Technical assessment: 3
Moral assessment: 2.5
CINEMA rating: V14
MTRCB rating: PG13
In the heart of the sea is an adaptation of the non-fiction bestseller about the destruction of the whaling ship, Essex, by a humungous white sperm whale. The adventure is told by Thomas Nickerson (Gleeson), the lone survivor of the ship’s last voyage, to novelist Herman Melville (Whishaw) 30 years later. In 1820, 14 year old Nickerson is drafted as cabin boy for the refitted Essex to participate in the lucrative whale oil industry. The owners hire George Pollard (Walker) an inexperienced mariner from an established whaling family as captain, and veteran whaler Owen Chase (Hemsworth) as first mate. The disgust and envy of both men for each other affect their relationship onboard and the decisions they make, almost costing the lives of their crew. However, to save face and ensure that they do not return to port empty handed, the men agree to set their differences aside in order to catch some whale. Months pass with little progress and they decide to sail on undisturbed grounds where they are attacked by a huge sperm whale that destroys their ship. The surviving crew escape on three smaller boats where their courage and will is tested as they face constant attacks from the vengeful whale, hunger and thirst and one another’s dissent. In the end the surviving crew realize respect for nature and integrity are far more worthy than success.
The film starts slowly and continues on a painstaking effort to match the momentum of the drama and action of its literary counterpart. But in no way does it diminish its cinematic value. Undoubtedly, Howard put as much heart and soul in the computer-generated whale sequences and Hemsworth holds his ground with enigmatic presence and solid performance. While the storytelling is strong and comforting, the dialogue is a little weak and lacking in humor and punch. Scoring and production design is intelligently conceived as they enhance the period and mood of the scenes.
Two main points can be derived from the film. One, reputation and connection should never take precedence over experience and skill. Pollard’s family name should not have been the basis for naming him captain over the more qualified Chase; the former’s inexperience led to the voyage’s failure. Sadly, present society still favors patrons, reputation and popularity over real skills in appointing people for certain positions. Second, man likes to abuse and fight nature for his own benefit, but in the end, nature always wins. The scared bull whale attacked the men brutally, not because it is violent or aggressive but because it had to defend itself. Once Chase stopped trying to kill it, the whale left them alone. We are currently experiencing countless lashes from nature—thunderstorm, storm surge, earthquake, and drought. Maybe if we left nature alone it would start to heal and become less vengeful. Maybe if we respected nature more, it would start to care and provide for us again. While, there are good messages in the film, acts of cannibalism (although understandable under the circumstances) and animal torture might not be appropriate for young audiences without parental guidance.