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Mike Barker
William Hurt, Ethan Hawke, Charlie Cox, Eddie Marsan, Gillian Anderson, Billy Boyd, Raoul Trujillo
Writing Credits:
Herman Melville (novel), Nigel Williams

Ishmael sees his dream of a whaling voyage come true when he joins the crew of the Pequod, a sailing vessel leaving port in Nantucket. Unbeknownst to Ishmael and the mates, the Pequod's monomaniacal Captain Ahab is taking them all on a mad and personal mission to slay the great whale Moby Dick an obsession that will open their eyes to the wonder and spectacle of man, of beast, and the inescapable nature of both.

Box Office:
$25.5 million.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 184 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 10/4/2011

• None


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; 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.

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Moby Dick [Blu-Ray] (2010)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 27, 2011)

A literary classic gets its umpteenth cinematic adaptation via the 2011 Encore take on Moby Dick. Set in the mid-19th century, Ishmael (Charlie Cox) comes to Nantucket to find work on a whaling ship. After he befriends ace harpooner Queequeg (Raoul Trujillo), he lands a spot on the Pequod, a vessel led by Captain Ahab (William Hurt) and first mate Starbuck (Ethan Hawke).

Though the men believe they’re out to hunt whales, before long they learn that the plural form doesn’t really fit. Instead, Ahab seeks to find and kill a monstrous white whale named Moby Dick. This creature attacked Ahab and caused the loss of the captain’s leg, so Ahab wants revenge.

My first and only reading of the original Herman Melville novel came back in high school. Given that I’m now old, old, old, that was a long time ago, so I can’t claim that I remember much about it. Indeed, my overriding memory is that the book offered long dull passages punctuated by occasional flashes of excitement. I should probably re-read the novel as an adult to determine if that impression remains true, but I’d assume it would, as Moby has earned consistent criticism over the years for its turgid bits.

As I recall, most of those dealt with seemingly unnecessary discussions of the whaling business that didn’t move along the narrative. When the book stayed with its characters and story, it was good, but when it tutored us about the nature of whaling, it went into the toilet.

Happily, the movie dispenses with the tangential material and sticks with the journey taken by Ahab and the others. This doesn’t mean this adaptation pares things down to become all action, all the time, though. Long periods pass in which we simply see life on the sea, so it takes a while until the men on the Pequod actually meet any whales.

Which is appropriate, especially in the context of the original novel. After all, it wasn’t an action spectacular, so a movie version shouldn’t follow those lines either.

Clearly this version does take liberties with the source, especially via character changes. For instance, although the Melville novel barely mentions Ahab’s family, the movie delivers full scenes with his wife Elizabeth (Gillian Anderson).

This is one of a few choices that makes Ahab a kinder, gentler character than normally envisioned. Hurt doesn’t play him as a lovable rogue, but he borders on that. Though Ahab still shows signs of madness and obsession, he doesn’t seem quite as tyrannical as expected.

That may take Hurt away from the character’s origins, but I don’t he makes a bad choice. Hurt manages to give a believable quality to Ahab and allow for complexity to emerge. He seems more of a sad obsessive than the anticipated angry kook. The other actors do fine in their roles, with Hawke’s sympathetic turn as Starbuck among the best.

Probably the biggest weakness here stems from the film’s visual effects. With a budget of about $25 million, Moby wasn’t a bargain basement affair, but it clearly didn’t have the money for the best computer graphics.

This means a Moby Dick who always looks fake – and fake to a distracting degree much of the time. I can’t say the bad visuals totally take me out of the story, but they threaten to do so. The movie's action works best when we don’t see the whale; Moby just looks too artificial to become a believable threat.

Despite that notable weakness, this adaptation of Moby Dick works reasonably well. It’s been made a bit more accessible for modern audiences but it still maintains a good sense of character and adventure.

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

Moby Dick appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Though not great, the movie offered generally good visuals.

Sharpness was usually fine. A few shots could be a little soft, but not to a significant degree. Instead, the program normally appeared concise and accurate. I noticed no issues related to jagged edges, shimmering or edge haloes. No source defects marred the presentation, either.

One wouldn’t anticipate bold colors from a period film like this, and Moby Dick went with a pretty standard nearly sepia look. Actually, it seemed more bleached/desaturated than anything else, as it opted for a fairly sandy appearance. This meant virtually colorless material and I thought the Blu-ray represented the choices well. Blacks were acceptable, though they could be a bit inky, and shadows were decent; some low-light shots looked a bit dense, but they were usually appropriately visible. The image wasn’t stellar, but it provided positive enough visuals for a “B”.

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Moby Dick also had its inconsistencies. On the negative side, audio quality could seem erratic. The main issues occurred during interiors, such as those at the Nantucket inn. These sounded stiff and unnatural, as they presented a boomy sense of reverb that made them appear artificial. In particular, this meant speech was reedy and felt canned.

Exteriors worked much better, and since so much of the film took place outdoors, audio quality was usually fine. During those scenes, speech was natural and distinctive, and effects sounded clear and accurate. Bass response provided good punch to louder scenes, and music was always vivid and lively.

The soundscape also came to life best during the whaling sequences. Other scenes featured a good sense of atmosphere, but the film’s most dynamic elements emerged when the Pequod went after whales. Those featured nice movement and activity, as the various channels created a solid sense of action. The sporadic issues with audio quality knocked my grade down to a “B”, but most of the track was quite good.

Unfortunately, the Blu-ray comes with absolutely no extras. We don’t even get previews for other releases – there’s literally nothing added here.

No one will mistake this new adaptation of Moby Dick for a classic – or a version that adheres closely to the source novel. For what it is, however, it fares pretty nicely, as it delivers a generally compelling and satisfying take on the tale. The Blu-ray delivers mostly positive picture and audio but totally omits supplements. It’s a worthwhile rental but $30 for a barebones Blu-ray seems too steep.

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