Even with the concerns that come with a film known to have been pushed back from release after test screenings, this reviewer was excited to see "IN THE HEART OF THE SEA." While it's perfectly understandable why girls are attracted to Chris Hemsworth, it's distressing to find any directors actually wanting to have him star in their films. He's awful. Sure, in the "Thor" films, his kind of stunted delivery of lines can't stand out as anything worse than the other waste on screen. But, when he visibly struggles and can't deliver a single sentence without sounding like a bad actor in a bad high school production, eyes roll. But, Ron Howard has done great work before. One might think a film delving into the "true story" behind Melville's classic, "Moby Dick," will offer enough in other aspects of its production to help make it entertaining. Well, yes,...sort of.
For unknown reasons, Howard felt the film needed plodding bookends and flashbacks wherein a young Herman Melville tracks down and convinces a hard-drinking former sailor to share his nightmarish memories of his survival at sea after throwing down a lot of cash and serving up more than a few drinks to him. The former sailor, Tom Nickerson(Brendan Gleeson) recalls his journey aboard the Essex, a whaling ship intended to travel around Latin America over a 2 year tour, to bring back enough whale oil to make investors rich and the crew well rewarded.
Unfortunately, the inexperienced but well connected captain George Pollard Jr comes from a respected family of sailors and privilege while it's the first-mate Owen Chase(Hemsworth) having the experience and knowledge to secure a safe journey. Guess whose judgment prevails? When the Captain goes against advice to prove his skills, by heading into rather than avoiding a storm, the ship is heavily damaged and almost lost, there's only an increased desire to risk even more in order to secure enough whale oil to have made the mission worthwhile to everyone. This decision leads to disastrous results.
To give away more, would diminish any surprises, and there are some genuinely great moments within "IN THE HEART OF THE BEAST." A scene occurring after a successful whale hunt, built around the rites of passage of a young crew member, help anticipate something on the scale of "CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS." However, Howard's uneven direction causes the excitement of one scene to come to a complete halt with many more plodding scenes to follow.
The simple but major mistake of including completely unnecessary flashback bookends to the film provide a perfect example as to why "IN THE HEART OF THE BEAST" repeatedly fails to achieve greatness that the viewers will hope for it to achieve.
The fact that Howard was unable to recognize the bookend did nothing to help the story along, and that it was unnecessary means he couldn't recognize other scenes that were unnecessary, and he doesn't.
There are scenes that just don't feel right while watching them, and then there are moments wherein the viewer feels like they must have nodded off during a crucial scene because something's missing.
Ultimately, "IN THE HEART OF THE SEA" leaves the viewer feeling they've witnessed a "half-great" film. But, there's also a "half-awful" film swimming around in it too.
WARNER BROS has provided the correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio for this release. Howard chose to utilize plenty of CGI, an arguably poor choice as it doesn't even look realistic in many scenes. Perhaps he thought filters would make the CGI less noticeable? In any case, the use of heavy filters hurts the dynamic potential to many scenes, as every scene wherein it's used would've looked better without! This aspect of the film was visible in theaters and it's not going to change in 4k.
However, the 2K up-conversion to 4K does have its benefits. While the colors intentionally are veered towards unexplainable greenish hues, the less filtered scenes look outstanding here! This is true for scenes taking place in the bright of day(Unflitered) and for scenes taking place within a darkened storm(Unfiltered). When a storm magnifies across the ocean, first as clouds, then with gigantic waves and lightning, the resolution, and detail of this 4K really stand out against the regular blu-ray version in quality. Additionally, the contrast is outstanding. In darker scenes, the inky blacks are so well distinguished, the viewer feels drawn into the scene! No detail is ever lost to shadow! It's striking, especially when compared to the regular blu-ray. There are many great scenes wherein the 4K improvement stands out. It's just a shame Howard chose to use filters for many scenes that can only look mediocre in any format.
WARNER BROS has included a Dolby Atmos mix and "WOW," it stands out!!! Remember when DTS was an exciting improvement over the regular AC3 5.1 mixes of yesteryear? Well, Dolby Atmos is something to get just as excited about. Sure, everything relies upon the actual source material in creativity, but the ATMOS processing can make a big difference and it does so here! Dolby Atmos may not make a huge difference when it comes to more nuanced effects, eg. the sound of a wheel trudging through dirt in the streets, but when it comes to a well-designed sequence, as with the initial storm, it packs a whallop! The various speakers assigned to produce sails being thrown about in the wind, the crew yelling in fear, waves smashing against vessel, the film's score and dialogue are applause-worthy as presented in this release! Film-watching is often best as a shared experience, and it's hard to imagine any viewer not being gleeful over such a well orchestrated and immersive soundmix as this one is!
Along with the 4K bluray, WARNER BROS has provided a 4K UV code(it actually works when viewed on VUDU)! The regular blu-ray is also included, on which various featurettes, deleted scenes(over 20 minutes worth!) are included.
Even for a film that left this reviewer a bit disappointed, the 4K format offered considerable advantages over the regular blu-ray and it made the really good scenes within the film, great!