Lately, there's been a few entertaining flicks based on New England history. However, In the Heart of the Sea isn't one of them. The bad accents, the slow pace, and the cannibalism all make this whale tale a little hard to swallow. It strives to be a big epic production, but has a splash of Jaws 3D thrown in. Sounds like a killer combo, doesn't it?
Based on Nathaniel Philbrick's 2000 non-fiction book of the same name, this is the story behind the story of Moby Dick. The film kicks off in 1850, with a young Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) seeking out Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the last survivor of the Essex.
Nickerson goes on to tell the tale of his time as a 14-year-old cabin boy (played by Tom Holland) on the Essex, as the crew goes in search of whale oil. The journey includes first-time Captain George Pollard, Jr. (Benjamin Walker), the more experienced First Mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), and a giant, extremely angry white whale. From there, In the Heart of the Sea runs like an episode of "When Whales Attack" or even Jaws: The Distant Cousin. The mighty creature stalks and attacks often, destroying the ship, the crew, and pretty much any credibility in this movie.
Hemsworth's accent isn't helping matters either. The guy does well as Thor and I even enjoyed him in his last collaboration with Ron Howard, Rush. Here though, it sounds like he picked up his New England accent from watching The Simpsons.
In the Heart of the Sea is a gorgeous looking movie with a very capable cast -- some of which is completely wasted. There's barely any character development here. What we know about the two leads is pretty stereotypical, Cillian Murphy is basically a blip, and the fact that the young Nickerson gets almost nothing to do is insane. After all, he's narrating this thing! Speaking of which, the movie flip-flops way too much between Melville and Nickerson and the story of the Essex, which means the film is constantly interrupting the main story -- for what purpose, I have no idea. All of that and a bloated runtime manage to sink In the Heart of the Sea like a big, old stone.
Ready to set sail with another interpretation of this movie? Check out Matthew Passantino's theatrical review of In the Heart of the Sea.
In the Heart of the Sea features 3D effects that will pelt you in the face with a wave here and there. Otherwise, it's really all about the depth. It looks great, but I didn't think 3D was necessary for this movie. That said, it certainly didn't ruin the viewing experience either. The colors were spot-on and the film had a ton of detail. Chris Hemsworth's chiseled good looks and piercing blue eyes look great here (when do they not?), as does all of the crew's facial hair and tattered clothing. The ship isn't pretty, but it's pretty magnificent to look at, with a lot of texture on the wood, sails, and ropes. Overall, the 1.85:1 image is quite the grand spectacle, in both 2D and 3D.
If you're equipped for Dolby Atmos sound, you may want to pick up In the Heart of the Sea just for the wonderful mix. There are plenty of overhead sounds, from seagulls chirping and crashing waves to ship creaks, thunder, and even a few explosions. One of the standout moments is when the Essex crew encounters its first storm. This short scene has audio coming from every angle, which includes Roque Baños's score. Also, that moment where you first see the whale offers one of the most immersive audio experiences of the movie. There are a lot of those, though; it's a pretty great track from beginning to end.
In the Heart of the Sea isn't the grand epic it aspires to be. It's got the great visuals, an excellent Dolby Atmos track, and even a decent amount of extras. It's just too bad it isn't a very good movie. You're going to need some pretty sturdy sea legs before you indulge in this one.
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