In the Heart of the Sea- 2015 Dir. by Ron Howard
Final Grade- B
Somewhere between fact and fiction… resides the story of the whale ship Essex. Often claimed to be the inspiration behind Melville’s Moby Dick, the story of the Essex and her crew is the essence of sea fables; a terrible battle with a mythical sea creature, salty determination of the crew, and the unspeakable limits of survival. Nathaniel Philbrick’s tremendous account, In the Heart of the Sea, separated legend from fact while fairly examining the whaling industry that inspired Melville’s masterpiece.
Director Ron Howard and writer Charles Leavitt… decided to blur the lines in their cinematic interpretation of Philbrick’s study. Weaving factual elements of the story with the pursuit of a vengeful sperm whale makes a decent Hollywood adventure, but a poor rendering of the historical record. Like Melville, Howard cannot seem to divert attention from an abnormally large whale sinking the Essex, choosing to merely highlight the harrowing journey of the men. Philbrick’s rendering does justice to the crew and their 95 day ordeal, where seven members were cannibalized. The film depicts the whale stalking the crew as it drifts across the South Pacific, more Melville than history.
The story of whaleship Essex… deserves more than the two hour running time filmmakers grant it. Nathaniel Philbrick’s study skillfully blends the rich detail, harrowing adventure, and tortured humanity involved in the tragedy. Ron Howard’s film only scratches the surface of the tragic events, choosing instead to focus far too much energy on a computer generated sperm whale and the hunky leading man.