In the Heart of the Sea flops like the great white whale

The official promotional poster for In the Heart of the Sea that depicts the crew members witnessing the great white whale. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment.
The official promotional poster for In the Heart of the Sea that depicts the crew members witnessing the great white whale. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment.

“In The Heart of The Sea”
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Tom Rolland, Benjamin Walker, Ben Whishaw
Runtime: 122 minutes
Directed by: Ron Howard
Rating: PG-13

December of 2015 was possibly one the biggest months for movies, not only for 2015, but for the last five years. During that month, great and powerful films were released such as The Revenant, Star Wars: Force Awakens, Joy, Concussion, and The Hateful Eight. Many directors who have proven their prowess in the film industry came back to make 2015 one of the greatest years for films. Even though the rest of the year was a bit weak due to some certain failures — not going to point fingers but it’s Ant-Man — the directors still ended strong with the best they could. It showed that there was hope for a dying industry and that these people had the potential to make it great again. Then December 11 came along and In the Heart of the Sea was released.

The film follows the true story of a whaling ship, the Essex, that is sent out to sea and is destroyed by a legendary giant white whale. This story is the same one that inspired the novel Moby Dick, and while there are some changes to the minute details, , none are too drastic to its source material. The movie starts with Herman Melville, played by Ben Whishaw, going to the house of the last living crew member of the Essex, an old man named Thomas Nickerson, played by Brendan Gleeson. After some time he convinces him to share the story of what happened that day, while Herman takes notes. It then shifts over to the home of the Essex’s first mate Owen Chase, played by Chris Hemsworth, and his wife. It is discovered that she is pregnant and that he is leaving to go on this mission but will miss the birth of his first child. While this troubles him, he still continues forward and decides to join the crew and go on the expedition.

They are joined by a multitude of crew mates such as William Bond, played by Gary Beadle; Richard Peterson, played by Osy Ikhile; and a young Thomas Nickerson, played by Tom Holland; to name a few. They head out across the rough sea and face more dangers than the impending whale. They are put through rough conditions including storms that almost rip their boat in half. They make it through this and eventually come across a few whales that they proceed to hunt. This leads to the discovery of an angry, giant white whale that attacks their ship and destroys it. A few teams make it out onto some wooden dinghies and escape the flaming wreckage of the ship with only small amounts of food and water rations and a handful of guns. This leads to them floating down the open sea with no indication of how to get back to land. The rest of the story follows their journey and Thomas’ story of how he was able to make it back alive while avoiding starvation, dehydration, insanity, and the vicious whale that is still hunting them down.

While the story is wonderfully done and adapts well from the novel, it is one of the weaker points of the film. The story heavily follows the events and the life of first mate Owen Chase, instead of the interviewee Thomas Nickerson. While they do both end up living, it’s a little odd to go so much into his personal life when he doesn’t really matter in the end. He did have some heroic feats on the ship that lead them to surviving but it is a little disappointing that the reason he was focused on was due to a few more reasons than historical accuracy. Everyone knows that he’s the main focus of the film because he is played by Chris Hemsworth.

This brings up another issue with the film: the casting. The actors chosen for their parts are good at what they do but it’s painfully obvious that they are not right for the role. Hemsworth plays the exact same hunky savior that he does in every movie and makes all the segments that he’s in seem like fan service. They did do a respectful job with having him keep his shirt on but that still doesn’t excuse how much he just can’t fit into the cast. The casting directors did a decent job with the rest of the cast, yet a few of the crew members are a bit underused and thrown away which was a shame. Overall the casting was mediocre but could have been much better if they had just taken some more consideration with it.

The last thing that made this movie just a bit unbearable was the cinematography. This film had not only 100 million dollars in budget but also had Ron Howard as director, almost guaranteeing that it would look and flow beautifully. But looks can be deceiving as this film is probably the most amateur looking film of 2015. It is filled with awkward shots that were filmed using GoPros’ stuck onto some part of the ship  making the entire shot blurry except part of a wood plank that made a boring, confusing shot. There was also an intense scene in the film where Chase was talking to his crew but the camera was placed behind them and he was constantly being covered or blurred by their legs. There was even a moment in that scene where the entire shot was covered for a few seconds by the light of a swinging lantern next to the camera. Shots like these continue throughout the film and range from looking like a failed attempt to look artsy to just being lazy and confusing. The entire experience was just hard to look at and made the film twice as hard to watch as it already is.

One thing that the film actually did right though was the CGI or Computer Generated Images. These made up a lot of the shots and the CGI team did well with making them look believable and interactable with the actors well. The most prominent of these is the infamous white whale, that looks and feels as massive as it really is. Mixing that with the destruction of the ship, the storm and the other whales, it adds a great deal of realism to it and makes it quite immersive, that is, up until it throws in another awkward camera shot and ruins everything that the artists in the CGI department had spent so much time trying to perfect. The truly sad part is that this is the best part of the movie and even it is ruined by the rest of its own flaws. Not much else can be said for it except that the film’s biggest enemy is itself.

In the end the movie had a lot to offer and had built a lot of hype to be a wonderful film. But like most hyped things, it just couldn’t deliver and created a lackluster experience that left the audience wanting more. That stacked with the already mentioned issues such as terrible camera work, bad casting, and a story that’s all over the place, make watching the film an unenjoyable experience. Those who like sea movies or like to see Chris Hemsworth’s muscles will most likely get something good out of this film but not much can be said to the rest of the demographic. It’s just too average and bland to really show itself to be prominent over everything else that was released during the same time. That’s why In the Heart of the Sea gets a well deserved 5/10.

For more information about the movie and the distributing company, Warner Bros. Entertainment, visit it’s webpage.


Tyler Grosser

Tyler Grosser

For the 2017-2018 year, I have assumed the position as Media Editor and Business Coordinator for The Reflection. The majority of articles that I write pertain to the feature and entertainment side of The Reflection, including opinion, point-counterpoint, and review articles. I have been involved with The Reflection since Sophomore year and while I don't plan to pursue journalism as a career, I cherish the experience and memories that the class and paper has granted me.

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