Written by: Gary Lang, David Bedard & Allan Abel
Directed by: Christopher Rowley
Narrated by: Roy Kenner
Released by: Artisan
My Advice: Check it out of the library.
Man strides the world like a colossus, remaking and destroying whatever we see fit for our pleasure. Or so we think. Every once in a while, that mean old bitch, Mother Nature, likes to remind us that she can still spank our collective asses. She has many and varied paddles: tornadoes, earthquakes, even having a sperm whale crash into your boat. This is what happened to the crew of the Essex in 1820. An account of this incident written by her first mate, Owen Chase, was the basis for Herman Melville’s tome on obsession and madness, Moby Dick. But another account, written by a cabin boy Thomas Nickerson, now reveals that the incident was even more harrowing than even Melville’s imagination could come up with. Death, deprivation, and even cannibalism are chronicled in Moby Dick: The True Story.
[ad#longpost]For a documentary dealing with the vastness of the ocean and the one of the largest mammals on Earth, this program seems small. It skims over life in early 19th Century Nantucket, the economy of whale hunting, and the manning and provisioning of the whaleboats. Instead, it spends too much time on the suffering of the sailors who survived and drifted on the ocean for months without food or water, eventually resorting to cannibalism. I’m not saying their suffering wasn’t important, but the producers should have beefed up the other areas that the show covers to balance the piece.
Another problem I found is, after the initial setup, the book Moby Dick is hardly mentioned. Since it’s called Moby Dick: The True Story, you’d think there would be more comparison between the book and the reality. The standard pattern of “re-enactments” and talking head experts and lack of any extra features on the DVD doesn’t improve that lackluster documentary. And having a commercial for The Discovery Channel play when you start the disc without the option to skip doesn’t help either. This may have been adequate for broadcast on cable, but this is simply shovelware for the DVD market. If you’re interested in this era of history, see if your local library has it for checkout. It’s certainly not worth the price of a rental.