In 1820, a Nantucket whaleship, the Essex, was rammed and sunk by an enraged sperm whale in the Pacific Ocean. Out of 20 crew men, only 8 survived. This is a tale of remarkable courage, ... See full summary »



(teleplay), (novel) | 1 more credit »


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Credited cast:
Himself - Narrator
Sean Conant ...
Herman Melville (voice)
Owen Chase (voice)
Jeffrey Carlson ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Jack Gardner
Joe Haffey
Mimi Macpherson ...
Herself (archive footage)
Mike McKee ...
Mr. Wolf
Scott Osler


In 1820, a Nantucket whaleship, the Essex, was rammed and sunk by an enraged sperm whale in the Pacific Ocean. Out of 20 crew men, only 8 survived. This is a tale of remarkable courage, endurance and pathos, of men driven to the edge of darkness, forced to make the most awful decisions in order to survive. Written by Ciaran O'Shea

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based on novel | See All (1) »


Documentary | Drama





Release Date:

7 September 2001 (USA)  »

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User Reviews

The true story behind Moby Dick that lends credence to the saying that "fact is stranger than fiction",
1 January 2007 | by See all my reviews

I recorded this when it first aired on NBC, and still have it. I just watched it again, which prompted me to this site, only to find no comments, so I'll put in my two cents.

I thought it was an excellent and fascinating narrative of the events that inspired Melville to write "Moby Dick", in the same manner that the true life story of Alexander Selkirk was the inspiration to Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe".

Melville met some of the survivors of that ill fated whaling expedition, including Pollard and Chase. Chase had already published his telling of the events, much to the displeasure of his community.

The narrative doesn't speak highly of Chase, and it's fair to say that he comes across as the "villain", though really everyone shares responsibility in the folly, including the larger Nantucket Quaker community.

The special is much like a PBS, Ken Burns type documentary, so if you like those, then this'll be up your alley. Only thing, I don't know if it's commercially available.

The story shows how religious fervor, xenophobia, ignorance, and arrogance, can all culminate in a tragedy, a lesson I suppose is still relevant today.

It also shows what happens when man is stripped of his technological advantage, and is left to deal with the elements on his own.

Finally, it shows how the survivors faired after the ordeal, and their "assimilation" back into their religious community.

As any student of whaling history knows, the Nantucket Quakers viewed it as a mission from heaven to indiscriminately slaughter sperm whales, which was an easy enough justification because the whales were living oil reserves of their day, very lucrative.

Oil derived from these whales drove the machinery and the lamps of those times, and made Nantucket rich. Whaling was also seen as a passage to manhood; almost a prerequisite if a young man wanted to find a wife in that community.

On the other hand, the film doesn't shirk from the ugliness of whaling, the stench and decay of the factory ships turning the blubber and meat into oil, and the utter brutality of the kill.

I frankly was rooting for the sperm whales, and had very little sympathy for the whalers. This isn't a stretch, since I've always been against whaling.

Even so, I can't see how anyone wouldn't be moved by the pain and bloody death throes of a whale stabbed by harpoons. It's just too bad that this sort of thing, of the hunted turning the tables on the hunter, didn't happen too often.

The whalers, because of the character flaws already mentioned, plunged themselves into the heart of darkness. They could've easily shortened their ordeal at any moment, but instead continued to make bad decisions, time after time.

Look at "Revenge of the Whale" as a mix of Alexander Selkirk and the Donner party.

So, if you're interested in learning about the real life events and people that inspired a classic work of literature, or just like stories of human drama and ordeal, mixed with adventure on the high seas, then this gem will be well worth your time.

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