From the Archives: In the Heart of the Sea review

From the Archives: In the Heart of the Sea review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

Herman Melville sits down to interview Tom Nickerson, the last living survivor of the Essex, a legendary Whaling ship whose disastrous wreck inspired the story of Moby Dick. Nickerson is hesitant at first, but after some pleading from his wife he relents. Before embarking on his tale of high seas adventure, he warns Melville that it’s not a good story, and he’ll surely be disappointed to hear it. It pains me to say that Nickerson was right. Despite having a strong cast and a talented director, the movie struggles to get going, and even when it eventually begins to chug along, it fails to be as exciting as it believes itself to be. There are many reasons for this. The first disconnect is a result of the special effects. They are not bad per se, but they don’t work. I miss sets. Sure, CG-rendered environments allow a filmmaker to create some harrowing imagery, but when we cut back and forth between crisp shots of flesh and blood performers on a set to wide shots of a digital ship rolling through digital waves, there is an unavoidable separation between the two. While we should be feeling the intensity of nature’s fury, it all just feels fake. There’s no sense of danger. These sailors never seem to be in harm’s way, even as the film begins killing them off in large numbers. There are moments when the actors share the screen with both practical and CGI effects, but the disconnect is still there. The blue halo of the superimpositions of old is gone, but even the most advanced technology can’t hide the feeling that what the actors are looking at simply doesn’t exist.


The second disconnect is a result of poor character work and empty scripting. More than a few times we are asked to feel a moment. When a character unexpectedly dies, or a disaster suddenly occurs there’s no weight to it. An example of this is when at one point, two characters on the brink of death decide to part ways. One wants to remain on a deserted island while the other wants to head back out to sea. There’s an “emotional” goodbye between the two, yet prior to this moment they’ve maybe spoken once, and when they did the conversation was pretty much this:

– “We’re old friends!”

~ “Correct. We are indeed old friends.”

A relationship is never built, yet the film begs for us to feel. In another instance a character loses a necklace which was given to him by his wife before heading out to sea. This is played as a breaking point, yet the necklace was mentioned only once prior, and it was so minor that I had to ask a fellow filmgoer its significance. I could go on forever listing the one-note setups and payoffs that demand a reaction but haven’t been milked for any drama.


One last gripe: We need to come to an agreement as film fans to just accept that Chris Hemsworth, as talented as he is, should never be forced to do accents other than his own. Let’s all just take whichever pill allows us to not worry about whether or not an Australian accent makes sense in context. It’s the only one he can do, and that’s fine by me. Roughly 60% of his dialogue in this movie is downright unintelligible and it’s due solely to his attempt at an accent which can only be described as “Bostralian.”

But it’s not all bad! Even though they don’t work in context, the effects team should be proud of the reels they’ve added to their résumés, and Ron Howard makes each individual shot interesting, paying extra special consideration to the 3D format (I do not know if it was post-converted or not, but the arrangement suggests that 3D was most certainly in the plan). The actors all do what they can with what they’re given, which isn’t much, and it doesn’t add up to a grueling or boring experience. I can see a lot of people really enjoying this film, and they wouldn’t be wrong to do so. Regardless, In The Heart of the Sea certainly feels like a misstep, especially after Howard (and Hemsworth) knocked it out of the park with Rush.

Ultimately, Melville decided to heavily fictionalize the story. In the Heart of the Sea shows us why.

In the Heart of the Sea opens in Philly theaters today.

Official site .

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