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Ron Howard
Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Tom Holland, Ben Whishaw
Writing Credits:
Charles Leavitt

A recounting of a New England whaling ship's sinking by a giant whale in 1820, an experience that later inspired the great novel Moby-Dick.

Box Office:
$100 million.
Opening Weekend
$11,053,366 on 3,103 Screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English Dolby Atmos
English Descriptive Audio
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Latin Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
Latin Spanish
Supplements Subtitles:
Latin Spanish

Runtime: 122 min.
Price: $19.95
Release Date: 3/8/2016

• 10 “Ron Howard: Captain’s Log” Segments
• “Chase and Pollard: A Man of Means and a Man of Courage” Featurette
• “The Hard Life of a Whaler” Featurette
• “Whale Tales: Melville’s Untold Story” Featurette
• “Commanding the Heart of the Sea” Featurette
• “Lightning Strikes Twice: The Real-Life Sequel to Moby Dick” Featurette
• 16 Deleted Scenes
• 4 Extended Scenes
• “Island Montage”
• Preview
• DVD Copy


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


In the Heart of the Sea [Blu-Ray] (2015)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 29, 2016)

Most of us boast familiarity with Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Whether we read the novel or saw one of the film adaptations or simply took in its many pop culture references, the tale of Ahab’s quest to slay the great white whale remains firmly ingrained in our collective psyche.

I suspect most of us didn’t know that Melville used real-life events as part of the novel’s inspiration, though – at least I wasn’t aware of this. One of the book’s influences comes to the movie screen with 2015's In the Heart of the Sea.

Set in 1820, a ship called the Essex gets retrofitted to become a whaling vessel. Under inexperienced mariner Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), the boat leaves Nantucket in search of whales to harvest.

This doesn’t go well, and the less-than-competent Pollard clashes with veteran whaler Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), a skilled seaman who disagrees with many of Pollard’s decisions. Eventually the Essex finds itself far from home and up against a daunting foe: an enormous sperm whale who destroys the ship. We follow the crew’s attempts to survive – and the continued presence of the vengeful whale.

When I first saw previews for Sea, I thought it was just another adaptation of Moby-Dick, as even with the different title, the trailers made it look like a more direct take on Melville than it is. This scared me away from the cinema, as I continue to have nightmares about reading Moby-Dick in high school. That may have been more than 30 years ago, but man, that novel was a snoozer – it left emotional scars!

As I recall, the novel’s main problem stemmed from its digressive nature, as Melville often would leave the Pequod to give us lectures about the whaling industry or ships or even other books about whales. Those chapters give Moby-Dick its negative reputation.

Given that Sea wouldn’t indulge in any of that content and would concentrate on the characters and their journey – ie, “the good parts” – I thought it sounded like it could be fun. Alas, the end result seems less than enchanting - while not as dull as Moby-Dick the novel, Sea becomes too muddled and thin to entertain.

Normally I save my comments about a movie’s palette for the technical discussion, but in this case, I’ll make an exception because the colors of Sea fare so poorly. Like too many modern movies, Sea favors teal, but it opts for an ugly tint that leans green more than blue.

I’m not sure teal would work for this story in any case, but the version of teal seen here looks so unattractive that it creates an active distraction. It becomes tough to absorb the story and characters simply because the film looks so unappealing. While I expect a tale like this to come with a low-key, desaturated palette, I think Sea takes its monochromatic leanings too far and ends up as one of the ugliest flicks I’ve seen in quite some time.

Partly due to the garish colors, Sea also fails to convey a believable environment. Perhaps Howard wanted the movie to sport a sense of unreality to offer a “storybook” feel, but if so, I can’t figure out the logic of that choice. Since Sea purports to give us the facts behind Melville’s fiction, it seems illogical that the movie would seem so fake.

But it does, as the visuals convey a jarring lack of reality. One always gets the feeling they shot the movie in a tank – which was largely true, but one would hope modern film crews could create an end result that doesn’t look like it was shot in a tank.

Even with some location footage on display, Sea consistently comes across as a cheap studio production, which seems like a problem for a movie that cost $100 million. As with the ugly color choices, the fake-looking nature of the sea photography creates another problematic distraction.

Even the all-important effects fail to do their job. Often the Essex looks like a model boat in a pool, and the crucial depiction of the white whale always resembles the CG creation it is. As with the other visual choices, these factors distance us from the story and make it harder to invest in the tale.

It doesn’t help that Sea comes to us via a flashback structure. I didn’t mention this in my synopsis because frankly, it’s a pointless choice.

As established at the start, in 1850, Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) seeks out Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the only surviving member of the Essex crew. Though reluctant to tell his tale, Nickerson eventually assents and lets Melville know what he went through as a 14-year-old (Tom Holland) on the Essex.

Again, this choice doesn’t work, mainly because it seems utterly unnecessary. The 1850 scenes serve only one potential purpose: to directly connect the Essex to Moby-Dick.

Frankly, a quick text blurb at the movie’s start would’ve accomplished that task better. While I like Whishaw and Gleeson, their characters remain utterly expendable and create yet another unnecessary distraction. Oh, and the notion that we’re supposed to accept 60-year-old Gleeson as the 44-year-old Nickerson seems laughable, to say the least.

The flashback structure also creates a dilemma: how does Nickerson know so much about all the characters involved? Little of the movie comes from the teenager’s point of view, so it makes no sense that he’d be aware of what happened to the other participants when out of his earshot. As a narrator, Nickerson needs to be omniscient, but they doesn’t connect to reality.

Perhaps I’d forgive the film’s various flaws if its potentially thrilling moments soared, but alas, they seem pedestrian. As much as I admire Howard, I don’t think he’s ever been a great director, and he doesn’t show tremendous affinity for action. The set pieces in Sea come across as perfunctory and without sizzle.

Despite this mix of issues, I can’t call In the Heart of the Sea a terrible movie. It involves too many solid professionals like Howard and Hemsworth to devolve to the level of “awful”. Nonetheless, it seems somewhat dull and uninspired, as it squanders a good story.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio A/ Bonus B-

In the Heart of the Sea appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The transfer appeared to replicate the source material.

Which is code for “the image had its ups and downs but I can’t criticize the transfer for the choices of the filmmakers”. Sharpness showed some of these inconsistencies, as the movie occasionally showed a diffuse impression that lacked great definition. However, the majority of the movie appeared pretty concise and accurate. No issues with shimmering or moiré effects appeared, and I saw no edge haloes. Print flaws failed to materialize.

As I noted in the body of the review, the film opted for a heavy teal palette that favored the green side of that equation. As ugly as those hues looked, I couldn’t fault the Blu-ray, as it replicated them as intended. Blacks were dark and dense, and shadows showed pretty good clarity; a few shots were a bit murky, but most seemed fine. This wasn’t a consistently attractive image, but it was satisfactory.

I felt consistently pleased with the excellent Dolby Atmos soundtrack of Sea. Because I don’t have an Atmos-equipped system, this played back as a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, and it impressed.

With lots of mayhem and sea-based action on display, the soundscape offered nearly constant room for information to emanate from the various speakers, and it used those chances well. The mix delivered wall-to-wall auditory material that spread out across the speakers in a satisfying manner and that blended together nicely.

This meant a very active track. The surrounds worked as nearly equal partners and kept the mix humming. The whale-attack scenes fared best, but plenty of other moments made this a consistently impressive soundfield.

Audio quality also satisfied. Speech was natural and concise, while music sounded peppy and full. Effects turned into the primary factor, and those elements appeared accurate and vivid. Bass response added real depth and rocked my subwoofer. I found myself greatly pleased with this dynamic mix.

Under Ron Howard: Captain’s Log, we get 10 segments with a total running time of 15 minutes, 50 seconds. In these, Howard discusses location scouts, the first day of the shoot, sets and shooting ocean shots, cast training and performances, editing and music. We also get a few comments from composer Roque Banos and actors Benjamin Walker, Tom Holland, Edward Ashley, Joseph Mawle, and Jamie Sives, but Howard does the vast majority of the talking.

The “Logs” offer a decent look at the production. Each segment may be brief, but they add a mix of good elements, especially because we get glimpses of the shoot. While not amazing, the snippets merit a look.

A mix of featurettes ensue. Chase and Pollard: A Man of Means and a Man of Courage goes for seven minutes, 28 seconds and offers info from Walker, Howard, author Nathaniel Philbrick, producers Brian Grazer and Paula Weinstein, and actor Chris Hemsworth, “Means’ provides notes about the real Owen Chase and George Pollard as well as cast and performances. Despite its brevity, “Means” brings us a useful mix of details.

For a historical perspective, we go to The Hard Life of a Whaler. In this eight-minute, 44-second piece, we hear from Grazer, Howard, Weinstein, Walker, Philbrick, Hemsworth, Walker, Holland, Mawle, production designer Mark Tildesley, stunt coordinator Daniel F. Malone and actors Sam Keeley and Gary Beadle. We get notes about the whaling business and the movie’s attempts to recreate those areas. Like its predecessors, this one’s awfully short, but it gives us some nice material.

We learn about the author in Whale Tales: Melville’s Untold Story. It goes for eight minutes, 13 seconds and features Philbrick, Howard, Weinstein, Walker, screenwriter Charles Leavitt, and actors Cillian Murphy, Michelle Fairley, and Ben Whishaw. The featurette offers some notes about Herman Melville as well as influences on Sea. “Tales” provides a short but enjoyable summary.

During the 10-minute, 25-second Commanding the Heart of the Sea, we find notes from Howard, Tildesley, Malone, visual effects supervisor Jody Johnson, and visual effects producer Leslie Lerman. “Commanding” examines the practical and CG methods used to bring the movie’s ocean scenes to life. It adds another informative synopsis.

The disc’s longest program, Lightning Strikes Twice: The Real-Life Sequel to Moby Dick occupies 28 minutes, 59 seconds. It provides comments from Philbrick, marine archaeologists Cathy Green and Jason Raupp, Maritime Heritage Coordinator Kelly Gleason, Marine National Monument superintendent T. ‘Aulani Wilhelm, deputy superintendent Randall Kosaki, Nantucket Historical Association Chief Curator Benjamin Simons, and wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin. “Twice” looks at whaling, ships, Nantucket and its inhabitants, and the remains of Two Brothers, the last ship George Pollard commanded. “Twice” comes with some good notes, but it often feels more like an ad for the Hawaiian marine monuments than anything else.

16 Deleted Scenes take up a total of 36 minutes, two seconds, while four Extended Scenes go for seven minutes, 11 seconds. Across these, we tend to get more character depth. We see interactions among the whalers, with some emphasis on how Chase treated the men. We also get a little more of the “disaster” elements in the tale.

Do any of these moments contribute much of interest? Not really, as they mainly just expand concepts we already know. The scenes that show Chase as a tough customer might have some value, as the final film pushes him more into a “nice guy man of the people” persona, but I can’t say any of this cut footage seems especially useful.

An Island Montage lasts three minutes, seven seconds. It shows what it implies: a collection of shots from the island seen in the movie. It feels like an odd music video, and I can’t figure out what purpose it serves.

The disc opens with an ad for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. No trailer for Sea appears here – and unlike some other discs, the 3D platter offers no 3D promos.

A second disc provides a DVD copy of Sea. It includes the “Chase and Pollard” featurette but lacks all the other extras.

As an alternate, fact-related take on Moby-Dick, In the Heart of the Sea sounds promising. Unfortunately, the end result lacks much substance and seems like a tedious attempt at an update on the story. The Blu-ray offers excellent audio as well as mostly good picture and supplements. Sea disappoints.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8461 Stars Number of Votes: 13
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