Experience one of the greatest true stories ever told with “In the Heart of the Sea” -- an action-adventure based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s best-selling book about the dramatic true journey of the Essex, a New England whaling ship.
The film stars Chris Hemsworth as Owen Chase, the veteran first mate of the New England whaling ship, the Essex; Benjamin Walker as its inexperienced Captain, George Pollard; Cillian Murphy as second mate Matthew Joy; and Ben Whishaw as novelist Herman Melville, whose inquiries into the event 30 years later helped bring the story to light. Tom Holland also stars as young seaman Tom Nickerson, and Brendan Gleeson as the same man, 30 years later. Spanish actor Jordi Mollà is the captain of another ship, the Archimedes, who tries to warn the Essex of what may lie ahead.
Some of the best works of literature have real life counterparts that inspired the story we've come to know so well and yet, sometimes the famous fictional account of a historic incident is more interesting than the story that inspired it. For Herman Melville's famous novel 'Moby Dick,' Melville used his own experience woking on a whaling ship as well as a number of shipwreck accounts as the basis for his novel. One of the wrecks, the Essex, happened as a result of an albino sperm whale ramming into the hull of the ship causing it to sink. 'In the Heart of the Sea,' directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Ben Whishaw and Brendan Gleeson tries incredibly hard to tell a convincing and exciting version of the story that inspired one of the greatest literary works ever created, but some uneven performances, a lack of story focus and heavy-handed dramatics work against what should otherwise have been a thrilling tall tale of adventure and survival.
in the 19th century, whaling is a global industry. The streets and homes of the modern world are lit and run on the liquid gold that comes from the melting of whale blubber. As demand increases so does the danger that comes from hunting the supply to the furthest reaches of the planet. With more and more ships going out every season, competition has become fierce, and the need for experienced whalers like Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). Chase proudly wears two lance pins on his lapel - a shining measure of his accomplishments as a whaler. He's so good at his job that after his last voyage he was promised command of his own ship - but that promise was broken after the expensive retrofit of the whaling vessel Essex. Because the company believes they need a captain of high-society family reputation in order to fund the expedition, they hired Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) leaving Chase as the first mate of the vessel.
As the crew for the Essex is assembled, including experienced whalers like Matthew Joy (Cillian Murphy) and a young greenhorn by the name of Thomas Nickerson (Tom Holland), the men set out on a two-year voyage to hunt down and process whales into oil. Quickly, Chase and Captain Pollard butt heads and fail to see eye to eye at every turn. Chase is a common man who knows the business and how to run a ship effectively while Pollard comes from a family of wealth and means who himself has little to no experience aboard a whaling ship. With every command either refuted or obstinately obeyed, the two men form a slender truce to get them through the voyage as quickly as possible. Only the migrating whale pods remain elusive lengthening the expedition.
While docked in South America for supplies, Pollard and Chase hear from a stranded Spanish crew that the whales have moved a thousand leagues east, away from coastal waters. It is there that the Spanish crew hunted, and their ship was ultimately destroyed by a demon of the deep, a gigantic male albino sperm whale. Shrugging off the Spaniards' warning as fear and failure, Pollard orders the crew back to the ship and the Essex heads a thousand leagues west into uncharted waters. Only the Spaniards weren't telling tall tales or suffered from fear of the sea. When the crew sets out into their rowboats to hunt, a mammoth whale attacks and breaches the hull of the Essex forcing the crew to gather their precious few supplies and seek refuge into their small rowboats over 2000 nautical miles from South America. What was originally a hunt for wealth and the future quickly escalates into a fight for survival as Chase and Pollard fail to see eye to eye how to save the lives of the crewmen - with the great white whale following closely behind.
'In the Heart of the Sea' Is a film that tries desperately to make the audience care about the characters and the suffering their real life counterparts endured, but because of a misguided framing device, the audience never gets to truly know who anyone is. 'In the Heart of the Sea' opens with Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) arriving at Nantucket in the dead of night to a lodging house owned by the grown, weary, and haunted Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson). Melville has been haunted by the rumors surrounding the sinking of the Essex and is desperate to hear the truth as he is working on a book of the event. The rest of the film plays as a retelling of events through the eyes of the younger Thomas Nickerson. While this sort of framing device could have worked if the film itself had been half an hour longer, instead, it eats up so much of the two-hour runtime that true characters fail to emerge and the story suffers for it.
Going into 'In the Heart of the Sea,' I was well aware of the story of the Essex and what happened to her crew and how the men had to resort to extreme measures to survive 90 days adrift at sea. I had to do a research report about Melville's 'Moby Dick' in high school and I came across some material pertaining to the actual events that took place. It's a fascinating story and it is one that should have made a great movie. Unfortunately, 'In the Heart of the Sea' is not that movie. Not to knock their performances any, but the jumping back and forth to Brenden Gleeson's older Nickerson and Ben Whishaw's Melville proves to be a constant distraction from establishing character depth and story momentum. Just when things are about to get interesting between Chase and Pollard, there is an unnecessary cut back to Melville listening to Nickerson recount his story. This framing device also hampers any buildup of suspense, especially because this is ultimately a movie about survival. By listening to a story from a survivor, we begin to have a clear idea of who is going to survive. And because so much needless time is spent reestablishing who is telling the story, we don't get to know any of the rest of the crew in a way that better ocean voyage movies like 'Master and Commander' managed to do. Because we don't know who anyone is, it's hard to care or feel anything when someone dies either because of the whale's attack or when the men have to resort to extreme measures to survive.
Ron Howard is a man who has proven himself time and time again to be a more than capable director of big idea films and under normal circumstances can bring a film home in fine order. Unfortunately with 'In the Heart of the Sea,' his visual stylings are undercut by a rather weak script by Charles Leavitt. Characters are so thinly drawn that performances by its leading cast of Chris Hemsworth and Benjamin Walker as Owen Chase and Captain George Pollard respectively never emerge beyond basic archetypes. When the movie should be working towards building the suspense and danger of a whale hunt, it diverges into a paint-by-numbers examination of inherited wealth versus natural ability and courage. While the first half of the film works, for the most part, it's a protracted second act that leads to a limp conclusion that ultimately sinks 'In the Heart of the Sea.' For such a well-produced film with a very talented cast and a director who usually has a strong handling of action and drama, I was surprised at how unfulfilling this film was. 'In the Heart of the Sea' is a mass of good ideas that never come together to create a memorable film and instead sinks into the depths of mediocrity.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'In the Heart of the Sea' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Warner Bros. Home Video. In this two disk Blu-ray, DVD, HD Digital copy set, both discs are housed in a standard two-disc Blu-ray case with a slipcover. The film is pressed onto a Region A BD50 disc and opens to a trailer for 'Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice' before arriving to a static image main menu with standard navigation options.
'In the Heart of the Sea' arrives with a beautiful 1.85:1 1080p image. Shot digitally, the film exhibits an incredible amount of vivid detail that showcases how much work went into creating the 19th century Nantucket locations. Facial features, costuming and finer features of the boats and architecture all come through with shining glory. Colors tend to favor the teal tones while keeping oranges at bay for a large portion of the film giving the image a cooler, damp look and feel. Primaries have their day in the sun allowing for bright yellows and deep crimson reds to come through with great effect. Black levels are rich and deep giving the image a fantastic sense of depth, this is especially true with the scenes between Ben Wishaw and Brenden Gleeson. Where the quality of the image can be a bit of a hindrance is with the number of digital effects shots and backgrounds. Some of the CGI creatures have a weightlessness to them and the CGI backgrounds can occasionally fail to mesh with practical location shots at times. All around this is a beautiful looking film and the transfer does it justice.
Both the 2D and 3D presentations of 'In the Heart of the Sea' arrive with splendid and engrossing Dolby Atmos surround tracks. Due to my current lack of an Atmos setup, I can only speak of this track in its Dolby TrueHD 7.1 capacity, and to that end, this track delivers the goods - for the most part. Dialogue is front and center throughout most of the film and is never at odds with the score by Roque Banos or the numerous sound effects. The first half of the film is a swirl of adventure with men scurrying all around the scene, the bustling day-to-day goings of Nantucket, and the Essex ship at sea. It's in these moments where this track truly shines as dialogue, sound effects, and score work together to create a sense of space and dimension to every scene. When the Essex is hit by a squall or heads out on a whale hunt, the action is dynamic and the audio track is immersive making you feel like you're right there in the thick of the action. However, once the big white whale takes out the Essex and the men scramble aboard their tiny rowboats, the Atmos track feels drastically underutilized. Beyond the sound of waves lapping at the side of the boat, there are only a couple of moments that make any real appreciable use of the surround effects and the sense of space and dimension. This isn't so much a fault of the disc as it is the film. When the men are struggling to survive on the boats there just isn't a whole lot to hear or make an interesting use of the mix except in very subtle ways. All around this is a perfectly fine track that works well with the film.
Ron Howard: Captain's Log: (HD 15:50) This is a succession of quick looks at Ron Howard's process of working through the different aspects of production from location scouting through the final edit. Some interesting material but it's not very in depth because each segment is regulated to only a couple of minutes.
Chase & Pollard: A Man of Means and a Man of Courage: (HD 7:28) This is a very brief EPK style, but informative look at the real life Owen Chase and George Pollard.
The Hard Life of a Whaler: (HD 8:44) This is a quick look at what actual Nantucket whalers went through and how the cast trained to look like experienced whalers.
Whale Tales: Melville's Untold Story: (HD 9:13) This is a quick and interesting look at the various stories and occurrences that Melville drew upon to write 'Moby Dick.'
Commanding the Heart of the Sea: (HD 10:25) This is a look at the blending of practical and digital effects work that went into creating the movie.
Lightning Strikes Twice The Real-Life Sequel to Moby Dick: (HD 28:59) This is a fascinating and amazing little documentary about NOAA marine archeologists finding the site of a sunken ship intermingled with information about the sinking of the Essex. I'll let you discover the punchline about the identity of the ship and who captained it for yourself.
Deleted Scenes: (HD 36:02) This is a collection of alternate scenes and deleted material (some with incomplete visual effects) that offers some more character moments that would have helped if they'd stayed in the film. They're not much, but they're enough that they add some sense of character dimension.
Extended Scenes: (HD 7:11) Similar to the Deleted Scenes, these brief little bits work to even out the film.
Island Montage: (HD 3:07) This is a very quick recap of moments from the movie that happened while the crew was stranded on the island.
'In the Heart of the Sea' is a movie that could have and should have been a great and amazing seafaring adventure film of survival against great odds. Unfortunately, the movie didn't turn out as well as hoped. While there is some excitement to be had, it manages to underwhelm in the home stretch. Warner Bros. Home Video has done a fantastic job of bringing this film to Blu-ray in this two-disc set. The Video is fantastic, the audio is thunderous and exciting where it counts, and there are a number of fascinating extra features that should keep fans busy. I may not have loved the film, but it's certainly worth watching and this set is recommended.