Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Moby Dick

Moby Dick; Adventure, UK, 1956; D: John Huston, S: Gregory Peck, Richard Basehart, Leo Genn, Friedrich von Ledebur, James Robertson Justice, Orson Welles

Britain, 19th century. The young Ishmael goes to a bar at night and searches for a job as a whale hunter, while he shares his room with Indian Queequeg. After the mass, the two of them enter a ship of Captain Ahab who hires them. The ship leaves the port and takes the course towards the Pacific Ocean because Ahab thinks he can find his arch nemesis there, the white whale nicknamed 'Moby Dick' that once chopped up his leg. The crew captures a grey whale and gets oil from it, but Ahab lets further whales loose in order to sail faster. Queequeg has a hunch that he will die and orders a coffin. Moby Dick really shows up one day, attack them and sinks both their ship and their boats. Everyone dies except Ishmael, who saves himself on a floating coffin.

4.5 million $ was the budget of this adventure spectacle about whale hunting, the third movie adaptation of Herman Melville's 1851 novel with the same title, and which starts with drawings of the hunt. Director John Huston did a good job and crafted the story with a lot of audacity, but it's rather incongruous since he couldn't joggle with the fact that at first the sailor Ishmael was presented as the hero, but then shockingly disappears and is replaced by Ahab, played much better by Gregory Peck than some would admit, whereas the beginning has a lot of good details (a woman with a beard; Ahab's irony to make his artificial leg out of whale's bone). The symbolism about revenge and obsession wasn't so clearly transported on film, though. The giant white whale from the title appears too late, some 80 minutes into the film, and some 100 minutes into the film when the final battle between the giant Cetacea and the ship finally starts to unravel, sinking the ship - even though the whale special effects shots are various size miniatures made in Elstree Studios, only three times larger than an average human, it's a spectacular finale, yet up to it the story is rather lethargic and vague.


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