I must confess to never having read Herman Melville's Moby Dick. I know, it's crazy right? It's considered one of the greatest works of American literature and I haven't even gotten around to reading it. I feel bad, all right? However, even though I haven't read it, the story of Captain Ahab and his white whale nemesis is one of those stories that has become so embedded into our American culture that even if you haven't read the story you know the characters, themes, and situations that arise in the book. Even though I haven't read it I still know who Ahab, Starbuck, and Ishmael are. I know the gist of the plot. The term "white whale" has become synonymous with personal nemeses. I understand the underlying theme of Melville's story, because it's been talked about and discussed for centuries. I haven't read it, but I feel like I understand it. That's the sign of a book that's become something more. Ugh, now I feel even guiltier for not having read it yet.
Plenty of film and TV adaptions have been made over the years dating all the way back to 1930. We as a people have been fascinated by this timeless story. Every few years we get a new incarnation and we get to see different actors take on the iconic role of Ahab. A man slowly going mad with vengeance on the mind. This time Ahab is played by William Hurt. He's the kind of actor that should play Ahab. I always thought that Patrick Stewart was way too refined for the role when he appeared in a 1998 version of 'Moby Dick.' Hurt, with his long grizzled beard is just old and mean enough to pull it off.
'Moby Dick' was a TV movie. It's split into two parts and covers 184 minutes of runtime. For a made-for-TV film the production values are quite good – that is until Moby swims into kill mode. The whale effects leave a lot to be desired, but I wasn't expecting much in the way of special effects anyway.
The movie starts off a bit differently from Melville's novel. More exposition about the characters on display and a scene where Ishmael rescues young Pip from a mean slave owner. It's funny to see Gillian Anderson in the role of Elizabeth, Ahab's wife, since this story played such a pronounced role in her life as Dana Scully on 'The X-Files.' Remember her dad referring to her as Starbuck and her naming her Queequeg.
The movie excels in its realistic (or what I think looked like a realistic) depiction of old-time whaling. Ishmael learns the ropes from his friend Queequeg, while Starbuck (Ethan Hawke) provides the yin to Captain Ahab's insane yang.
The movie is at its best when it focuses on Hurt's portrayal of the captain who is slowly going mad, drunk with the thought of finally killing Moby Dick once and for all. Watching him interact with his crew is exciting as they slowly realize this man is going to lead them to ruin and they can't do anything to stop it.
'Moby Dick' may not be a direct adaption of Melville's story. It may take its liberties here and there, but it ends up in somewhat the same place. The slow decent of Ahab into his own madness works because Hurt is so convincing. He's the reason to watch this film, and if you're even the least bit interested in the story you may find this to be a fun adaption of the classic tale.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Vivendi release comes to Blu-ray on one 50GB Blu-ray disc. It's packed in a standard keepcase and appears to be Region A only.
Much of the film's dour, muted look is due to the conscientious choice to give the whole thing a good desaturation. Color is there, but it's been sapped of its liveliness in order to portray an older, poorer time. Skin tones often look pale and somewhat sickly because of this color timing choice.
I was, however, impressed with much of the fine detail found in this movie. The 1080p picture is better than expected especially when the men find themselves aboard Ahab's ship. Wood grain on the railings and deck are easy to see. Tiny splinters protruding from the lifeboats are easily noticeable. Faces, clothing, and textures all feature lively detail such as pores and tightly woven fabrics. Crushing does persist throughout the picture though as blacks are less detailed and more blob-like. The CGI leaves a lot to be desired too. There are far too many scenes featuring the famous whale that look overly corny because of the low-budget CG used. The high-def presentation only draws your attention to how hokey the special effects really look.
Even though the video may not have been the greatest, the audio sure packs quite the wallop. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track captures every thunderous splash with surprising ferocity. I was sure that I was in store for a somewhat underwhelming experience, because when it comes to TV movies you just can't expect a lot in the way of production values. However, this audio mix really has some oomph to it.
LFE is constantly rumbling whenever Moby Dick approaches the ship. When he rams it you can hear the low creaking and cracking of the hull spreading throughout the sound field. The rears pick up a lot of the ships creaking giving you the feeling like you're right there inside the hull. Dialogue, whispered or yelled, is always clear. Even during action-packed scenes with men yelling and screaming at each other, each voice can be heard distinctly. This is a great sounding mix for a made-for-TV movie.
There are no special features provided.
This 2011 adaption of 'Moby Dick' is a decent retelling of the classic story. Is it the definitive adaptation? Probably not. That's fine though because there will most likely be more incarnations down the road. Hurt is great as Ahab though, which is a big plus. Anyone who's interested in the original story will probably get angry at some of the blatant changes to the source material, but this is an adaption, not a line-by-line remake. It's all in good fun, and I had fun. It's worth a look.