Action Adaptation

'In the Heart of the Sea' Blu-ray Review: Not quite a whale of a tale, but still seaworthy

March 17, 2016Ben MK

Underappreciated in the years following its publication in 1851, Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick" is now considered one of the greatest literary works of all time. It also, however, is not a work of complete fiction, as Melville based portions of his tale on accounts of a maritime disaster that occurred some three decades prior. Now, after numerous film adaptations of Melville's landmark novel, director Ron Howard has brought the true story behind it to the screen.

Set in a time when whale oil was the world's most sought-after commodity, In the Heart of the Sea follows the crew of the whaling ship Essex, as they set sail from Nantucket Island, Massachusetts into the open waters of the Atlantic, with a mission to fill 2,000 empty barrels with the precious liquid. Captained by the inexperienced George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), the Essex hits its first obstacle when the ship sails headlong into rough waters early on; however, it's nothing compared to the trouble that the crew will encounter later, when they fall victim to an attack by a massive sperm whale.

Adapted by screenwriter Charles Leavitt from author Nathaniel Philbrick's book of the same name, the film's first half is structured as your standard seafaring adventure, as the crew — including first officer Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), second mate Matthew Joy (Cillian Murphy) and deckhand Tom Nickerson (Tom Holland) — make their way to the remote Offshore Grounds in search of whales to hunt. The second half of the movie, however, is strictly a tale of survival, as the ship is destroyed and the crew is reduced to three small whaling boats, each adrift and left to the mercy of the sea.

Intercut with scenes that show an older Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) recounting his harrowing experience to an intrigued Melville (Ben Whishaw), the result devotes a fair bit of screen time to the friction between Chase and Pollard, two men who find themselves at odds with one another because of their stations in life. However, when it comes to the struggle for survival that dominates the movie's latter half, the filmmaking feels far too workmanlike. Ultimately, In the Heart of the Sea does a fair job dramatizing this true story, but (ironically) it could itself benefit from a little more heart.

Boasting a rip-roaring Dolby Atmos sound mix that thoroughly immerses viewers in the experience of being on the high seas, the real star of In the Heart of the Sea is the film's thunderous sound design, which is full of the sounds of crashing waves, pouring rainstorms and bellowing whales, not to mention the rhythmic percussion of the score. As for the Blu-ray picture quality, it's perfectly fine in and of itself, but it falls somewhat short of the disc's outstanding audio quality. What we get is still quite handsome, however, with ample fine detail to bring out the period production design, a nicely saturated color palette populated by an array of blues, teals and golden yellows, and stable contrast from start to finish.

Warner's two-disc Blu-ray release includes an UltraViolet digital copy, a DVD and the following Blu-ray extras:

  • Ron Howard: Captain's Log (15:50) - A collection of very brief featurettes about Ron Howard's tweets during the film's production, chronicling the location scouting process, the first day of filming, shooting in the outdoor tank at Warner's studio in Leavesden, recreating a storm sequence in an indoor tank, shooting out near the Canary Islands, the actors' physical transformations for the film, the final night of shooting, the editorial process, the recording of the score at Abbey Road Studios and the promotional materials for the film.
  • Chase & Pollard: A Man of Means and a Man of Courage (7:28) - A piece about the characters of Owen Chase and George Pollard, their working relationship and the casting of Chris Hemsworth and Benjamin Walker.
  • The Hard Life of a Whaler (8:44) - A featurette about the job of a whaler in the 1820s and the cast's preparation and training for their roles.
  • Whale Tales: Melville's Untold Story (9:13) - A piece about Herman Melville, how the story of the Essex helped inspire him to write "Moby-Dick," and how elements from "Moby-Dick" were incorporated into the film.
  • Commanding the Heart of the Sea (10:25) - A look at the film's visual effects, practical effects and production design.
  • Lightning Strikes Twice: The Real-Life Sequel to Moby Dick (28:59) - A documentary exploring the story of a lost whaleship discovered by NOAA archaeologists in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in 2008.
  • Deleted Scenes (36:02) - Sixteen deleted scenes ("Spanish Sailor," "Dockside Goodbye," "Loading the Essex," "Essex Sets Sail," "Hard Life at Sea," "Mooning Midas," "Cole & Chappel Fight," "Men Argue," "Bump in the Night," "Pollard Suicide Moment," "Chase Trapped Under Mast," "Catching Wind," "Barz Body," "Chase Rescues Pollard," "Pollard & Chase Goodbye" and "Graveyard").
  • Extended Scenes (7:11) - Four extended scenes ("Peggy Chase House," "Bringing More Whiskey," "Singing Sailors" and "Chase, Near Death").
  • Island Montage (3:07) - A collection of scenes set on Ducie Island, where the Essex crew eventually wash ashore.

In the Heart of the Sea is available from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment as of March 8th, 2016. The Blu-ray features English Dolby Atmos, Spanish, French and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, and English Dolby Digital 5.1 Descriptive Audio tracks. The film is presented with English SDH, Spanish, French and Portuguese subtitles. The total runtime is 2 Hrs. 2 Mins.

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