In the Heart of the Sea (Blu-ray Review)

In The Heart of the Sea Blu-ray ReviewBased on Nathaniel Philbrick’s non-fiction book of the same name, In the Heart of the Sea tells the story of the Essex, a whaling ship whose 1820 voyage served as the basis for the novel Moby-Dick.  The film premiered in New York City on December 7th, 2015, before receiving a wide release on December 11th.  The film grossed $93.8 million against a budget of $100 million.

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With In the Heart of the Sea, director Ron Howard depicts the story of the whaling ship Essex, which served as the inspiration for Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby-Dick.  In this way, Howard takes a much known story and finds a way to make it appear different and fresh, tackling some similar story points to Moby-Dick but showing events even those who know the novel back and forth will be unaware of.  It’s similar to what Steven Spielberg tried with Hook, creating essentially a different version of a classic story rather than trying to tell the same story in a fresh light.  The results here are at times interesting and riveting, but ultimately mixed.

In the Heart of the Sea is told using a framing device, with Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) talking to the last known survivor of the Essex (Brendan Gleeson) who up until this point has been silent about the events.  It’s never explained how Melville knew to track this man given his silence on the subject, but beyond that the framing device is questionable in its necessity, and somewhat problematic, as the Essex survivor dictates to Melville scenes that he would not have been privy too.

It’s tale at sea is more compelling, even though Howard doesn’t quite make the characters of first mate Owen Shaw (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) as interesting as some of the visuals of the voyage.  The two men have their differences, but their arguments never seep through to help tell the story, and ultimately any conflict they have falls to the wayside in favor of the awe-inspiring nature of the great white whale.

There is a scene where the two men discuss their distress in the voyage, debating about the reasons for their circumstances and if the overreach of their ambitions has led God to punish them for their actions.  It’s a strong moment, which the movie could have used more of, but it is only a moment, and a fleeting one at that, occurring nearly three-quarters of the way through the film.  But it does kick off a strong final act for the film.  Unfortunately the lead up doesn’t have the emotional strength that the last thirty or forty minutes is able to accomplish.

Ron Howard is an excellent director, and his talents don’t disappear in the creation of In the Heart of the Sea.  The visuals are stunning, added by Academy Award winning cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle.  The adventure sequences involving the whale are exciting to watch, and more memorable than the characters.  It won’t go down as one of Ron Howard’s strongest efforts, but he injects In the Heart of the Sea with a necessary panache that may have been a less interesting effort in the hands of a less talented director.

In The Heart of the Sea

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The video presentation is a strong point of this home media release.  This review is for the blu-ray only, though the film is also being released in Blu-ray 3D and 4K UHD.

  • Encoding: AVC MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Clarity/Detail: Excellent, even in the murky depths of the ocean
  • Depth: Well, there are shots under the sea, but in all seriousness Ron Howard does an excellent job with depth in his visuals, save for some shots obviously created using green screen
  • Black Levels:  Crisp and clean.
  • Color Reproduction: This a film of mostly blues, whites, and browns, all richly recreated for disc
  • Flesh Tones: The skin tones are all natural and authentic looking throughout
  • Noise/Artifacts: Nothing noticeable

In The Heart of the Sea

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Solid reproduction for disc here as well.

  • Audio Format(s): English: Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD 7.1; French (Canada), Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Subtitles:  English SDH, French, Spanish
  • Dynamics: Well balanced between clean audio and score tracks
  • Low Frequency Extension: LFE is utilized to bring balance to the presentation
  • Surround Sound Presentation: The film makes full use of its environment, and the Atmos and 7.1 tracks envelope the viewer quite nicely with spatial elements and background sound
  • Dialogue Reproduction:  Spoken words were clear and intelligible

In The Heart of the Sea

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Warner Brothers’ blu-ray contains a redemption code for an Ultraviolet Digital Download, and a DVD version is included. The DVD contains Chase & Pollard: A Man of Means and a Man of Courage, while the blu-ray contains the following extras:

  • Ron Howard – Captain’s Log (1080p, 15:50): Ron Howard discusses the production of In the Heart of the Sea and his use of Twitter to get the word out about the movie.  The log contains the following parts:
    1. Intro
    2. Location Scout
    3. First Day of Filming
    4. Into the Tank
    5. Controlled Chaos
    6. Out to Sea
    7. Getting in Ship Shape
    8. Production Wrap
    9. Editorial & Score
    10. Journey’s End
  • Chase & Pollard: A Man of Means and A Man of Courage (1080p, 7:28):  Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Ron Howard, and others discuss the film’s two central characters
  • The Hard Life of a Whaler (1080p, 8:44): Interviews with the cast and crew discussing the difficulties of life at sea
  • Whale’s Tales: Melville’s Untold Story (1080p, 9:13): A discussion of Herman Melville and the importance of his classic novel Moby-Dick
  • Lighting Strikes Twice: The Real-Life Sequel to Moby Dick (1080p, 28:59): A brief documentary on the 2008 finding of a Nantucket whaling shipwreck
  • Commanding the Heart of the Sea (1080p, 10:25): A look at the film’s challenging technical elements, including visual effects, production design, and stunts
  • Deleted Scenes (1080p, 36:02)
  • Extended Scenes (1080p, 7:11)
  • Island Montage (1080p, 3:57): A brief collection of clips showcasing one of the film’s locations

In The Heart of the Sea

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In the Heart of the Sea is a great looking, old-fashioned epic, one elevated by the talents of director Ron Howard, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, and others.  It is certainly a well made film that follows some of Hollywood’s grand traditions, but its screenplay doesn’t quite match up to come of the visual flair on display.  The framing story is questionable in its necessity, and the characters fail to be as memorable as the adventurous elements, except in a few instances that the film should have leaned on to a greater degree.  In the Heart of the Sea isn’t Ron Howard’s best, but there is enough visual splendor here, and the blu ray is a decent package delivered by Warner Brothers package for a film that failed to recoup its budget costs.




In The Heart of the Sea Blu-ray Cover Art


Reviewer/Actor/Director/Screenwriter, former film critic for PBS' nationally televised series Just Seen It, and an MFA graduate of USC's School of Cinematic Arts. Favorite films include ROCKY, DIE HARD, GHOSTBUSTERS, THE GODFATHER, and television shows such as TWIN PEAKS, THE X-FILES, and THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

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