Film Review: “In the Heart of the Sea” (2015)

HEART OF THE SEADirector Ron Howard was interviewed by Charlie Rose recently and proclaimed his more or less newfound love for Computer Generated Interface (CGI). Ron goes way back before this technology and knows how difficult it is to create props for sets. Now he says he can take filmgoers places they could never have visited before. Technically perfect sets depicting virtually anything.

So in his film, “In the Heart of the Sea”, audiences get to see what Nantucket really looked like in 1820, what it looks like close up to harpoon a whale and how a 97 foot long whale could have demolished a full sized tall ship. True to form for all Howard films, the story line is impeccable and the cinematography is spectacular, given more perspective by gentle 3-D technology. Truly, this is a film that simply could not be filmed without CGI. “Bruce the shark” really is no more.

BTW, Director JJ Abrams is said to be spending millions of dollars creating the new “Star Wars” with minimal CGI and real sets. He thinks the visual impact will be radically different. We shall see soon.

As the story proceeds, young, unknown author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) tracks down Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the only surviving crew member of whale ship “Essex”. The real 1820 destruction of a this whaling vessel by a murderously pissed off bull sperm whale and the events that follow. Melville feels that Nickerson’s personal account will inspire his next novel but after hearing the account over a drunken evening, he decides to use the story as an “inspiration” rather than writing a historical biography. What emerges is “Moby Dick”, one of the literary classics of all time.

This is the second film Howard has directed Chris Hemsworth (recalled from his barefoot emergency room entrance in “Rush” (2014), inciting instant estrogen storm). Hemsworth is a very underrated actor who did an excellent job in this film, appreciated by guys too.

Also, as I have mentioned in the past, there is a big difference in the visions of directors. Some (Alejandro González Iñárritu) hand over a loose plot, then mandate the actors to fully explore it according to their own vision. Others, specifically Ron Howard, (American Graffiti, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Rush) presents his vision of the script and then directs the actors how to fulfill it. Expertly, I think.

The only problem with this film, if there is one, is that it explores a plot that really doesn’t pique the interest of most filmgoers. The CGI issue is a double-edged sword. The creativity aspect can be overwhelmed by its use to blitz viewers with pyrotechnic, gratuitous violence, something to which many have become accustomed and acclimatized. Sometimes it can’t save an otherwise pedestrian script.

The (other) reviews have not been stellar. One of the critics hit it hard: “The movie doesn’t know Dick.” The scenes of the big whale saving the crew are interesting, but if the whale is the most captivating screen presence, it should probably appear for more than a few minutes. The rest is a variation on the theme of “Lost” (TV Series) and “Cast Away” (2000).

I think it’s an entertaining film for the really outstanding cinematography and worth munching popcorn in a 3-D theater, but don’t expect much more.

I give it three of five whale tail slaps.

  •  Eagerly Awaited, (end of December), “The Revenent” by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Underrated Leonardo DiCaprio and rapidly upcoming Tom Hardy promises to be very interesting.



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