Saturday, December 12, 2015

In The Heart Of The Sea Review

The tragedy that befell the whaling ship Essex in 1820, which inspired the 1851 Herman Melville novel Moby Dick, is perfect fodder for a grand cinematic interpretation, and that's exactly the kind of film In The Heart Of The Sea turns out to not be. This retelling of those true life events concentrates mainly on the ships first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), though a framing device is utilized to tell this story via Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) being told the tale by a grown up version of the ships cabin boy Thomas Nickerson (his older self played by Brendan Glesson, while future Spider-Man Tom Holland plays his younger incarnation).

Chase and Nickerson are part of a crew heading out to get whale oil, an essential component of then modern day society and a various dangerous entity to get ahold of. Led by Captain George Pollard Jr. (Benjamin Walker), the ship is soon attacked by a giant white whale that decimates their ship and leaves the various members of the crew stranded out on the ocean. Obviously, this is a hefty tale, full of darkness, tragedy and adversity, which are elements that the film shorthands by way of reducing all of the characters to extremely simplistic archetypes.

Take our lead, Owen Chase, for instance. Saddled with courage and a humorously bad New England accent at his back, his main character motivation once he's onboard the ship is to get into a kind of dick-measuring contest with Pollard, a rich individual that's been designated as the captain of the ship despite Chase being previously assured he'd be leading the voyage. There's serious thematic potential in having two differing ways of upbringing (Pollard grew up in lavish circumstances driven by inhere-ted wealth while Chase was raised in more financially comprised surroundings), but very little is done to make their antagonism feel natural or interesting, and the rivalry never really gets a chance to play into the actual story, instead getting pushed overboard once that whale enters the proceedings.

Perhaps nothing perfectly embodies the tonal clashes that sink In The Heart Of The Sea more than this damn whale, whose depicted as an aquatic Jason Voorhees as he attacks the Essex and then proceeds to stalk the castaway crew across the ocean. Then, absolutely out of nowhere, they try to wring a tender moment towards the end where Owen comes face-to-face with the beast, and realizes the real monsters in this sea....IS MAN. It plays out in the film even less subtle than I'm making sound and attempting to turn this whale that's been depicted as 100% a menace for the rest of the film into a sympathetic creature only further blemishes the movie.

Surprisingly, coming off his previous movie Rush, where the intense racecar sequences were depicted quite well, Ron Howard proves woefully inept when it comes to scenes where chaos like the aofrementioned whale attack or a storm at sea rains down misery on the ship. Anytime commotion occurs on-screen, incoherence takes over the visual scheme, with me being unable to make heads or tails of what the hell was going on in certain spots. Furthermore on the visual side of things, the prominence of distractedly subpar CGI in the film becomes a major hindrance, since computer effects are used to bring the crews watery surroundings to life.

As a result, even a simple dialogue exchange on the ships deck took me out of the movie, since the fake looking backgrounds easily distracted me from the poorly created characters. And since the environments in the film are supposed to be uber menacing, well, a lot of the tension that In The Heart Of The Sea aims to concoct goes flying right out the window. Like I said, the tale of the Essex tragedy is a compelling one, and I'm sure someday someone will bring it to the screen in a satisfactory manner. Considering the talent assembled for In The Heart Of The Sea, it's a real pity this isn't that sort of definitive recount of that particular true story.

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