Thursday, 4 August 2011

2010: Moby Dick - review

This film was made, unsurprisingly, in 2010 by The Asylum.  I had hoped not to cover another Asylum film ever again in my entire life, but here I am, punishing myself.

Warning, this is a spoiler based review 


Why am I punishing myself with this you ask?  Well, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, happens to be one of my favourite books of all time.  I first read it only three years ago and have read it several times since, I've watched just about every adaptation of it from some dodgy knock off version where the whale is seeking vengeance because Ahab killed his whale wife and whale child, to the Patrick Stewart one.  I've hated every single one I've seen.  I'm totally serious.  Most of them get at least one thing right in the film, one thing which I think, "yeah!  That was totally like the book!"  Not a single one has ever managed to satisfy my cravings for a faithful adaptation.  In the Patrick Stewart version, and this pains me to say it as a life long Star Trek fan, the part I hated most was Patrick Stewart, he just wasn't Ahab. 

If you've never read the book, or even didn't like the book, it's a bit hard to understand where I'm coming from, but I really, really loved Moby Dick and so I live in hope that one day one person will make a version I can be proud of, one that doesn't cast Buffalo Bill as Starbuck preferably, even better to not have Ishmael be called Ishmael in dialogue as that isn't his name. 

I figured that with all the terrible adaptations of I've seen, this one can't possibly be the worst and since they didn't set out to make a faithful adaptation, setting it in the present, I should be able to concentrate on the movie, instead of how much they've changed from the book. 

Let's begin.  The title card appears on some snowy white mountains and the camera passes over some pretty snowy landscape until we come across a periscope sticking out of the snow.  We then see a guy looking through the periscope and what he sees through the periscope.  He gives the order to down periscope and move off and a card informs us this is the 20th of November, 1969.   

I'm English, they don't teach american history in English schools, is this like cold war era stuff?  All I know about the cold war is stuff from movies and tv, I understand it involved Cuba, some missiles and a lot of glaring at each other with stern expressions.  Ah, it's probably not important.

The captain of the sub tells them to prep for silent running, and a guy in a room with three other guys give the three other guys some orders in military language.  One of them is called Ahab.  (Spoilers, I think something is going to happen involving Ahab and possibly a whale.)  Ahab listens on his headphones at something in the water and gets out a tape cassette to record something. 

Ahab argues with the other guy because the other guy thinks he hasn't heard something, but Ahab is sure he did hear something and the captain comes over to try and settle the dispute.  Ahab says that what he hears isn't so much of a sound, but a hole in the water, which is fucking stupid.  The captain can't hear anything, but wonders if he should do something anyway.  The sub continues to move down, so the captain orders to stop chasing whatever it was he heard and send the tape to someone to see if they can figure it out.  The captain starts looking through his periscope and sees a black shadowy thing moving towards them.

That's the blackest looking white whale I ever saw.
Obviously, it's Moby Dick, Moby Dick has decided in this movie that he doesn't like submarines and bites it and starts swimming towards the surface in a style which is almost identical to another Asylum movie.  The crew inside the sub hold on for deal life as water pours in and eventually the whale breeches the ice in a way obviously a reused effect from that other film. 

Totally not a re-skinned, slightly tweaked version of megashark.
What a sperm whale actually looks like
After dumping the sub he bit in half on the ice, Moby Dick shuffles back a bit.  We see Ahab inside the sub is badly injured, he tries to wake up his friend, but he's dead.  A heavy pipe pins his leg down and as he tries to move it he sees Moby Dick looking at him through the hole in the ship, the whale gets all mad and chomps down on one half of the sub, pulling it away, which as it pulls, rips off Ahab's leg from the knee.  Ouch.  The whale slides back into the water with half the submarine and then we get a montage of newspaper clippings about giant whale sightings, old stock footage, pictures of subs and maritime theme paintings with the titles to convey the passage of time.

As they end we're in San Diego, California in the present day and see two people, a man and a lady  on a little tiny boat.  The man keeps calling her Doc, but she tells him to call her Michelle.  The woman is listening to stuff on headphones while the guy complains about the boat and the possibility of being paid.  The lady lowers a speaker into the water to play whale song or something equally as whaley and types something into a keyboard.  I'm not an expert on the prices of hiring boats in San Diego which would be suitable for research, but do you know who is?  Google.  *googles* You can hire a decent sized boat for about $160 a day if you shop around, or if you're doing research there's a place to contact at the marina that will put you in touch with someone who will rent you an appropriate boat very cheaply.

Michelle gives some exposition to a Dictaphone, where she explains she's playing the mating call of the humpback whale, hoping to attract other whales from hundreds of miles away.  The other purpose for the sonar is to warn whales to stay away, as navy sonar hurts the whales, blah, blah, as Michelle talks, the other guy spots a disturbance in the water and tries to get her attention and shows her the whale stock footage happening off the side of the boat.  Another whale happens by and Michelle gets all excited, then the whales start to disappear and she gets the guy to turn off the speaker.  We also see that the boat is called THE COFFIN, not a great name for a boat. 

That's not a whale
A sub rises and it turns out that this is the USS Pequod and Starbuck pops up and asks if she's Doctor Michelle Herman, because they've been looking for her.  Hang on, Michelle, Ishmael, Michelle Herman...  are you fucking kidding me, movie?  Goddammit.  Wait, also hang on, the guy on the boat with her is black, so is he Queequeg?  Oh god.... the boat's called The Coffin, it all makes sense now.  (If you haven't read the book, it's too long to explain, read the book, or the cliff notes.)

Starbuck tells her to come aboard, she says she won't, but they insist she does, she asks if she can speak to the captain, but he's ill apparently and Starbuck has orders to commender her equipment and services, he tells her if she refuses they'll just put her on the boat anyway.  Actually they'll just load her entire boat onto the sub anyway.  He also tells her to cover up because they've been deployed for five months.  Don't they let women on subs now?  *wiki*  April 29th, 2010, the US finally allowed women to serve aboard submarines, that was before this movie started filming.

Stubb (left) and Starbuck (right)
We hear over the tannoy that the sub is preparing to dive again, they decide to put Michelle in the torpedo room as that's where the captains bed is being stored after he complained it was too comfortable.  Oh and apparently, the black guy isn't Queequeg, this oriental looking dude is apparently. Maybe this other guy is Pip.

Meanwhile in Point Mugu, California, a whale tour boat takes five or so tourists to view some whales and the captain warns them to hold on in case the water gets choppy.  We see that on the front of the boat there's a harpoon, the tourists see some of the stock footage that Michelle saw earlier, but expanded a bit.  He tells the tourists that the whale they see is getting ready for a full breach and to get their cameras ready.  Wanna guess what's going to happen.

If you guessed, Moby Dick eats the whale, you were right!
Of course what should have been a huge splash as Moby Dick hit the water but it's a mere ripple, so Moby Dick decides to crush the boat with it's massive weight, for the lulz.  Meanwhile, back on the Pequod, Michelle is taken to a room filled with many CG screens.  Starbuck explains that in the past few weeks several large vessels and an oil rig were all sunk by what eye-witnesses described as a large whale. 

Michelle thinks that it's ridiculous so Starbuck shows her some grainy CCTV pictures and she says that there just couldn't be a 400ft whale and also whale's teeth don't jut up like in the pictures.  (Is that to explain the left over shark teeth, Asylum?)  Starbuck asks her whale she thinks it could be, she says there's a theory that pre-historic whales live in deep Arctic waters, but this is still huge.  She says that her sound generator would need to be tuned for the specific whale and of course, she doesn't have this whales sound.

Enter Brad, Mayor Winston, Barry Bostwick, AHAB!
Ahab enters with his clunky fake foot and his tape cassette of the whale sound from 1969.  The crew starts telling stories they've heard about the legendary Moby Dick, Stubb thinks it's just a legend, but Ahab knows it's real because he's seen it and swears to get it.  Michelle asks him if he's serious about taking revenge on an animal, Ahab tells her that he'd strike the sun if it insulted him and animal or not, he will find Moby Dick.  He also said he read her dissertation and has been reading her work for years and if anyone can find the whale, it's her.  She says she doesn't want to be part of a hunting expedition, he tells her they just want to stop the attacks so she agrees.

Meanwhile at the third fleet command, San Diego California, a car pulls up to the base, Captain Boomer is brought into an office to discuss Ahab, as he has served with him twice, the first time being when Moby Dick attacked their sub.   Boomer says that Ahab was a good skipper and asks what this is about, the other guy explains that Ahab is now captain of the state of the art, Pequod and missed his last radio check in, 7 days ago.

Boomer reasons he could be tracking another sub, but the other guy says that they got the sub on satellite twice in the past week surfacing and then explains about the attacks, he thinsk Ahab is responsible for the attacks and sends Boomer to speak to a survivor from the whale tour boat. 

Back aboard the Pequod, because they can't play the tape, Pip takes it apart and winds the ribbon around the microcassette from the Dictaphone so they can play it.  In the sonar room, the Pequod identifies another sub, the USS Essex, the Essex has also identified an object, but Moby dick is lurking close by.  In the Pequod they see that a large mass is heading towards the Essex, Ahab orders them to intercept, but Starbuck tells him it will take four hours, Ahab says the men on board are already doomed.

Ahab asks for continuing reports on the status of the Essex.  The captain of the Essex tells them to prepare to fire, when they see that what they think if the Pequod is diving, he gives the order to fire.  Why?  As far as he knows, it's only a possibility that the Pequod is responsible for the attacks, why would they fire?  The torpedo they launch misses and hits an underwater mount so the captain gives the order to fire again, which misses again and Moby Dick leads the torpedo towards the Essex and it destroys the ship. 

Boomer gets a phone call telling him about Michelle getting kidnapped by the Pequod, they send a file to his phone and as soon as he sees that her field of study is whales, he knows what Ahab is up to.  Boomer goes into the hospital room of the lone survivor from the whale tour.  The doctor tells him the woman only speaks Russian.

Totally a hospital room and not the production office with a bed shoved inside
Boomer, luckily speaks a bit of Russian and pours the woman a drink of vodka from a hip flask, it turns out the woman does speak English though.  She tells him that a giant white whale attacked the boat and Boomer looks disturbed.  Back on the Pequod, Michelle listens to the tape, Pip says he can't hear anything, Michelle tells him that it's not a sound, it's the absence of a sound, Ahab overhears this and says, "like a hole in the water."  Which is still bloody stupid.

The Pequod reaches the last known position of the Essex, they hear a banging sound and Ahab tells them to stop and activate the phtonic mass, which is navy speak for camera apparently.  On camera they see a floating body, which looks very silly and not at all like it's floating.  They patch the images around the ship and Ahab tells the crew that it could have been them floating outside and it still might be, now they must do their duty and find the whale. 

Here I'm going to have to give the movie, or rather, Barry Bostwick, some credit.  Ahab makes a rousing speech (with parts I'm sure are lifted from the book, but I don't have a copy in front of me to verify) in which he tells the crew they will be going after Moby Dick.  This is a great performance from him so credit where credit's due, the effects might be naff, but Bostwick is a great Ahab, better than Patrick Stewart in my opinion.

At the Point Mugu Air naval station, Boomer tells a lance corporal that he needs a ride and flashes a badge.  On the Pequod, Michelle scans for sounds, but can't hear anything so Queequeg tells her he'll show her to her room as it's 3am and she could use some rest.  Pip gets a funny line where he says he'll stay right there. 

Boomer gets a call from his superior telling him that they've found the remains of the Essex and they're now treating the Pequod as an aggressor as they assume it was the Pequod which destroyed them and they're sending another boat after them.  Boomer gets aboard a plane piloted by Tashtego, whose looking a little black rather than native american.

Michelle tries to sleep underneath the dangling torpedoes, but she's not having much luck, especially when a couple of guys come in to get one as they've spotted a biological mass.  As they ready to fire they get a call from a helicopter who threaten to fire if they don't respond.  Michelle says the mass isn't right and it's not the whale, the helicopter starts firing bullets into the water to show they're serious.  Ahab tells them to ready the nukes as the target grows closer, Michelle says it's not Moby Dick

They fire anyway and the nuke for some reason, flys into the air to hit an underwater target and barely misses the helicopter, it hits what they were firing at.  The helicopter radios the Pequod to tell them they just nuked a school of what the pilot claims is squid, but from the CG just looks like a blobby, messy, thing in the water.

Your rotary blades cannot harm me!  My soft palette is like a shield of steel.
After Moby Dick eats the helicopter Michelle asks why they would fire on them and Starbuck demands to see their orders.  Ahab takes him out of the room and tells him he personally picked him for the assignment and can't do this without him, the men from the Essex need avenging and their men are still ready to do it. 

Ahab goes to the torpedo room and asks a man there to fetch a cannister, he pulls out something which actually made me squee slightly.

It's marked FEDALLAH
If you've read the book, you know why I squeed.  Ahab says that the special torpedo was made from the wreckage of the Acushnet and Moby Dick can only be killed by something he's touched.  Boomer radios in and finds out that the Pequod is getting the blame for the helicopter and he will have to get to the Pequod before anyone else if he wants to talk to Ahab.  His pilot asks what's going on and Boomer asks him if he's heard of Moby Dick.

Michelle hears Moby Dick, the crew don't believe her, but Ahab does and changes their course for the direction of a cruise liner.  On board the cruise liner a woman on the dock sees Moby Dick in the distance, then it rams the boat .  The crew of the Peuod know if it rams the ship again, it will sink so Michelle puts an output on the speakers of Moby Dick's own call and he starts heading towards them so they prepare the Fedallah torpedo. 

They wait until Moby Dick is only 50 metres in front of them before firing and they get a direct hit, but Moby Dick hits the sub and it tears off a bit of the ship and it starts flooding.  They start going down fast as the torpedo is attached to the sub and it drags them further below, too deep for the sub to go as it goes 3000 feet below and the boat shows signs of buckling.  Starbuck tells Ahab they have to cut loose, but Ahab says the sub can take it.

The tether breaks and Starbuck orders Queequeg to bring them up, but the engines aren't responding, as they near 4000 feet they manage to turn the sub and they come shooting out of the water and surface. 

Not really a normal day aboard the Pequod
Pip, Michelle and some of the crew stand go outside to get some fresh air, presumably, they get a distress call from the cruise liner which is called The Rachel (mini-squee), Starbuck says they'll respond to the distress call, but they see Moby Dick has surfaced on the water in front of them, so they get their first real look at the whale. 

Ahab says that The Rachel will have to fend for herself as they are going after the whale, they can't allow it to reach Hawaii and cause destruction there.  Stubb suggests that they drive Moby Dick into a reef, since he is too close to fire upon and keeps changing his distance to prevent them from firing.  The Pequod runs upon the shallow reef, letting Ahab call Moby Dick a "clever fish" (mini-squee) and starts laughing madly. 

The whale turns again to ram them and their tubes are block so they cannot fire, but Boomer arrives on his plane and they begin firing on Moby Dick.  Boomer drives Moby Dick toward the reef, but their plane collides with the whales tail and they go down, but Moby Dick has successfully been driven into the reef.

Prepare the Zodiacs
Boomer swims to the surface of the water and starts swimming towards the Pequod, inside the crew know they cannot enter the reef, but they can go in after Moby Dick.  We get your typical, lock and load montage and Boomer has arrived inside the ship. 

He goes to see Ahab, Ahab recognises him, and says what a pair they make.  Boomer has a gun hidden behind his back and tells Ahab it's time to stop as half the navy is after him, though there's nothing stopping Boomer from calling the navy and saying that the Pequod is innocent and it's a giant whale as he saw it.  Ahab asks him if he had forgotten what it was like to sit on the ice and watch his arm turn gangrenous and the years of pain and surgery and rehab. 

Boomer asks Ahab how many people need to die for him to have his revenge, killing Moby Dick will not bring anything back for them.  Ahab tells Boomer to dave his ammunition as he'll need it later. 

Ahab tells Starbuck to give them two hours and if they don't return to destroy the reef to ensure Moby Dick is dead.  Michelle gives Pip the tape and tells him if she doesn't make it back, to make sure that it gets back to the institution.  Stubb gives Ahab a harpoon made from the damaged part of the ship and Ahab cuts himself on it and drips his blood over the end, saying it's now properly tempered.  (huge squee.)  Michelle tells Boomer that Ahab is insane, Boomer knows but he's going with them anyway.

The small ships set sail and Starbuck and Pip watch them go off.  Queequeg and Michelle drop some mines into the water by the opening to stop Moby Dick from leaving the reef and they search the water.  Michelle notices some birds and shouts that he's under Ahab's boat, right below. 

Moby Dick jumps up, knocking Ahab, Boomer, Stubbs and the others from the first two boats into the water.  Michelle and Queequg head to land.  They meet up on shore with Ahab, Stubbs and another guy, they've lost the other men but managed to maintain most of their ammunition.  Ahab has lost his fake leg and tells Michelle that they are fated to see this through together.  Michelle asks where they are and he tells her that they're at a leper colony.

Ahab takes a grave marker of a priest who tended to the sick lepers and uses it to create a new fake leg to walk on.  They head out across the stone beach to look for Moby Dick.

Um, who the fuck is this guy?
Ok, seriously, who the hell is he?  He's not been seen in the movie before, he wasn't the other guy on the beach with them, he isn't wearing a uniform.  Was he a stand in that they forgot about in the final cut of the movie?  What the hell?

On another part of the beach, Boomer is with two of the harpooners, yay, Boomers still alive!  One of the sees something and runs towards the water, Boomer shouts at him to come back. 

Subtle hiding place, Moby Dick
Moby dick lifts his head out of the water and shakes it around, Boomer saves the harpooner and they all fire their guns at Moby Dick.  The other group hear the weapons firing and come running, but as they round the corner, the whale disappears.  Michelle tells Ahab it's his fault as the whale isn't hunting them, but she has to eat her own words as they whale jumps over the hill behind them. 

They scatter and try to gain good firing positions, Boomer appears and pulls Michelle behind a rock to save her.  Queewug distacts the whale as he runs out of bullets, Ahab takes aim, but doesn't have the shot.  They find Queequeg has been crushed by the whale and he dies. 

Ahab takes the remaining boat and goes after the whale, he fires his special harpoon at the whales eye and laughs maniaclly as it hits, but the whale dives and of course he's tangled in the harpoon rope and pulled under the water. 

Aboard the sub they see that Moby Dick as turned and heading towards them, Starbuck readies the torpedoes and waiting until the whale is only 100 metres in front he fires four torpedoes, hoping that if the mines don't take him out the torpedoes will.  The torpedoes miss and the mines don't explode and the whale comes crashing down on top of the sub, with Pip still stood up top.

OH SHIT!
Moby Dick sends the sub sinking into the deep, the torpedoes are still heading towards the island.  Stubbs and Boomer sit down, surrendering their fate.  Michelle decides to try and outrun the torpedoes by running to the hills.  Starbuck agonises as they give the call to abandon ship as the ship falls apart, Boomer and Stubbs sit on the beach, drinking from a hip flask and smoking a cigar respectively.  Michelle keeps running, Boomer and Stubbs exchange a look as the torpedoes explode across the island.  Moby Dick sinks down, with Ahab floating by him. 

Michelle surfaces and a helicopter flies overhead and the credits come up.  End of movie.

Summary:

So for a completely inaccurate movie with piss-poor effects, from The Asylum, it was pretty accurate and not half bad.  I know that's an oxymoron, but I shall explain.  Characters who didn't appear were alluded to, events which didn't occur were also hinted at. 

It was filled with lots of little nods to the book, so whoever wrote the script had at least read the book or the cliff notes.  Barry Bostwick was a great Ahab, probably the best Ahab that I've seen, I've already made my stance clear on Patrick Stewart.  Starbuck was pretty good and it was nice that Stubbs got included in an adaptation for a change. 

There were some funny moments I have to give the movie credit for and those final scenes were particularly good.  The incidental music was also well chosen to go along with Ahab's descent into madness.

There were some changes I didn't particularly like, but I could live with considering the nature of the adaptation.  It would have been nice however, to have Michelle clinging to the remains of her boat at the end with The Rachel coming to rescue her. 

The effects were atrocious, but you can't really expect much from The Asylum.  All in all I'd have to say I enjoyed it, which pains me greatly.  I still hope for a faithful adaptation one day, but if you know you can't produce one, then this is a good idea to go for.

6 & 3/4 out of 10 

20 comments:

  1. Bostwick made this worth seeing, him chewing up the scenery. And I have to admire the filmmakers for allowing it to just go batshit crazy in the last half hour... Moby Dick pulling a Rambo in the surf is one of the highlights of cheesy cinema.

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  2. For some reason, it won't allow me to directly reply, but I completely agree. Bostwick is the only person I've seen play the part who seems to GET Ahab and I hope more people see the movie just to see his performance.

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