing a hammer as the First Mate, and Walker does a fine job as the Captain of the doomed ship. The script also gets accolades for painting both of the leads in shades of grey. Both Pollard and Chase have something to prove, and neither is wholly good of wholly evil.
The problem with the film is also with the script. It is a bit uneven, with some sections filled with action and drama, while others drag on for too long. Another problem is though the beginning promises a battle of wills between the Captain and the First Mate, which is supposed to inspire the obsession chronicled in Moby Dick, that doesn't really happen. The two men metaphorically cross swords soon after the ship leaves port, but aside from that they seem to work together well, both agreeing to travel deep into the Pacific for example. There doesn't seem to be much tension between the two after the beginning, which would have made the film pack a stronger punch.
Even with these flaws, In the Heart of the Sea is an enjoyable film with solid production values.
I screened the film in 3D (while spot checking the 2D version) and was very pleased with what I saw. While the movie was not filmed in 3D, the results are very good with the picture having a good amount of depth. There weren't any coming-at-you effects, but that's fine. The underwater scenes especially had a nice look with some air bubbles and floating up slightly in front of the screen while rocks and seaweed were pushed to the back. The definition was very good, especially when the Essex was out to sea during the day. Lines were tight and the color reproduction was excellent. A very fine looking disc in both 3D and 'flat' versions.
The movie boasts a lossless Dolby Atmos 7.1 mix that sounds superb. From the gentle creaking of the ship to the brilliant thud when the whale hits it, the audio was excellent. The mix was very enveloping and the disc has an excellent dynamic range. Viewers will definitely be happy with the way this disc sounds.
The extras are found on 2D Blu-ray disc, and it is filled with a good amount of featurettes, some of them more interesting than others. While there is not a commentary track, Ron Howard does contribute a Captain's Log. Broken up into ten segments, it chronicles the filming of the movie though Howard's personal photos and the Tweets that he sent while filming. Luckily he narrates these so it's not just a reproduction of his Twitter feed.
Next up is Chase & Pollard: A Man of Means and A Man of Courage, a 7-minute featurette that compares and contrasts the two main characters, most of which you'll know if you've seen the movie. Whale's Tales: Melville's Untold Story is a 9-minute short that has the cast and crew of the film talk about their connection to the book Moby Dick. It's interested to note that almost all of them say it was tough to read (which is my opinion of the book too).
The better featurettes were the ones that discussed the real-life events that were portrayed in the film. The Hard Life of a Whaler (8 minutes) looks at what it was like to live on a whaling ship and hunt the giant mammals. It is very interesting and informative. Lightning Strikes Twice: The Real-Life Sequel to Moby Dick is a documentary that runs just shy of half an hour that looks at what happened to Captain Pollard after the Essex disaster. He became the Captain of another ship, the Two Brothers, which he ran aground near Hawaii. That wreck has recently been discovered. Finding and identifying the underwater wreck along with Pollard's history are examined and it's a story worth watching.
Commanding the Heart of the Sea takes a 10-minute look at how the special effects were created, which is followed by the rather odd Island Montage. It is a three- minute collection of the scenes from the movie that take place while the survivors are on a deserted island. I'm not really sure what the point of that was, but here it is for those who don't want to have to use the chapter menu to get to that spot in the film.
The extras are wrapped up with an impressive 20 scenes that were either deleted or truncated.
A good, but not great film, this movie is well worth checking out. Director Ron Howard does a great job of bringing life aboard a 19th Century whaling ship to the big screen and fills his movie with some powerful and impressive scenes. Even though the script is a bit uneven, the movie still comes recommended.