Moby Dick (1956)

A flat, very superficial take on a thrilling, deep classic.

The performances are all enjoyable enough, especially Gregory Peck at Ahab, but the script is a dismal attempt at adapting such a masterpiece of a novel.

I’m not one to complain about cinematic adaptations being different; if they find their own voice and take on the material, I’m happy to see such alternate visions. But this adaptation does nothing better than the original, nothing more interestingly, and doesn’t use the medium of film to tell the story in any particularly novel way.

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Plot serves as the mere skeleton the novel is structured around, with an enormous amount of chapters examining whales and whaling from different viewpoints getting to the heart of Melville’s thematic concerns more directly than the narrative alone does. The film excises all of these, then strips the plot even barer still. What’s left? The very broadest strokes of some of the more memorable narrative sequences in the novel, and with plenty of those changes and simplified even further still. So much flesh is stripped off the bone, that’s what’s left offers basically no sustenance, so to speak. It’s a sad, hollow shell of a movie, doing an enormous disservice to a masterpiece of a novel.

I give it one and a half vials of ambergris, and a discarded pipe.

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