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In The Heart of the Sea: The book you must read before seeing the movie

Updated on May 6, 2015
Image from In the Heart of the Sea
Image from In the Heart of the Sea | Source

Moby-Dick is heralded as the one of the great American novels. It’s about a whaling captain seeking revenge on the great white whale that took his leg. The book is certainly Herman Melville’s greatest works, but this isn’t the book you should read before seeing Ron Howard’s newest film Heart of the Sea, which will hit theaters March 15th, 2015. The book you should read is In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick and was published in 2000, is a tragic and gripping story of survival and the basis for Howard’s new film. The book is about the real life story that Melville’s epic is partially based on, the events that sank the whaleship Essex.

Unlike with Moby-Dick, the story doesn’t end with just a whale attacking a ship. It’s that after the Essex was rammed and sunk by a nearly 80 foot long sperm whale the crew struggled out on to the open ocean in small boats for three months. Then, the crew had to resort to cannibalism in order to survive. In the Heart of the Sea, is a captivating read and will have you glued to every page. You will feel as if you are on this voyage of survival with the crew of the Essex. This is a must read before you see the movie, because you will be missing out on the full unabridged story.


In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

On August 12, 1819 the Essex set out on a journey that took it from the tiny island of Nantucket just 20 miles off the shore of Cape Cod, down around Cape Horn and north toward the equator in the Pacific Ocean. On board the ship are twenty men, and was captained by George Pollard. The voyage was in search of whale oil a very valuable commodity that was used to fuel the early industrial age. By November 20th, 1820 the crew had nearly filled their ship with oil and about to head home, when on what may have been their last hunt their ship was rammed multiple times by a large sperm whale in a perceived attempt to protect the hunted pod of whales.

The ship was mortally wounded and the crew took to the small boats that where normally used to hunt whales, salvaged what food and water they could and took to the ocean nearly 3,000 miles from South America. During the ensuing 93 day journey the crew would exhaust their food and water supply and have to resort to eating their fellow crewmembers to survive.

Back in 2006, while looking for a particular book to help me with a film idea of my own, I discovered Nathaniel Philbricks’ National Book Award winning In the Heart of the Sea. Since purchasing this book, I have reread it nearly twice a year. It’s one of the greatest nonfiction books I’ve ever read. I was captivated by the story of a dead industry in America, where men set out on a voyage halfway around the world for nearly three years at the time to satisfy Americas need for oil. Well, perhaps the industry isn’t dead we just changed the way we get the oil.

The detail in this book of just the daily routine of being on a whaleship inflamed my imagination. The sure amount of work and sacrifice involved in catching a large creature such as a sperm whale makes the work performed by the crews of Deadliest Catch look easy in comparison. Spending three years at sea and not able to come back till your ship is full of oil, not able to see you wife or kids, its just unimaginable being willing to perform a job like that.

Early on in the book you are given a preview of the detail that Philbrick goes into to tell the story and it is in a very captivating scene when the crew find its first whale. In this depiction he gives a step-by-step account of how the crew goes about their business of hunting down a sperm whale and then cutting up the whale to turn it into oil. The descriptions are brutal and bloody with butchering of the whales bodies and the book keeps up these types of descriptions its entire length. The descriptions are vivid of life in 1800 Nantucket to the final fight of survival out on the Pacific Ocean. Once again, tou will fell like you’re in the fight with the crew of the Essex and hoping that they’re able to survive their impossible task as shown the below excerpt:

“All around them, the unruffled ocean reached out to the curved horizon like the bottom of a shiny blue bowl. Their parched mouths made talking, let alone singing hymns, difficult. The Prayer meetings, along with their progress, ceased. That Sunday they sat silently in their boats, desperate for deliverance, knowing that back on Nantucket thousands of people were sitting on the wooden benches of the North and South Meeting Houses, Waiting for God’s will to be revealed.”

The story is told mostly from perspective youngest crewmember 14-year-old Thomas Nickerson, who is on his first voyage. The story also follows first mate Chase Owen. Both Owen and Nickerson wrote accounts of the ordeal, with Owen’s being a popular account just following the disaster.

The story of the Essex was so captivating in its time, it was described in the book as the Titanic of its day. A young Herman Melville while working on a whaling ship had the account of the sinking written by the first mate Owen Chase with him. Melville also met Owen’s son on one of his whaling voyages and asked him questions about his father’s ordeal. Some of the myths surrounding Owen eventually became some of the main character traits built into Moby-Dick’s Captain Ahab.

Ron Howard will be able do the book justice based on the other historical based film adaptions to his credit. Those other adaptions being Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon, and most recently Rush. With Ron behind the film you’ll be getting a visually captivating and well-told story, you can’t go wrong with Ron Howard at the helm. Also, you can expect great performances in the film with a cast that includes Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland and Benjamin Walker.

No matter how good of a filmmaker is there is no movie that can capture the full story from a book. As a screenwriter I know there are time constraints; no one wants to sit through a five hour-long movie. I also know that a movie is entertainment and telling a story on screen is far different then in a nonfiction book. It’s extremely hard when adapting a book to decide what parts to keep, discard or compartmentalize. But, that’s why there’s a book.

Sorry, I only rant because I cannot stand it when people say the book was better, but that’s because there’s more content in a book and the things a character is thinking is said outright. I’m sure the film will be amazing, because they will be able to capture the essence of what the book is about. Capturing the essence is all you can do with the movie by relying smart visual story telling and the actors conveying the unsaid things, which this film will be able to do.

So, read the book so you can get the full taste of what the real life people endured, it’s an amazing read. Then, watch the movie to be entertained by the captivating story that is the tragedy of the whaleship Essex.

The Release Date Has Changed

Warner Bro. studios recently decided to move the films release to December 11th, 2015. They decided to do this in order to put the film into the award season.

Rush: A Ron Howard Film


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