In the Heart of the Sea

In late 1820, the whaling ship Essex, out of Nantucket, Massachusetts, was rammed and sunk by an enraged sperm whale. The captain and his crew were left stranded in the Pacific Ocean, 2,500 miles from mainland South America. The true story of their ordeal in tiny whaling boats, where many of the crew perished as the survivors slowly made their way to an eventual rescue, partially inspired both Nathaniel Philbrick’s book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.

Director Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea stays close (by Hollywood standards) to the known facts. Its first half is a thrilling retelling of the voyage of the Essex, but its second half, a downer by necessity, was likely responsible for the film’s disappointing box office returns. But it’s a tale worth telling, and it’s told well here. review is of the Ultra HD, high dynamic range (HDR) version, though a 1080p Blu-ray Disc is also included. While the film’s photography is a little gritty and sepia-toned, likely by choice, it’s clear and generally crisp. But in at least one of the underwater scenes (likely CGI), there’s brief but obvious color banding, not typical of the 10-bit processing used in UHD discs. It was visible on two different, premier-level UHD/HDR flat screens (including the Samsung 65KS9800 used as the primary display here). This banding was not present on the 1080p HD version. But it was brief, isolated, and hardly a deal breaker.

The disc’s HDR is effective though rarely jumps out, but that’s a good thing here. When the crew is fighting for their lives and sanity, you shouldn’t be thinking, “Wow, look at that picture pop!”

While I couldn’t evaluate the Dolby Atmos on the soundtrack, the 5.1-channel Dolby TrueHD is first-rate. It’s active where required, such as in the squall early in the film and later during the whale attacks. But like the HDR, the audio turns subtle during much of the crew’s 90-day voyage to safety. Roque Banos’s score is effective but frequently subdued. It lacks the presence of the work of the late James Horner, who scored most of Howard’s previous films. That’s a good thing if you believe film music should be “invisible,” but perhaps not if, like me, you believe a good or even average film can be raised to the next level by a great score.

The outstanding extras here include extensive making-of features, backgrounders on the whaling industry, deleted and extended scenes, and more.

Studio: Warner Bros., 2015
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio Format: Dolby Atmos / TrueHD 5.1 core
Length: 122 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy
Director: Ron Howard