the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

Artisan Home Entertainment presents

Moby Dick: The True Story (2002)

"The first ramming, I think, may have been accidental. The second clearly wasn't."- Hal Whitehead

Stars: Roy Kenner, Jeff Gruich, Shawn Reynolds, Trevor Ralph
Other Stars: Curtis Harrison, Lucas Madigan
Director: Christopher Rowley

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (whaling)
Run Time: 00h:45m:24s
Release Date: 2002-07-23
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BBB+ D-


DVD Review

When Herman Melville published what would become The Great American Novel (even though it wasn't recognized as such until long after his death), few knew that it was based in part upon real life events. Even fewer today are aware that it is anything but a work of imagination, but this documentary from the Discovery Channel helps set the record straight.

This film tells the tale of the ill-fated voyage of the Essex in 1819-1820, as told in the stories of her first mate, Owen Chase (Shawn Reynolds), and her cabin boy, Thomas Nickerson (Trevor Ralph), the latter of whose accounts were hidden away for over 100 years. While whaling in the Pacific, they ran afoul of an enormous bull sperm whale in its spawning grounds. The great whale not only resisted being taken, but sank the ship, leaving the survivors to drift across the Pacific to face misery, starvation, cannibalism and death.

The documentary does an excellent job of setting forth its sordid tale with a combination of narrative, reenactment (including excellent special effects and convincing computer graphics) and underwater whale footage. The whole is definitely in the Ken Burns mold, although without the recurrent musical themes.

Gory details about the bloody and cruel methods of whaling are not spared. The program also takes a gratuitous slap at Quaker hypocrisy in countenancing (and financing) whaling expeditions of this kind. The second half tends to be a Men Against the Sea-type story, getting a bit away from the Moby Dick connection. However, even though the whale is grey and not white, there's little doubt but that the Essex was in Melville's mind as he wrote.

The running time is a full seven minutes shorter than the already brief 52 minutes claimed on the keepcase (even counting the promos for the Discovery Channel, where the program originally aired). The substance grade would be higher if the program were longer.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Although the keepcase proclaims that the program is 16:9 enhanced, it's not. It's just 1.66:1 nonanamorphic. Since this was a German co-production, I'm considering the 1.66 ratio to be the original, rather than the 1.33 which was used for broadcast in the USA. Nonetheless, the picture is attractive, sharp and detailed, with excellent color. Black levels are decent for a television program as well.

Image Transfer Grade: B

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Dialogue is clear throughout. Effects and the occasional music have good range, without undue noise or hiss. The surround sound, particularly music and effects, have a nicely enveloping quality, putting this well above a standard television mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
Production Notes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Absolutely nothing is presented in the way of extras. Chaptering is adequate for a program of this brief duration. But that's all that can be said in favor of this count.

Extras Grade: D-

Final Comments

Believe nothing the keepcase tells you. Aside from that, this is an attractive little documentary that's certainly worth a look, especially for those interested in nautical adventures of the gruesome kind. It may be a bit too much for sensitive viewers, however. Nothing at all for extras.

Mark Zimmer 2002-10-10