Review: Moby Dick DVD

Moby Dick DVD boxSTUDIO: RHI Entertainment and Vivendi Entertainment | DIRECTOR: Mike Barker | CAST: William Hurt, Ethan Hawke, Gillian Anderson, Donald Sutherland, Charlie Cox, Eddie Marsan, Billy Boyd, Raoul Trujillo
RELEASE DATE: 10/4/2011 | PRICE: DVD $19.97, Blu-ray $29.95
SPECS: rating | 184 min. | Adventure | 178:1 widescren | Dolby Digital 5.1

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

An epic tale with the misfortune of being produced on a cable-TV budget, Moby Dick makes a game attempt to translate Herman Melville’s classic 1851 novel — and even makes the mid-19th century shipboard setting believable — but this Encore Channel original film falls short in the effects department.

Moby Dick scene

Ethan Hawke (l.) and William Hurt go whale hunting in Moby Dick.

The titular antagonist, a great white whale, looks good swimming underwater; it’s when he surfaces or comes charging the Pequod sea ship that all credibility is lost. (It doesn’t help matters that the CG Moby’s scale in relationship to the ship, the dingys and the sailors keeps changing.)

The story is faithful to the book, to the tune of three-plus hours. (The film was broadcast as a two-part miniseries.) Captain Ahab’s nemesis shows up in earnest at the halfway point, but there are other whale-hunting sequences to keep viewers interested.

The ship’s crew, which includes Ethan Hawke (Daybreakers) as Starbuck, capably conveys conscripted seamen who are gung-ho at first, but who slowly realize their captain’s obsession will cost them not only their payday, but their lives. The weak component is William Hurt’s (Broadcast News) Ahab; the congenial actor looks the part under heavy beard, but just doesn’t display the menace required for a single-minded captain trying to keep an antsy crew in check. Hurt’s one-note performance is much less interesting then the special effect that removes his right leg.

The film’s presentation looks very good, and the roar of the ocean and splintering of boats sounds better, but the DVD contains no blubber on it all, not even subtitles to help with the period language. That lack of bonus features is a disappointment given the story’s rich literary and cinematic history, not to mention the daunting logistics that must have been involved in the production of the miniseries.

If you’re a fan of Melville, or are just looking for some good TV-quality adventure, you won’t be wasting your time giving this a spin, but don’t expect a movie for the ages.


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About Gary

Gary Frisch has been contributing laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray reviews to Video Business magazine, Home Theater Magazine, Home Theater Buyer’s Guide, Stereophile Guide to Home Theater and the DVD Guide for more than 14 years. He still has a collection of more than 40 laserdiscs, along with a working auto-reverse LD player, but thinks Blu-ray is da bomb and anxiously awaits the original Star Wars trilogy so he can buy it for the fifth time.