(What is that thing, Jay?)
Okay, it wasn’t a musical. It was a film by Ron Howard, starring Chris Hemsworth as the steely-eyed first mate of the whaling ship Essex that left Nantucket harbor in 1819 and got STOVE BY A WHALE, which is the greatest 19th century phrase I can think of.
I like to use it whenever my car won’t start or I’m late for any reason: I WAS STOVE BY A WHALE, I say. “Where’s your boyfriend?” “Oh, he couldn’t come, he was stove by a whale.”Â
I have lived in eastern Massachusetts for seventeen years now, so while I’m a mere newcomer to these parts by New England standards, I’m a huge fan of New England history. Nathaniel Philbrick’s riveting book In The Heart of The Sea: The True Story of The Whaleship Essex was the first one I bought when I moved back to area in 2002, and I sat among my half-unpacked boxes in front of a fan chewing my nails and shivering with terror and suspense as I devoured Philbrick’s tale of the terrible fate of the Essex and its crew. It’s a fantastic book. You should probably just go read the book right now.
Better yet (or certainly just as good), read Moby Dick, Melville’s epic American novel based on the true story of the Essex!
I can’t recommend seeing the movie, though.
It’s just not dramatically good. The biggest problem is that Chris Hemsworth is the most boring actor imaginable. All he does with this role is stand around looking hunky and determined, and when he gets angry, worried, upset, he squints. He gets wet, he stomps around and climbs rigging and yells all the important lines like “Thar she blows!” and “Land! LAND!” and “I guess we should eat that guy because we’re all starving to death in these little rowboats because our ship was STOVE BY A WHALE” and all, but he’s very, very boring. Boring and squinty.
Cillian Murphy would have been way better. He plays a member of the crew and Chris Hemsworth’s best childhood friend. They have a very touching scene where you can see the desperate sadness in Murphy’s eyes as he considers not only the dramatic content of the scene, but how much better the whole movie would have been if he had been cast in Hemsworth’s role. I agreed with him. It brought a true tear to my own eye.
The CGI effects are so bad! How did that happen, Opie? There’s a very pretty animated backdrop of Nantucket that they use at the beginning of the film that looks like it was painted by Thomas Kincaid, Painter of Light.
The whales are visually awesome, of course, but even they swim around and breach and slam their flukes with no real sense of dramatic intensity. You can feel them thinking, “What’s my MOTIVATION in this scene?”
Brendan Gleeson is corny as the old sailor who was once that young man who survived the shipwreck after the Essex was STOVE BY A WHALE. He has a wife who loves him even though he “committed abominations” by which he means that he ate some guys while adrift on the sea for ninety days being baked alive under the hot sun. It’s very hard to watch Brendan Gleeson spin his “whale of a tale” to a guy playing Herman Melville, because the dialogue is anachronistic and the actor playing Melville, Ben Whishaw, looks like he knows his scenes are pure rubbish. To me he looked a little sore that he hadn’t gotten cast as Kylo Ren, but I could be projecting.
There are precisely two women in this movie. The other one is Chris Hemsworth’s wife, played by Charlotte Riley, who cries when he leaves and Waits Faithfully For Him To Come Home. I wasn’t sure if she was crying because she had a foreboding of the tragedy that awaited his voyage or because of his super, super bad Massachusetts dialect.
I am not exactly sure of this but it feels possible to me that some of Chris Hemsworth’s dialogue was dubbed by Mark Wahlberg using his voice for the character Ted, the foul-mouthed teddy bear.
I also felt that this film really suffered the absence of one my favorite actors, Bruce Davison, who excels at playing stern 19th century men of authority. He would have KILLED as the owner of the Essex.
You do know what I’m hoping for, though, don’t you? It would make my life complete if someone would make a mash-up of video footage from In The Heart of the Whale with this.
It’s a tuner, bro!