2010: Moby Dick commentary part two
The movie starts off with a sub disaster in 1969. There’s “something out there” (and that’s about as creative as some of the dialogue gets). Ahab is a sonar man, records the whale’s vocals, on a tape that looks disturbingly like it is from 1989 and not 1969, and gets his leg cut off when Moby breaches and bodyslams the sub. Ahab gets to look eye to eye with the whale, with special effects that don’t look all that good, however, you get the impression that Moby meant to be vicious. That was pretty cool.
The writer was most definitely an aficionado of the original novel, or at least had enough working knowledge of it, to drop in names of people and ships that the reader would recognize. Tashtego, Pippin, Queequeg, are all briefly accounted for. Even when the other navy sub the Essex chases after Ahab’s Pequod, you get a sense of the author knowing his subject matter basics. When the two seamen are discussing the "whiteness" of the whale bothering them, they make it a joke that white is always evil.
They just didn’t handle Ahab right. Even when he shouts, “I’d strike the sun if it insulted me!” you barely get the sense that he is obsessive, probably drawing on background knowledge of Ahab in order to connect the dots. Again, you simply had to know the book to really figure it out.
“Where there are squid, there are whales.” Would there be anything left after nuking the squid?
The harpoon marked “Fedallah” is made out of the hull of the Acushnet, the sub from the opening 1969 scene.
When Ishmael/Michelle yells, “It’s your fault! You’re hunting it—it’s not hunting us!” to Ahab, I just wanted to scream. Moby was destroying other boats, subs, and cruise ships without Ahab anywhere near. It’s not Ahab’s fault AT ALL in this movie. It is his job to destroy the monster. The corpses they run into cry out for vengeance, for Pete’s sake. If in the novel Ahab sacrifices his men and ship for his revenge, he simply does NOT do that here. He is a military captain whose job it is to destroy the whale and every single one of those seamen knows it is their duty to keep the waters safe. There simply is no single-minded obsession—there is coincidence that Ahab’s revenge and his duty match up.
At the end, when they take out the individual little boats, that is a pretty cool reminiscence of the last three-days’ hunt from the novel.
However, basic enjoyment of the movie has to rely on background knowledge of the original novel. I don’t think this movie stands up at all by itself if you had no idea about some of the peculiarities.