3 August 2011 | gradyharp
"Call me Ishmael'
As the novel opens, 'Call me Ishmael' are the first words of the sole survivor of a lost whaling ship as he relates the tale of his captain's self-destructive obsession to hunt the white whale, Moby Dick. They are words that have become often quoted by many authors and poets and for any number of reasons, yet they open the mysteries and beauties of one of the greatest American novels every written. There have been many cinematic productions of MOBY DICK, Herman Melville's 1851 supreme novel - 1956 with Gregory Peck as Ahab and 1998 with Patrick Stewart in the Ahab role - and each has its strong and weak points. There are many detractors of this current version who rightfully state that too few of Ahab's great speeches and lines have been omitted and that this version is too influenced by contemporary reasoning. But the tale is a great one and the splendid extended reveries and 'speeches' of Captain Ahab rest beautifully on the written page, a factor that allows mulling over the words and the meaning and the drama that may just fall a bit heavy when incorporated into a screenplay. Better the flavor of the story be conveyed by what cinema allows - imagery - that books can't mimic. This current version does just that - it finds the core of the obsession of a man driven by a struggle with his past, with nature, and with the personal vendetta against the great white whale, Moby Dick, who claimed Ahab's leg in the past. Nigel Williams is responsible for the screenplay, Mike Barker directs.
Ishmael (Charlie Cox) sees his dream of a whaling voyage come true when he and his Hapoonist friend Queequeeg (Raoul Trujillo) join the crew of the Pequod, a sailing vessel leaving port in Nantucket. What Ishmael and the mates don't initially appreciate is that the Pequod's monomaniacal Captain Ahab (William Hurt) is taking them all on a mad and personal mission to slay the great whale Moby Dick, an obsession that will open their eyes to the wonder and spectacle of man, of beast, and the inescapable nature of both. The flavor of the crew is well captured by a solid cast, including Ethan Hawke as a rather weak Starbuck, Eddie Marsan as Stubb, Billy Boyd as Elijah, Billy Merasty as Tashtego, Onyekachi Ejim as Dagoo, Matthew as Flask, James Gilbert as Steelkit, Gary Levert as Perth, and Daniyah Ysrayl as the cabin boy Pip. The special effects offer vivid and credible underwater activity of Moby Dick and the clashes with nature both within the crew and on the ocean are very well represented. The final underwater scene with Ahab strapped dead to the still alive and swimming Moby Dick is unforgettably realistic and a fine balance with the ever-innocent Ishmael grasping the empty coffin as the sole survivor of the voyage.
William Hurt gives us a different Ahab in Nigel Williams' script adaptation - less mad but more obsessed, less cruel and more vulnerable than we are used to seeing - but he is strong and takes us with him as he meets his end in his struggle with Nature. It is a moving adventure and despite the omissions that seem to bother most viewers, the movie does cast a spell over the entire 3 hours.