There was a time when “Directed by Ron Howard” carried some weight; Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, and Frost/Nixon are all top-of-the-line films. But this is also the guy behind utter disasters like The Dilemma, EDtv, and the Jim Carrey version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Suffice to say that In the Heart of the Sea fits squarely in with the latter.
An utterly lifeless attempt to bring a supremely captivating story to the big screen, it’s almost inconceivable how the movie isn’t– well… at least watchable.
Nathaniel Philbrick’s non-fiction account of the whaleship Essex tragedy (which served as the basis for the movie) is as riveting as Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm or anything by Erik Larson, but the film takes it all and literally tosses it out to sea. Screenwriter Charles Leavitt (Seventh Son) oddly frames the whole story as a tale-telling by Essex survivor Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) to Herman Melville (Ben Winshaw), who’s doing research for his planned novel Moby Dick.
Chris Hemsworth (Thor) is Owen Chase, first mate on the ship. He’d been promised a captaincy on his next whaling voyage, so he’s heading out on the journey with a chip on his shoulder and a complete disregard for the named captain, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker). As such, the entire first hour of the film is nothing more than a machismo battle between these two dreadfully unlikeable men. It’s enough, in fact, to make you start to feel sympathy for the poor whales who these man-boys are hurling harpoons at.
Eventually they come across the great white whale (which Melville is so interested in hearing about), and all is lost. The Essex is destroyed and sinks, leaving a dozen men to fend for themselves with scant food and water, 2,000 miles from land, in rowboats.
It sounds like a story with a lot of potential, sure, but instead, In the Heart of the Sea relies on little more than odd camera angles, makeup, and the sound of men moaning as the sun beats down on them. There’s no emotion and no acting of any kind, and you may just find yourself thinking about much more compelling recent movies like Unbroken and The LIfe of Pi, where a similar tale was presented with more than a cursory amount of care and conviction.
If you want to know the full story, and experience it well-told, this is perhaps the most clear-cut case yet of the book truly being better than the movie. And Moby Dick is pretty good, too.
Worth the 3D glasses?
It’s not worth much, 3D glasses or not. There are a couple moments, as a whale swims by or the camera looks down crow’s next, where the 3D adds something… but certainly not enough to worry about.