Director Ron Howard certainly knows where to place a camera. Naturally, most of the Big Scenes involving the killer whale are cartoonish CGI, but you cannot argue with the beauty of the composition. The problem is the story. Believe it or not, the killer whale is not The Story — the story is a belabored and unoriginal one of men suffering and dying and barely surviving in lifeboats. For the last hour, you’re deluged with “Unbreakable” flashbacks and wondering what the hell happened to that big whale.
Apparently, “In the Heart of the Sea” is based on the true-life tale that inspired Herman Melville’s masterpiece of obsession and adventure, “Moby Dick.” That’s all well and good, but the last thing this overlong movie needed was a framing device involving Melville actually being told the story.
The characters are caricatures. Chris Hemsworth is the hale and hearty first mate. Benjamin Walker is the tightly wound, insecure captain. Naturally, there’s a an orphaned boy on board who is about to become a man because there is always an orphaned boy on board who is about to become a man. The whale attack sequences are okay, but nothing that would’ve made you sit up and take notice at any time since “Jurassic Park” hit screens 22 years ago.
The theme itself is a tired one about the injustice of a long lost America where family ties trump merit and experience. The relationships between the characters never gel. Even the world felt played out. If a movie is going to take you into a subculture like New England whaling circa 1820, we should feel as though we are learning something new about this world. If you’ve already seen an Old World ocean movie, though, you have already seen this one.
With the state of modern special effects, “In the Heart Of the Sea” could’ve easily been a television movie, the kind of “event programming” a NatGeo makes every now and again. It still would not have been very good, but at least it would have been where it belonged.
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