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In the Heart of the Sea


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#1 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 23 December 2015 - 03:12 PM

Yep, I got talked into seeing 'In the Heart of the Sea'.

The film is a very interesting concept. The story of the Essex, the whaling ship which was attacked by an indestructible white whale in the mid 1800's. This is the true story which spawned the fictional novel Moby Dick. The story itself isn't that bad actually, but the film winds up more like 'Life of Pi' then Moby Dick. Stranded sailors on long-boats try to make it home after their ship was attacked and destroyed, full of visual effects to the point of having difficulty finding anything real within the frame.

From the very first shot, the music, the poor VFX and lighting, the poor characters and dialog, it reminded me of a made for TV movie, rather then a big budget hollywood film. Initially I was concerned this wasn't the actual movie because it was so bad and didn't have Hemsworth right away, I thought it was a mistake. I waited and eventually realized this was actually the movie.

The first big scene with Hemsworth is him on a farm with his wife. The whole scene is green screen. They clearly built a house on a sound stage and the rest of the environment from the background to the picket fence, was all computer generated. Then add in horrible lighting that doesn't look natural at all (they were suppose to be outside in the sun) and you get a recipe for disaster. The moment we start to see ships, it gets far worse. The look of the film is very glossy and reflective with hard colors, blue and green in places they don't belong. I think the colorist was having a field day messing with things to make it more interesting maybe? Never the less, nothing could cover up for the poor script, uninteresting and highly stylized vfx shots and just plain poor filmmaking.

Now Ron Howard hasn't really made anything great for years. His last film 'Rush' was a story I know very well (being a fan of F1), but it really fell apart in my eyes, even though Daniel Brühl was fantastic as Niki Lauda. In my eyes, what made 'Rush' such a failure was his use of VFX to build suspense/action, instead of using the replica car's and racing them. I gather he had never seen 'Grand Prix' which did everything right outside of the story. Brühl saved 'Rush' in my view, but NOTHING is going to save 'In the Heart of the Sea'.

What bothers me the most is the fact I think Anthony Dod Mantle is a pretty darn good DP. Yet, this film looks horrible. Everything from the composition to the lighting is just unnatural and it sticks out like a sore thumb. Maybe this is the first big green screen film he did. I know time was an issue, maybe there was just too many setups and not enough time? It makes you wonder why it was so messed up because it's very unlike him. It didn't help the movie was made in a computer and the vast majority of VFX work was piss poor.

In the end, 'In the Heart of the Sea' is a forget and move on movie. It's been a critical and box office failure, for good reason too. I'm still in amazement Ron Howard watched his final product and said "ok that's it, lets let the world see this" because honestly, it's a huge an embarrassment for such a great filmmaker AND the very capable award winning Anthony Dod Mantle.
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 December 2015 - 05:33 PM

By coincidence, I just saw the movie on Monday too.

 

I don't think the vfx or the photography are horrible at all.

 

And that farm scene with Chris Hemsworth was shot outdoors in real sunlight, but surrounded by blue screen to put in the distant landscape.  There's a photo of the set-up in the new Cinefex issue.  I think you're just objecting to the hard HMI lighting in that scene on the closer shots, which is maybe why you think it was shot on a soundstage.  

 

Here's the thing -- starting with the assumption that Ron Howard and Anthony Dod Mantle know what they are doing, out of respect, I would first consider the look to be intentional and not a mistake, even if I'm sure occasionally lighting compromises were made due to the difficulty of shooting over water, even water in a tank set.  But overall, I'm sure the movie looks like they wanted it to look.

 

So given that the hard lighting from unmotivated directions, the odd color bias, and the high contrast at times, might rub some people the wrong way, I think it doesn't hurt to take a step back and consider what such stylization is bringing to this story, and conversely, if a more straight-forward naturalism would have made it a better movie, or if it wouldn't have ultimately mattered.  I think out of respect, one should at least take ten minutes to think about their choices rather than to dismiss it as "horrible" just because it wasn't how you would have approached the material visually.

 

The movie certainly doesn't have a conventional look, it's not a "pretty" period movie, and again, I think one has to assume that is all by design, not mistake, because that look is fairly consistent throughout.  In many ways, the look was similar to "Rush".

 

Now in the case of "Rush", I think it was less jarring because the rough, contrasty look had some resemblance to color reversal documentaries and newsreels of the 1960's and 70's.  What was unusual here was to apply that same style to a movie set before the Civil War.

 

But I would hazard a guess that this was one conceit of the filmmakers, to not give this period whaling picture a typical period look.  Now maybe this decision was partially commercial-driven (and thus backfired), that it would be more exciting to apply a sort of rock-and-roll action contemporary "urban" look to something shot in the past. Being visually jarring isn't always a bad thing -- the jump cuts in Godard's "Breathless" are jarring, after all, especially to audiences back then (we've gotten used to them today so the effect is a little less startling.)  If an unrealistic style mirrors the psychology of the characters, then I think it can be justified and can be effective.

 

In regards to the lighting, most of us here know how most modern cinematographers would light a night interior (the book-end scenes) lit with a few oil lamps, the main decision would be whether to keep it very source-y, which might actually mean harsher since a flame is not a soft source, or go for something soft and dim overall, like with paper lanterns dimmed down.  But in this movie, Dod Mantle went for hard spots in a dark room, mixed with hard blue moonlight, that was more theatrical and dramatic.  So from my point of view, the cinematographer was more interested in creating a mood using hard light and shadows rather than being strictly realistic.

 

And the day exterior work at times is equally theatrical, with hard lighting coming from multiple directions. It certainly gives the actors a sculptural look, almost heroic at times.  I think Dod Mantle was more interested in creating modeling light effects rather than strict naturalism.  Now of course, some of it was also due to the nature of working on a boat over water with wind and rain machines and multiple cameras running, where if you were going to add lights, they might be farther off and harder rather than close and soft. But considering it could have been possible to build some soft of giant soft light over the water stage, like with banks of Kinos, I think Dod Mantle made a conscious choice to project hard light on the actors rather than stick to a strict one hard sun + one soft sky rule to the lighting.  So the effect is not strictly realistic but I do think it is dramatic.

 

As for the stylized color casts, it is not necessarily less realistic than the desaturated color photography that many periods like to use (and which I've done myself) -- that's also a stylization.  Judging from the trailer for "The Revenant", even if the light is natural, the color saturation looks dialed down to me.  Again, that is easily justified, I can see not wanting to create a postcard feeling for such a dark tale.  In the case of Howard's movie, it is sort of the flipside of desaturation to avoid prettiness, they are going for "off" colors like a heavy green cast to avoid prettiness.

 

As for the movie, I have mixed feelings.  I certainly don't fault the directing or cinematography, the storm and whaling sequences were quite exciting, but beyond that, we've seen the story of sailors lost at sea before, from the Endurance TV movie, to "Unbroken" most recently.  At this point, all you can do is think "yeah, that would suck" to be adrift at sea for a couple of months.

 

And ultimately when the movie ends with the title card about Melville going off to write the great American epic tale, you wonder immediately then why Howard didn't make THAT movie, just adapt "Moby Dick" in the first place.  And I think the visual stylization then would have been even less jarring then because you are talking about a work of symbolist fiction, not a recreation of actual historical events.

 

So maybe the movie didn't work ultimately but I don't have much problem with the mechanics of how it was shot and how the effects were done.  I probably would have aimed for a more accurate period recreation with greater naturalism... but I doubt that would have made the movie do any better at the box office. Ultimately I'd rather more Hollywood directors experimented with style the way that Howard and Dod Mantle did rather than make the obvious choices that most people would.


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#3 Richard Boddington

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Posted 23 December 2015 - 05:44 PM

If I had made this movie I would of used a real, trained, sperm whale. :)

 

R,


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#4 Keith Walters

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Posted 23 December 2015 - 06:38 PM

I wonder if the word "sperm" would get nixxed by iTunes's Nanny-ware.

Some years ago I was looking to download Camille Saint-Saëns "Carnival of the Animals" from  iTunes.

All the different movements for the different animals were listed (tortoises, elephants etc) except for "Asses" (as in Donkeys) which had been asterisked-out!


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#5 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 23 December 2015 - 10:12 PM

I don't think the vfx or the photography are horrible at all.


Not a single shot was believable in any stretch of the word. The moment the whale came on for the first shot, it was an animated film with live action characters.

I think you're just objecting to the hard HMI lighting in that scene on the closer shots, which is maybe why you think it was shot on a soundstage.


Well, nothing of the background was real, not even the fence which was moving in the opposite direction of the camera in some shots. I mean really? You put a master tracker on the effect and it auto tracks with the camera move, yet those post guys somehow didn't catch the fence moving the opposite direction of the camera! The film was plagued with the same issues throughout.

I would first consider the look to be intentional and not a mistake, even if I'm sure occasionally lighting compromises were made due to the difficulty of shooting over water, even water in a tank set.  But overall, I'm sure the movie looks like they wanted it to look.


It was a mistake because nobody is going to see the film! So even if the filmmakers agreed on the look, it's still a mistake. They clearly wanted it to look like an oil painting, but they failed to understand if that look is what the audience wants to see. In my eyes, it looked like a bad TV movie. People don't want to see a bad TV movie at the theaters, they just don't.

I think out of respect, one should at least take ten minutes to think about their choices rather than to dismiss it as "horrible" just because it wasn't how you would have approached the material visually.


In my eyes, the filmmakers are disrespecting the audience. They just assume we're so dumb, we won't notice how poorly the film was made. This is a visual medium and if the visuals are so mushed together into unfollowable nonsense with multiple layers of CG on top of each other, all fighting for the same real estate, it's simply not watchable. Reminds me of the Marvel films, only done far worse. My respect for the filmmakers ended the moment I saw the whale for the first time.

Now in the case of "Rush", I think it was less jarring because the rough, contrasty look had some resemblance to color reversal documentaries and newsreels of the 1960's and 70's.  What was unusual here was to apply that same style to a movie set before the Civil War.


I saw 'Rush' in it's early, pre-released form and it didn't look bad. I worked on the BTS and trailers for the film and rather enjoyed it without the VFX. What ruined 'Rush' was the incessant use of VFX to cover up wonderful live-action shots in the final. For Howard, it was more important to see the eyes of the actors in the helmets, rather then show the audience an actual live-action event taking place that looked great and realistic. So he resorted to horrible visual effects, so unrealistic, so pandering to the lowest common denominator, it was sickening.

Again, it's a visual medium and the moment you take beautiful realistic scenes and mix them with something clearly fake, it pulls people right out of the movie. That tactic is fine for horror, fantasy or sci-fi, but when you're trying to tell a biography of someone's life, it's extremely disheartening to see modern and unbelievable effects.

You may notice, I didn't complain about the FX in 'Force Awakens' OR 'Revenant', because they don't pander to the lowest common denominator.

But I would hazard a guess that this was one conceit of the filmmakers, to not give this period whaling picture a typical period look.  Now maybe this decision was partially commercial-driven (and thus backfired), that it would be more exciting to apply a sort of rock-and-roll action contemporary "urban" look to something shot in the past.


Have you seen 'The Knick' at all? Period TV show, made in a very modern way and it looks fantastic.

In regards to the lighting, most of us here know how most modern cinematographers would light a night interior (the book-end scenes) lit with a few oil lamps, the main decision would be whether to keep it very source-y, which might actually mean harsher since a flame is not a soft source, or go for something soft and dim overall, like with paper lanterns dimmed down.  But in this movie, Dod Mantle went for hard spots in a dark room, mixed with hard blue moonlight, that was more theatrical and dramatic.  So from my point of view, the cinematographer was more interested in creating a mood using hard light and shadows rather than being strictly realistic.


Like an oil painting. The book-end's didn't bother me really, I could live with that look, even though it's completely left field. The night stuff wasn't even really an issue throughout the film. It was the day stuff, it was the harsh lighting you mentioned earlier. It looked like a TV show, or as you put it a "hero" look. I also insist the composition was very strange as well, it was like watching a 2.35:1 movie with the sides cropped off to make it 1.85:1.

As for the stylized color casts, it is not necessarily less realistic than the desaturated color photography that many periods like to use (and which I've done myself) -- that's also a stylization.  Judging from the trailer for "The Revenant", even if the light is natural, the color saturation looks dialed down to me.  Again, that is easily justified, I can see not wanting to create a postcard feeling for such a dark tale.  In the case of Howard's movie, it is sort of the flipside of desaturation to avoid prettiness, they are going for "off" colors like a heavy green cast to avoid prettiness.


It's one thing to tweak an image over-all, it's another thing to take specific sections of an image and tweak them incessantly until you've made it all fake, so it holds true to a certain "look", that wasn't on set.

See, that's the problem. You think they were trying to avoid prettiness, I know for fact they were attempting to build something pretty from nothing. They wanted the film to look like a beautiful old oil painting. That's what they sought and that's why I call it a complete failure. It was a failed experiment and as you point out, not a worthwhile story either.

There have been many films about that time period, all of which used practical effects and different looks. 'Sweeney Todd' being one that stands out, mostly because of how wonderful it was shot.
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#6 Giray Izcan

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Posted 23 December 2015 - 10:28 PM

Tyler, you are indeed interesting. No film seems to be up to your standards. It makes me wonder what movie is up to your standards and why? In the last 2 years. Thank you.


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#7 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 24 December 2015 - 01:08 AM

I liked quite a bunch of studio films from 2014/2015 actually:

Interstellar
Inherent Vice
Grand Budapest Hotel
Birdman
Whiplash
Nightcrawler
Imitation Game
How to Train Your Dragon II
Edge of Tomorrow
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Sicario
The Force Awakens
Ex Machina
Inside Out
The Revenant
Bridge of Spies
I'll reluctantly put Hateful Eight on this list as well. I clearly like it or I wouldn't be listening to the soundtrack over and over again. :shrug:

Mind you, I still have yet to see a few films from 2015.
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#8 Giray Izcan

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Posted 24 December 2015 - 01:18 AM

Fair enough. Aside from the topic, I hope your celluloid dreaming is going well Tyler. 


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#9 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 24 December 2015 - 01:37 AM

Fair enough. Aside from the topic, I hope your celluloid dreaming is going well Tyler.


Next year should be good! I'm very happy to be back shooting film again.
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#10 KH Martin

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Posted 24 December 2015 - 08:29 AM

 

So given that the hard lighting from unmotivated directions,

That right there is pretty O-T-T weird in my opinion. Sure, emphasize things by adding a little. But using hard light from a wrong direction? That sounds wrongheaded in extreme.

 

I just saw JURASSIC WORLD on PPV yesterday. Outside of hating almost every minute of the thing (rooted for dinosaurs this time, unlike previous sequels that I actually liked), I was amazed at how hard the movie was on my eyes. Day exteriors such as the endless flyovers of live-action-with-digital-extension vistas all had that 'cranked to 11' added-in-post color oversaturation/contrast look. Seemed like parts of many day frames were overexposed and as many underexposed (the nuGALACTICA look, where almost nothing in frame seems properly exposed.) It was like by messing with the image all the time, they were trying to set a standard of non-credibility? Why? To make the dinos seem more real by comparison?

 

I imagine the 1956 MOBY DICK looked pretty weird to a lot of filmgoers, but it wasn't like the printing B&W with color to desaturate became a go-to for tons of other features of the time ... not the way a lot of stylistic excesses do now.


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#11 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 24 December 2015 - 02:17 PM

Yea, Jurassic World was very much over the top in it's coloring as well. Though I had very little complaints about the cinematography. It worked for that kind of film.
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#12 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 24 December 2015 - 06:13 PM

"Jurassic World" didn't seem to be that stylized to me, color-wise, just slightly contrasty, not far removed from the look of the original movie.  It's nothing like some cross-processed reversal movies or skip-bleached negative movies you used to see in the 1990's.


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#13 KH Martin

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Posted 24 December 2015 - 07:25 PM

Well, I do wonder about the comcast HD process, if it was a true representation. I didn't see this particular problem on JURASSIC, but on ANT-MAN, anytime there was fast side-to-side character movement, there was a weird black edge around foreground characters on the side they were moving to. I've seen the same thing on a TV channel that reruns LOVE BOAT and DYNASTY and other 80s horrors, and there I figured it was some kind of uprez, but they wouldn't have had to do that for ANT-MAN. And it was present throughout the entire movie (another tribute to how well the film worked for me, as it would have driven me crazy if it had been less involving.)


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#14 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 24 December 2015 - 08:47 PM

Ohh, you can't compare broadcast to the original media. They are two completely different animals.
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#15 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 09 January 2016 - 01:01 PM

Saw it the other night. Didn't really work with the actors for me, mainly Hemsworth, but I'm sad it didn't do better. Because I think films like these should be made, or else all we're left with is Ant-Man 9. Master and Commander was for me one of the best movies of the last 10 years and unfortunately, it didn't do that well either. I'd love a M&C series from the 10 books.

 

On to the look. Film is very uneven in it's looks, in my opinion. I had a lot of problem with the harsh lights during the Melville interview with Gleeson. I though all of that looked pretty bad and cheap. And there were quite a few other shots in that vain on the ship, especially below deck etc. Weird hard nose shadows, weird backlights etc. But. There were also quite a few shots and lighting that really impressed me. They had a 50's adventure feel to them. And one in particular is a night shot of the Essex burning and sinking - a shot of the captain looking away from the mayhem. It was like a stunning painting and I'll be buying the BluRay just to be able to get that image for my moodboard. There's also a great wide shot, inspired by one of the naval painters (I forget who), that's very Caspar Friedrich/JWM Turner and dark and evocative. Another stunning shot, but probably mostly CGI.

 

The story is fantastic in itself, I just wished it had been told in a different way without the hunky moviestarness of it all. At least for me, this was a lot better than Rush, which I didn't connect with at all.


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#16 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 January 2016 - 01:08 PM

My favorite sequence was the first storm they sailed into, that really felt dangerous.


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#17 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 09 January 2016 - 01:14 PM

Yeah, that storm looked good.

 

Sorry to drag focus away from film at hand, but I can't help but once again marvel at Master and Commander. This ending scene, for some reason, is one of my all time favorites. Nothing in it would suggest it should be, but the music and the action shots just work so well and really sets you up for a continued adventure. But Peter Weir has always been exceptional. And great work by Russ Boyd, ACS.

 

https://www.youtube....h?v=GNT1xQs-KcA


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#18 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 January 2016 - 01:35 PM

Great movie.  I wonder if Patrick O'Brian was inspired at all by "Star Trek" in the relationship between the captain and the doctor, it has elements of Kirk-Spock (or Kirk-McCoy) and he first published in 1969.  I read two of the novels after seeing the movie (the two that the movie combined) and made me appreciate what a good screenplay it was in terms of taking some of the best bits of both novels.

 

You realize that a sailing ship of that size was like the space shuttle of its day in terms of complexity and technology.


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