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In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/8/2016

All Ratings out of


Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/29/2016

When I'm not review movies, I have a real job which involves marketing. I also love movie trailers. So, I watch trailers with an eye not only for what the movie is about and if I'm interested in seeing it, but also how it is being sold to an audience. Some movies sell themselves, while others often need a keen approach to ensure that they reach the right viewer. I'll often watch a movie which was not a success at the box-office and think, "They didn't market that correctly." That was certainly the case with In the Heart of the Sea. A movie which isn't great, but deserved to find its audience.

In the Heart of the Sea tells the story of how Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) began his work on Moby Dick. The film opens with Melville visiting Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) and persuading the man to tell the story of the doomed ship, Essex. The story then jumps back to 1820, where whaler Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) has been assigned as the First Mate on the Essex, although he longs to be a captain. Sailing under novice Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), who got his duty through nepotism, the ship heads south to hunt for whales and their valuable oil, which is used to light the cities. Pollard's inexperience places the ship and crew in danger, but they persevere and their first whale sighting is a successful one. After going for weeks with no other whales in sight, they head for a desolate part of the Pacific where they will most decidedly find whales. But, they've never encountered creatures as vicious as these whales.

Before starting this review, I went back and watched the trailer for In the Heart of the Sea again, and sure enough, I don't think that the marketing was exactly accurate. Essentially, we have two stories going on here. One of is nautical adventure tale, while the other is the origin of one of the most famous novels in history. The trailer doesn't really focus on either. We get plenty of shots of the ship doing various things and some shots of whales. (Which, having seen the film, I now know gives too much away, but what trailer doesn't these days?) However, these shots are decidedly random and we don't get a grasp on the exact nature of the action. The words "Moby Dick" appear on-screen, but it's not really explained that this is the true-story behind the novel. I can see how some may have thought that this was an adaptation of the novel. Director Ron Howard's name is mentioned, but the stars aren't. Why wouldn't you want people to know that Thor is in your movie? (And the title doesn't help either. In the Heart of the Sea? What does that mean? They should have called it "Whale Hunter" or "The Secret of Moby Dick" or ''Star Wars". Something that would have gotten butts in the seats.)

The result of all of this is a movie which costs an estimated $100 million to make and it brought in about 1/4 of that. And I can honestly tell you, based on the trailer, I wasn't expecting much. What I found was a pretty-good adventure yarn. The opening is a bit slow, as it focuses too much on the personality clash between Chase and Pollard. But, once the whaling action starts, the movie really picks up and this continues through the second act, which contains the heart-breaking fate of the Essex and its cargo. From there, the film changes direction and tone and becomes a very dark survival piece. (I had no idea about this going in.) In the Heart of the Sea does little to break new ground, but under the guidance of Howard, it does a good job blending the action and drama, and we truly feel for these characters by the end. (I must call into question the visual effects though. They are far from seamless and CG backgrounds and studio water are not very well-disguised.)

After watching this film, another question arises -- Why were so many historical facts changed? Of course, while watching the movie, I was unaware of any of this, but I always like to research true stories and I was surprised by the number of discrepancies here. I won't go into great detail, but specifics concerning Chase, Pollard, the Essex, the whales and the survivors are not accurately portrayed in the film. The question is, why? I understand dramatic license and the need to make things as interesting as possible, but why openly change facts. The movie should have included what happened to Chase later in life, as it's very interesting.

These issues aside, those who enjoy sea-faring films, such as Master and Commander should find something to like here. This isn't Pirates of the Caribbean. Discrepancies aside, the movie gives us a good idea of how difficult it was to work on a whaling vessel and the kind of pressure the men were under to succeed. The action scenes work and the third act, while depressing, is effective as well. In the Heart of the Sea doesn't get my highest recommendation, but it's certainly worth checking out.

In the Heart of the Sea takes us inside of a whale skull on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mpbs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. The nighttime scenes do look a bit dark, but the daytime scenes are perfectly balanced. There aren't many bold colors here, but the tones look fine. The level of detail looks very good and the depth is notable, even in this 2D version. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 6.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is an active track, especially during the action scenes in the second act. The stereo and surround sound effects are nicely detailed and we get some distinct sounds during explosions. The subwoofer effects are powerful and add presence to the whaling scenes. This set also includes a Blu-ray 3D where we find the film letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc holds a MVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25/14 Mbps. The image shows a very nice amount of depth in some scenes, while others look like the 2D version. The whaling scenes show an amazing amount of depth and these scenes look fantastic. The image doesn't have the dark look which plague some 3D releases. This Disc carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 track which runs at a constant 384 kbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects, but it doesn't have nearly the power or presence as the lossless track found on the Blu-ray Disc.

The In the Heart of the Sea Blu-ray Disc contains a ship's hold worth of extras. "Ron Howard: Captain's Log" (16 minutes) is a 10-part piece which highlights how Howard likes to use Twitter to document the filmmaking process. This begins with location scouting and move through the making of the film. "Chase & Pollard: A Man of Means and a Man of Courage" (7 minutes) examines the personalities of the two main characters and looks at how they clashed. The contains a few notes about the real-life people. "The Hard Life of a Whaler" (9 minutes) has those involved with the film discussing the real-life work and danger involved with whaling in the 1800s. The creation of Moby Dick and how Herman Melville crafted the story is probed in "Whale Tale's: Melville's Untold Story" (9 minutes). Howard discusses his approach to the material and the challenge fo combining live action footage with visual effects in "Commanding the Heart of the Sea" (10 minutes). "Lightning Strikes Twice: The Real-Life Sequel to Moby Dick" (29 minutes) is a documentary which gives an account of the fate of Pollard's second ship and the discovery of the wreckage. The Disc contains sixteen DELETED SCENES which run about 36 minutes. Many of these scenes are simply longer versions of scenes from the finished film, but we do get a new opening scene and a scene where the Essex encounters another ship. We then get four EXTENDED SCENES which run about 7 minutes. "Island Montage" (3 minutes) is simply an odd selection of footage from the film's third act.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long