Audio Book: Moby Dick Read By Actors, Writers, and a Prime Minister

Posted on August 16, 2016 at 3:31 pm

Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick is available for free, read aloud by actors, writers, and more, including Tilda Swinton, Stephen Fry, Neil Tennant, Fiona Shaw, Will Self, Benedict Cumberbatch, China Miéville, Tony Kushner, John Waters, Simon Callow, Sir David Attenborough, former Prime Minister David Cameron, and Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver.

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In the Heart of the Sea

Posted on December 10, 2015 at 5:36 pm

Copyright 2015 Village Roadshow
Copyright 2015 Village Roadshow

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is a brilliant novel about humanity, nature, obsession, power, and pretty much everything else, with a lot of technical information about whaling thrown in for good measure and metaphor. Nathaniel Philbrick’s acclaimed book about the tragic real-life whaling expedition that inspired Melville to write Moby Dick is In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. This film is director Ron Howard’s uneven attempt to give that story the mythic force of Melville’s tale (itself never adequately adapted for film).

Like Moby Dick, this is a story of man against nature, not just the powerful animals man tries to trap and kill but of man against the animalistic elements of his own nature. That is represented, as it so often is, by the conflict between two men. The captain of the Essex is George Pollard (Benjamin Walker). He and everyone on the shop know that he is captain only because he comes from a high-born shipping family. The first mate is Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth, with his “Rush” director), resentful of Pollard because he was promised the captain job and knows he is more qualified.

On the first night out, Pollard makes a point of cruelly describing Chase’s father’s time in prison to establish his superiority — and his willingness to use humiliation as a management tactic. In his desperation to establish his superiority, he does not realize that it makes him look thuggish and scared. It certainly does not inspire respect or loyalty. But Chase is determined to make it work. This time, if he meets his quota, he has it in writing that his next voyage will be as captain.

The whalers are under enormous pressure. Whale oil powers the world of the 1820’s (there is a clumsy hint that the world may be shifting to fossil fuels). Whaling ships go to sea for years at a time, traveling across the Atlantic to kill whales, extract the blubber, and melt it down.

Ships — whether on water or in space — are ideal settings for stories because they are isolated from the society at large. Everything is heightened because there is no way to leave and no recourse for support or appeal. But that intensity and drama is dissipated here with a useless framing story as author Melville (Ben Whishaw) tries to get the ship’s only survivor (Brendan Gleeson) to tell him what happened. The connection is awkwardly positioned against Moby Dick‘s narrative voice and unforgettable Job-like status as the sole survivor who can carry the story and the survivor character’s sympathetic wife is a distraction and her scenes suggest after-the-fact re-shoots.

Melville was wise to reshape the story. This version has gorgeous scenery, a moving score by Roque Banos, and superb special effects, but the power of the images is undercut by a story that tries to carry more meaning than it can hold.

Parents should know that this is a whaling saga with constant and intense peril and violence including fire, guns, storms, starvation, murder, cannibalism, and sinking ship, many characters injured and killed, brief strong language, and drinking and alcoholism.

Family discussion: Why did Pollard embarrass Chase on the first night out? What were the biggest differences between Pollard and Chase in the way they treated the men? Do you agree with Chase’s “abominable” decision?

If you like this, try: “The Perfect Storm” and Melville’s Moby Dick

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Based on a true story

Interview: Roque Banos, Composer of “In the Heart of the Sea”

Posted on December 2, 2015 at 3:32 pm

Roque Baños composed the haunting score for Ron Howard’s new film, “In the Heart of the Sea,” based on the real-life whaling expedition that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. “I got involved at the very beginning of the shooting,” he told me in an interview. “My first conversation with Ron was before he started to shoot. We talked about many things of course but the most important words were like, ‘Roque, the music in this movie was going to be more than 50 percent of it.’ The music for him is another character of the movie. He treated us as another actor and we had conversations about emotions, the power represented on the whale. He wanted also a dramatic but also a very, very modern sound;, you didn’t want like an old school classic score.” There is one moment in the film where a sailor plays a genuine 18th century song on his guitar, but the score is not based on historical themes.

To convey the peril and passion of the story, Baños used a wide variety of instruments, from ethnic flutes to touch on the force of nature and the low sound, ancestral sound of the didgeridoo to represent the whale. There is an electric cello and orchestral guitars, “but the most unusual one was the percussion. I didn’t want to use the traditional percussion on the action scene. I wanted to use something special so then I asked Ron Howard if I could have everything they used from the ship for the shooting. Then they brought me everything that they had on the ship, even the sails, the sails, ropes, and hull, so we spent two days of recording a pallette of sounds that come from the ship. The whole ship was an instrument. So every percussion you hear on the music comes from the ship that we are seeing the picture. So another one that I will tell you, I was recording the sounds from nature like air, like water, the flow of water, the sound of the sea.” Putting all of those sounds together required a lot of mixing. “The whole thing was a like huge experiment. I didn’t know at the beginning how it was going to come out. I think there is always a way to combine extremely different instruments. I also created a big library of sounds so then I convert them into notes so then it could be used as music.”

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Behind the Scenes Composers
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