Am I talking about the hip hop number choreographed by NappyTabs for So You Think You Can Dance? No. (Although if you haven’t seen it, go watch it now!)
I am talking about the recent blockbuster, “In the Heart of the Sea,” starring Chris Hemsworth. ***SPOILERS AHEAD***
I went to see it a couple weeks ago in our local dollar theater (love those). I was prepared to be impressed. I love the book, “Moby Dick,” and the trailer showed some awe-inspiring whale action scenes.
However, early on I felt underwhelmed. Hemsworth’s character, which showed promise early on, seemed to hit snooze a third of the way into the movie, as did the conflict between Captain and First Mate. The last chunk of the movie was like an endless tangent that I was not interested in. But the friend I went with thought it was amazing! So I went on the internet to validate my feelings and see what other people thought.
A couple of reviews put it really well. One said that the movie was almost cut into three segments with three different stories. Another remarked on how the “cut-backs” to Melville and his story-teller were awkward and diminished the action. A third explained how the story may have ultimately fallen short because it was trapped in a modern mindset.
I thought about this. It seemed true. There were a couple times when modern perspective was thrust in there to “gratify” modern audiences. And it did make the whole story feel a little less genuine. The characters weren’t allowed to just be themselves, or show us their character through their responses to situations. They were all conveniently molded and polished to give their lines at the appropriate times for the plot of the film. And this is something that has become a huge irritation for me.
But it was particularly irksome because it is so very contrary to Herman Melville. The characters of Moby Dick are simple yet complex, raw and riveting. They are what keeps you reading through the detailed accounts of the whaling industry procedures. By the end I only had a mild attachment to Hemsworth’s character (I can’t even remember his name) and mainly because his wife made such a scene at the beginning for him to come home. And if I had known that the last portion would be a gruesome narrative of survival on the ocean where they are forced to cannibalism and or shooting themselves, I wouldn’t have been interested in seeing the film. (Although I do realize that was true to history).
(At one point as they were approaching the island in their little boats I thought Hemsworth was going to turn into the monomaniac Captain Ahab. He kept “seeing” the whale everywhere and shouting. That could have been interesting and believable, considering that the whale obliterated the ship and killed several men. But then later on he has an opportunity to harpoon the whale and he chooses not to. I’m not saying having compassion on animals is a bad thing–but it conflicted with other messages in the film and made the story fall flat even more.)
All this to say: as a storyteller you need to make sure you don’t get trapped in your own perspective. This could have been a great story to tell if the filmmaker’s had allowed the time period and the characters to speak for themselves.
(Granted, this movie was based on a book, which I haven’t read. If it so happens that the movie kept steadfastly loyal to the book, then I will say Ron Howard missed a good opportunity to improve upon the book.)
Get out of your mind. (Especially if you are writing historical fiction) Branch out. Make sure not all of your characters believe what you do. Maybe even tell stories you don’t agree with…be brave.