Friday, December 11, 2015
In the Heart of the Sea
Almost three decades after American whaling ship The Essex was destroyed by a sperm whale in 1820, one of the ship's survivor Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) is still haunted by the experience. To gather materials for his novel "Moby Dick," the writer Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) tries to get Tom's account about the deadly voyage when he was a young inexperienced cabin boy (Tom Holland) on The Essex. Tom first refuses to talk, but soon begins to open up upon his wife's persistence.
The film flashes back to 1820 when 21-man Essex sails out on Pacific Ocean to kill whale in order to bring back whale oil as fuel. Privileged George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) is the ship's captain, even though experienced first mate Owen Chase Chris Hemsworth is displeased about it because he thinks that he is passed over for that leadership role.
Of course, being a sea voyage film, smooth sailing is out of the question. After the ship passed through a severe storm, it reaches its destination—a territory of a school of happily swimming whale, generated by CGI. The bloody killing begins. But a one-hundred-foot sperm whale fights back and takes revenge on The Essex. It charges at the ship and sinks the ship quickly. After they climb into three small boats, surviving sailors float in the open sea for more than three months before just a few are rescued.
It is ambiguous what kind of movie the director Ron Howard is trying to make. If he is trying to portray a few brave seamen who kill whales, they only appear to be barbaric for today's audience except to a few Japanese; if he is trying to show off new tricks with CGI in the open sea, "Life of Pi" (2012) already won an Oscar for visual effects; if he is trying to retell a survival story drifting in the vast ocean, there are other superior films just recently such as "All Is Lost" (2013) and "Unbroken" (2014); if he is trying to explore the tension or friendship among the sailors, none gets developed sufficiently in the film. Even the film's 3D is less impressive or effective.
Perhaps the problems are already noticed, so at the end of the film after Tom Nickerson finishes telling Herman Melville about his tale in the sea, he himself asks the very question why he is retelling the story after 30 years. His answer is as uncompelling as the film itself, which is probably why I cannot recall what he said.