A famous legend gets a beautiful new telling. But it's actually not that memorable.
1. The movie is based on the true story of the whaling ship Essex, which was sunk by a whale, and which inspired the famous novel Moby Dick.
2. The movie is gorgeously filmed. It's an epic adventure. It has a great cast. And it is a good movie. But for some reason, it's not a great movie. This is an example of how truly awesome movies need an extra mysterious ingredient - and this movie doesn't have it.
3. The context of the film is set up really well. In 1820, whale oil was in high demand to provide fuel for lanterns and street lights, and you could make a lot of money by getting on a ship and hunting whales. Chris Hemsworth plays the first mate of the Essex, which sets out to get at least 2000 barrels of whale oil.
4. The best part of the movie is seeing how the ships were run, how whales were hunted, and how the oil was harvested from dead whales.
5. Even though it's about a giant whale that destroys a ship, the whale is hardly in the movie. The main story is the relationship among the crew members, especially the friction between the ship's captain (played by Benjamin Walker, who isn't very well known) and Hemsworth's character.
6. The ensemble cast contains a couple of my favorite actors, Cillian Murphy and Ben Whishaw. Chris Hemsworth is not one of my favorite actors, but he does pretty well, here. At least he's not Thor.
7. The movie's pace greatly decreases in the last 45 minutes, and the melodrama greatly increases. The things the men have to do to survive are fairly ghoulish, and director Ron Howard had a great opportunity to create some real drama and pathos. But he screws it up by treating the situations with dry narration and cameras that cut away exactly when they shouldn't.
8. This may be the most gorgeous movie of the year; it's probably worth seeing just for the cinematography alone. There is some great camera work, and some individual scenes took my breath away.
9. The movie is an old-fashioned adventure, which nobody really makes anymore, and I give Ron Howard credit for making it. It's a great attempt at mixing history and human drama with an epic scope. It's just too bad he couldn't quite pull it off.