There has been some debate as to what precisely Melville meant by the story of Moby Dick. On one hand, it is a whaling story which is largely based on shipping legend and fact. On another level, there is a lot of reference to Moby Dick the whale being self-referential to the book itself (white beast with black blood, he describes the whale as being a large book at one point). Ultimately, though, most readers find a two pronged story which is search for God on one hand (Ahab's need for revenge and Ishmael's need for purpose and love, note that both names also refer to biblical characters) and is the passionate bonding between males on the other. Unfortuneately, it is in these two areas that the movie does not quite portray the book with due respect.
Now, there is plenty of bonding and Ishmael does sort of get jostled around as per normal, but Melville did not want this to be the standard group of "older men ragging the new". These men, in the book, developed a passionate bond for one another. Ishmael's deep loneliness lead to his deep love for his fellow crew.
As for the search for God, the movie has some of the key scenes to suggest Ahab wants to slay the greatest of God's creatures because he feels his life has been failed and to suggest needed to get away because his life had no meaning. Yet, for the most part, the scenes become much more "sea adventure" oriented and I am not sure that there is much hey could have done to fix it considering the media of choice. I think they could have at least given Father Mapple more passion in his scene and the painting at the beginning (which suggests both the three crosses of Christ and a whale killed by a the three masts of a ship at the same) which offers a great thematic moment could have done more besides show up briefly as it did. It is almost as though they expected one to have read the book and to know what they were talking about.
Finally, as far as the movie's lacks go, they cut out most of the (usually tongue-in-cheek) humor of the book.
Now, as a made for TV movie, it is good stuff. Some of the acting is pretty sketchy at times and there are a few places where the special effects flat out fail in their purpose, but overall the movie is worth watching. Stewart plays a different version of Ahab than what I pictured, but at the same time his version has a lot of life and passion which is good. The other acting had moments of perfect time and moments of almost the opposite, but no scene comes directly to mind where the movie "cracks".
The pacing of the movie actually sort of improves upon the stop-go style of the book.
I think some of the visuals were a little less gory than they should be (this is a violent tale with a good deal of blood and despair in the original) but most of the cues are there for those who have read the book.
Because of such things as this, I almost feel as though one needs to read the book to fill in the gaps, or the story does not get the treatment it deserves. But, as long you know more of the depth of the story, the movie is a decent vessel for which to carry it in. 7/10
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