Thor battles a giant whale in the latest film from Ron Howard. But should you take the kids?
1. What’s it about? In the Heart of the Sea is an adaptation of the book of the same title by Nathaniel Philbrick about the whale ship Essex, which in 1820 was struck and destroyed by a gigantic sperm whale in the middle of the Pacific ocean. The fantastic story would become Herman Melville’s inspiration for Moby Dick.
The movie’s main conceit is that Melville travels to Nantucket to interview the last survivor of the Essex. The bulk of the movie is a series of flashbacks by Gleeson’s character to the time when, as a 14-year-old boy, he sailed on the doomed voyage of the Essex.
2. Who else might I recognize on the cast? The movie is full of actors from other genre films. Chris Hemsworth plays the hot-headed first officer of the ship, while Benjamin Walker (Abe Lincoln in that awful movie about him and the vampires) plays the inexperienced captain of the ship. Cillian Murphy, who appeared in Inception but is perhaps more recognizable as the Scarecrow from the first and third Christopher Nolan Dark Knight films, plays Hemsworth’s best friend. Frank Dillane from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Fear the Walking Dead plays the captain’s cousin, and Hemsworth’s wife is played by Charlotte Riley, who was in Edge of Tomorrow (and is Tom Hardy’s wife IRL.)
The narrator of the story is played by Brendan Gleeson from Harry Potter, Edge of Tomorrow, Troy, 28 Days Later, and tons of other movies. Melville is played by Ben Whishaw, the current Q in the Daniel Craig Bond films. Michelle Fairly–Mrs. Granger/Catelyn Stark–makes an appearance as Gleeson’s wife.
3. What’s it rated? Why? The film is rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of action and peril, brief startling violence, and thematic material.” The movie deals a lot with the dangers of sailing ships, but the violence is centered entirely around the conflict between the crew and the whale. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that most of the crew does not survive, but there are no particularly gruesome deaths. Well, not of people, anyway. Fairly early in the movie, the crew does successfully hunt and kill a whale, and there is a sequence of them butchering the carcass. Sperm whales were hunted almost to extinction from the early 1700s in large part because their heads are full of a substance that, it turns out, burns very nicely, so, prior to the discovery of oil around 1850, whale oil was a primary fuel source for society. The extraction of this oil, which sometimes involved sending one of the smaller crew members into the head itself, is detailed in the movie.
I’m pretty sure the “thematic material” in the MPAA’s rating refers to some of the steps the men take to survive after the ship is destroyed.
There’s no language that you wouldn’t hear on prime-time TV. There are a few shots that strongly imply men are about the enjoy the services of prostitutes, but they are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them types that don’t show anything. One crew member is shown carving an image of a naked woman in a piece of ivory.
4. Will I like it? Most likely, yes. Under the always-excellent direction of Ron Howard, the movie is a fast-paced action-adventure that maintains its humanity. The film isn’t without its flaws–it initially sets itself up as centering around a conflict between Hemsworth and Walker, but soon gets lost in its whale of a tale (sorry) and never explores that relationship as deeply as I would have preferred–but, on the whole, it’s a very good movie.
5. Will the kids like it? Despite the PG-13 rating, I probably wouldn’t take either of my kids. Older teens, particularly those who have read Moby Dick, might find the movie engaging, but I think younger kids will probably have issues with some of the more gory hunting scenes, particularly the one noted above. Also, you might have to have a conversation with your kids about those survival techniques, which is a conversation you might not be prepared to have with the younger ones.
6. Is it worth seeing in IMAX or 3D? I saw it in a regular 2D theater and enjoyed it just fine. There were a few sequences that I could tell were designed for 3D, but I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything important.
There are enough big shots of the ship at sea and of the whales that IMAX might be cool, but probably not worth the extra money (unless you really need to see a 60-foot-tall Hemsworth.) If you are inclined to see it in IMAX, though, you’ll need to hurry, since it’s safe to assume it’ll only be there for one week.
7. When’s a good time to pee? The movie is 2 hours, 2 minutes long. Once the ship sets sail, which is maybe 20 minutes in, the movie doesn’t really let up. The best time to slip out would probably be just after the crew abandons the ship, since you’ve got a couple of minutes of them gathering what supplies they can and getting into the boats. It’s almost exactly half way into the movie.
8. Is there anything after the credits? No.