3D films are a curious thing.
Back in the day (the 1980s to be more precise), 3D films were very much a gimmick. There was very little danger of anyone paying their hard-earned cash and getting to see anything decent in this format. It was more about short length, demonstrative offerings on big screens, served up to satisfy the public’s curiosity. There was nothing wrong with that. You paid your money, you got to see things coming out of the screen, straight at you, inducing the odd gasp or flinch – a sort of cinematic roller coaster.
More recently, 3D has made a comeback in a big way, but it’s now attached to epic feature films such as Ron Howard’s latest: In the heart of the sea.
Howard is not one to shy away from the big, the bold, or the dramatic and so it is with this nautical yarn based loosely on Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby Dick.
Ben Whishaw plays a young Herman Melville attempting to extract the well hidden bones of an epic story out of a now considerably older and understandably reluctant Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), who, as a young lad, had been a part of all the drama and hardships of the fateful voyage of The Good Ship Essex of Nantucket.
Indeed, The Essex was ready to set sail on yet another whaling mission; its crew packed full of testosterone and nautical know-how. That crew, including a young, inexperienced Thomas Nickerson (Tom Holland), would see and experience many a thing that would scar them forever.
Chris Hemsworth of James Hunt in Rush fame, is recalled once again as Howard’s lead, Owen Chase, a man bitter at being overlooked for the ship’s captaincy role, despite previous promises from the powers that be to the contrary. Being overlooked in favour of George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), who has only acquired the role by way of his family connections, is particularly galling for the considerably more experienced and better suited, Chase.
In the heart of the sea is in many ways a straight forward adventure film, and much like the flailing tail fin of the monster whale itself, Howard’s direction, perhaps predictably, slaps us about the face with little or no subtlety.
Performances that are akin to setting the volume dial to maximum, from a quality cast portraying characters that lack a little depth, should really become tiresome, but credit to the director who only very seldom allows a scene to stagnate. It’s full throttle or should that be full sail ahead, in search of adventure? Adventure, in a sort of ‘Boy’s Own’ way, is most certainly what we get.
Pure Hollywood. In 3D.
But once again, the question is raised: “Does 3D actually make In the heart of the sea a better film – does it actually add anything significant that couldn’t be achieved in 2D?”
On balance, the answer, as ever, is probably no, and further still, the opening scenes are severely hampered by much 3D meddling and gimmickry, giving them a most surreal visual edge as Howard goes absolutely perspective crazy to ensure that every shot achieves absolutely maximum focal depth.
It all wears a bit thin.
Saying that, if the viewer can navigate past the opening land scenes without being too put off, then the 3D aspect of the seafaring portion of the film, it should be conceded, comes into its own, integrating far better and more organically with the film’s narrative. Wonderfully epic shots of the ocean and of the mighty monster whale are impressively done and probably worth the admission money alone.
I like Ron Howard and although it goes against the grain for me, I like his direction too. Big, bold, in-your-face and unapologetically Hollywood. That’s fine by me when a director knows not to slow the tempo down and leave us too much time to ruminate over what can be at times, rather shallow, bubblegum content.
Although the stalking white whale storyline can veer a little too close to Jaws 4 territory for comfort, we’ll give Howard the benefit of the doubt for now and mark it all down as a tip of the hat to Melville’s epic novel as much as anything.
In the heart of the sea is very much what a lot of us pay our entrance money for; larger than life, full-on entertainment and under such criteria, the film does exactly what you’d imagine it would and should.
Perfect fare for post New Year over indulgences – even in 3D.