125 of 126 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2004
John Huston's film of MOBY DICK is perhaps a rare exception. It's a great film in its own right, apart from the great novel upon which it is based. The case can easily be made that this film does not 'do justice' to the book, if only for the reason that it does not cover every aspect of Melville's original. But this film proves that a slavish literary imitation is not necessary for a great film.
Huston also fought with Ray Bradbury over the screenplay. The great science fiction author was literally reduced to tears by the gruff director, and he wrote a book about the experience. There was also some conflict over the casting of Gregory Peck as Ahab. Some say Orson Welles or Leo Genn (Starbuck) would have been a better choice. This may well be, but it should be admitted that Peck rises to the occasion when it's called for. The great scene with the Spanish doubloon and the great scene with Starbuck on the bridge, where Ahab explains his obsession. Few other actors are likely to have surpassed these moments.
According to IMDb, MOBY DICK was shot in 1.66:1 aspect ratio. This DVD does not present the film in that ratio, yet it does not appear to be a pan & scan transfer. The film looks very good and and nothing appears to have been done to tamper with the color. This is most likely how it should look. The director fought with the studio over the color process used in MOBY DICK: it's intentional. He and the cinematographer were trying to capture a visual style that would be evocative of a period style of painting that would contribute to the mood of the story.
Anyone interested in background on this film should read THE HUSTONS by Lawrence Grobel. The harrowing production is detailed, with plenty of attention given to the above-mentioned conflicts and also to the shooting of the INCREDIBLE final sequence.
Some extras would have been welcome, but this DVD is more than worth owning by any fan of Melville, Huston or American film.
64 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
One of John Huston's very best films has also been by far his most overlooked and underrated. Preceded by a hilariously bad version with John Barrymore (in which Ahab has a love interest and succeeds in killing Moby Dick, who resembles a floating mattress) and later redone as a TV-movie with Patrick Stewart, Huston's version remains by far the best film of what may be the greatest American story ever told. The fact that it is still well-remembered proves its lasting power; many other films-from-novels sink right out of sight. Ray Bradbury's script captures the essence of Melville's novel, using his words (and some words so good you'd swear they were his) and keeping true to the vision and the atmosphere, but is never confined to being anything like a mere "adaption". The best films-from-books transcend their sources and stand as independently great works. Melville's novel is great because it's unfilmable - messy, rambling, convulted, something you need to spend a while digging into; something rich and endlessly rewarding. Any smart adapter of such material won't waste any time trying to copy those elements onto the screen; he'll go right for the essence of the story, what drives it: Ishmael's curious search for the unknown and Ahab's all-consuming quest to confront the unknown - to prove that God cannot treat him like the Jonah of Orson Welles' unforgettable sermon, to "strike through the mask" of the God that torments man. It's a "wicked book," as Melville said, and the blasphemous edge survives to the screen; Huston and Bradbury never dull the point but if anything sharpen it. Best of all, they remove Fedallah, a character who really is, as Bradbury said, "a bore"; just something to suggest that Ahab is cursed like Macbeth - even the ironic prophecies are practically a knock-off of the three witches'. Bradbury instead uses a more subtle, mysterious prophecy spoken through Elijah, a more subtly frightening and eerie character than Fedallah who is just used as a throwaway in Melville, but here takes on a great importance. The prophecy is fulfilled stunningly in a final scene that, for me, stands as one of the greatest in film history. It begins with the strange melancholy and calm of the "Symphony" scene, and then progresses quickly to the final chase. Ahab's destruction seems even more powerfully done here than in the original; isn't it so profoundly right that he and the whale should be lashed together forever and ever? The sight of him drowned and chillingly 'beckoning' to his crew to follow him is the most haunting moment in the film. There are very few misfires in this film; I would call it one of the best examples of how fine a movie can be made of an 'untouchable' classic. By contrast, the recent TV-remake was a ghastly misfire. The script was haphazardly faithful to Melville, with some bizarre changes (the Pequod stuck in Antarctic ice?), a total lack of the atmosphere Huston drenches his film in, and rather anemic performances, with the exception of Patrick Stewart's fiery version of Ahab. Stewart treated Ahab as a mighty Shakespearean tragic figure, the way he always should have been done. Still, Gregory Peck's interpretation shows that he was far from miscast, just cast unusually. He holds Ahab's madness down under a brooding darkness and does indeed keep a "deranged dignity," never lets the story turn merely absurd. The film ends holding on the floating coffin that saved Ishmael - a typical Huston gesture. But this film is not typical, far from it. If you are new to Melville, see it; if you are a Melville purist, open your mind to something that is very far from a watered-down rewrite of a great but dramatically flawed book, something mighty and inspiring in its own right.
42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2004
This 1956 production of Herman Melville's Moby Dick was written and directed by John Huston (Treasure of the Sierra Madre; The Man Who Would Be King) along with Ray Bradbury. This version is superior to the more recent release with Patrick Stewart as Captain Ahab with great cinematography and good acting.
Although some have complained about Gregory Peck's performance as Captain Ahab, I feel that his cold reserved expressions in the film work just as well in showing a man consumed by hatred and a lust for revenge. In line with Melville's extremely religious themes, the character of Ahab is a man who feels he's been cheated by nature and God and so seeks his revenge. Taking his doomed men with him around the world, he seeks to exact his vengeance on the great white whale who took his leg, Moby Dick. The sailor Ishmael (Richard Basehart) is the voice of innocence and redemption.
The direction and cinematography is superb. Huston was a master of his craft and had directed many timeless classics by the time he did Moby Dick. I recommend this film as the best adaptation of the story with the strongest cast as well as the best directed.
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2001
I really, really enjoy this movie. Forget the Patrick Stewart version and see this one. Performances great (yes, even Gregory Peck), Richard Baseheart turns in a decent, standard Ishmael (with some nice bits, of course -- his brief reaction shot near the end when the whale rises and Ahab is calling on the attack, is excellent in combining an expression of both exhilaration and dread), and the special effects still beat any digital-age CGI junk I can think of, even though the continuity is sketchy in many places, and brief inserts show clear blue and cloudy skies alternately. I never think for a moment I'm looking at a large, rubber whale, edited with miniatures. (The computer-generated whale in the Patrick Stuart version looks incredibly incongruous and as unrealistic as the lamest Ralph Bakshi movie you could think of.) The whale hunts are invigorating and very exciting, the narration par excellence, the Quaker-spiced dialogue is terrrific. I still love to hear Stubb say "Did ye not hear Mr. Starbuck? Pull, ye sheepheads!" My MAJOR complaint: Why wasn't this DVD issued in widescreen format?
There seems to be an ongoing debate about whether or not this film was shot widescreen, and everyone on both sides will insist they are right. I can certainly say that I have seen a LaserDisc version of this in the early 1990's, which was matted at 1.85:1, and to boot, it was from a better print with better display of the color tinting used especially for the movie; as far as I remember, the transfer process was either supervised or endorsed by Martin Scorsese, of all people, even with a disclaimer on the jacket explaining the unusual coloring process. For the record, although this DVD is passable enough for me to own (mostly because I have enjoyed this movie since I was a child and still enjoy it in my 30's), MGM could have done much better with this presentation, and I will make this my official call for a better edition.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2003
I watched this film the other night for the first time since seeing it in a theater in 1956; being 5 years old then, I've never forgotten the experience, and I was apprehensive about whether the film would live up to my memory of it. It does, largely. The music, in 1950s style, is way overdone and intrusive. But the story as a whole is very well told here (it should be, given that Ray Bradbury and John Huston wrote the script). Richard Basehart is okay, if not great, as Ishmael. But Gregory Peck's Ahab is still the reason to see this version; he's brilliant. Then there's the matter of the whales--which I really expected to look phoney, like a 1950s special effect--but which turn out to be terrific; Moby Dick himself looks about as real as you can get, and the last 20 minutes or so of the movie (as with the last three chapters of the novel) are compelling and spectacular.
For the DVD, MGM has done virtually nothing. The movie is in full-screen format (which cuts out a bit of the picture here and there--though it could have been a lot worse, I guess). The image itself is very good, though early scenes look a bit colorless; this gets better once the story gets out to sea. There are no extras at all, just a trailer and the option to add French or Spanish subtitles. But I really wished for a bit more on this disc--for instance, if ever a movie demanded a commentary track, this is it, because I've heard bits and pieces of fascinating stories to be told about the production and filming. Even a printed essay would have been a big plus; there's not even a single-sheet insert in the box--couldn't they have afforded a crummy list of scenes?
So, in short, this is worth buying (at least MGM kept the price down) simply for the excellent movie. And the quality, after all, is far better than VHS. But if anybody puts this out in a more deluxe edition, even a little bit deluxe, even just in a widescreen format, I'd recommend going for that instead.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2003
Format: VHS Tape
Hands down: This is the BEST version of MD From the first scene and "Call me Ishmael" I was hooked! But I'm totally mystified by some reviewers who call Peck's portrayal of Ahab as "wooden". To me, Peck captured the character and made it his.He chewed the background up and spat it out!(Unlike Patrick Stewart who came across as a silly, senile duffer) The clothing and mannerisms of 1840's New England (Especially the Quakers) was well done. An unforgetable scene is where the women of the town are standing on the docks, watching their men leave aboard the Pequod. The looks of anguish on their faces speaks a thousand words. Another effective scene is where Ahab "smothers" St. Elmo's fire. Pure Bradbury, but brilliant!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2006
For fans of the epic novel, MOBY DICK, there is only one cinematographic alternative, MOBY DICK, starring Gregory Peck and directed by John Huston. As I consider old reviews that criticize Peck's performance as Ahab, I have to say that I am puzzled. What are these critics looking for, Jim Carrey in a Riddleresque fit of spasmodic mania and insanity? There is such a thing, after all, as subdued insanity. Part of the chilling nature of Peck's masterful performance is the "still-waters-running-deep" portrayal of the troubled whaling captain. As well might these critics criticize Anthony Hopkins' performance as Hannibal the Cannibal in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.
And the movie is a wonderful adaptation of one of the greatest literature pieces of all time. Preserved here, as well as can be done given the epic proportions of the novel, is Melville's rhapsodic wordsmithing and idiomatic expression. John Huston and Ray Bradbury exhibit pure genius in translating a lengthy manuscript to a wonderful screenplay.
Some critics, as well - individuals who cannot see the forest for the trees when it comes to comparing fifties effects to modern computer-generated and enhanced effects and animation - can't help but look at a classic and immediately begin apples to oranges comparisons that just don't hold up. Despite its origins in 1956, this movie's special effects hold up quite nicely to modern scrutiny.
Let's hope that the temptation to try to rework a masterpiece has died and that this classic is simply and completely accepted as the only alternative.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2005
After having both navigated the treacherous waters of Melville's book and signed on to John Huston's cinematic voyage, there is only one conclusion an old salt can come to - John Huston was a genius. The screenplay he created with Ray Bradbury stands as perhaps the greatest adaptation of a work I've read/seen. Not that it is completely faithful to the letter of the book, but more to the spirit. The book is immense, it meanders marvelously as the story of an obsessive Captain unfolds, as the history of whaling and the legends of whalers are told. It is a classic, there is no doubt, but its length, breadth, and depth are as immense as the leviathan itself. To make a movie of it would take strength, fortitude, courage, divine guidance, and perhaps a touch of black magic. The way Huston and Bradbury make memorable scenes from Melville's raw material is amazing - from the foreshadowing speech of a madman to the conquering of Saint Elmo's fire, to the circling birds at the end. Huston the writer and Huston the director have forged the weapons to smite the whale and give life to a time long past, in a movie the likes of which we may never see again. Others have tried this same task, and alas, are little remembered, while Huston's version, alone, survives.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2003
Format: VHS Tape
I remember reading Moby Dick as a child and not understanding much of it. I am no longer a child, but I will not pretend to understand half of the things involved with Melville's Moby Dick; even the comic-book type of adaptations are complicated. This being said, however, the skeletal plot of Melville's classic is still quite intriguing, an unusual story of revenge and madness as well as nature. It is with this in mind that I comment on John Huston's masterpiece; this film version is fantastic! To label Gregory Peck as miscast is to discredit the task of acting (at least somewhat). True, Peck's version of Captain Ahab lacks the blatant fire of the written character, but his silent and brooding interpretation carries just as much obsession and passion as does the literary Ahab; indeed, I thoroughly enjoyed Ahab's portrayal in this film version. This is perhaps Mr. Peck's finest moment in his acting career. An earlier reviewer remarked on how unconvincing Frederick Ledebur is in the role of Queequeg-- I would have to disagree with that. Although Ledebur does not specifically look like a Pacific Islander in this movie, he is still quite large and swarthy, and his portrayal of Queequeg does an excellent job of conveying him as a foreigner and a mystery (who is, of course, genuinely noble at heart). In terms of appearances, Tashtego the Native American is not particularly native-looking either, but does this mean that the actor did a horrible job? Of course not; a great actor can portray other ethnic groups effectively, even if s/he does not specifically look the part. Getting back to the film itself, it is simply a beauty to look at. The oceanic imagery is very aesthetically pleasing, and the whaling scenes are fascinating; I myself always wondered how it was done, especially before modern technology. I do not specifically condone whaling other than as a means of survival, but it is nonetheless a spectacle to watch. Finally, there is the white whale itself, which is INCREDIBLY realistic-looking, and far superior in quality to any trick done by computers! Having seen whales at aquariums, the rubber whale used in Huston's film is complete with the life-like imperfections and markings found on real specimens. It is really hard to believe that Moby Dick himself, or herself, is not a living creature; even its movements and actions are incredibly life-like! Placing these great special effects together with an interesting plot and great acting make this film an excellent edition to any collection. I highly recommend it.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2006
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
The great film Moby Dick is based on a great book by the same name written by Herman Melville. In the book, which is about 600 pages long, you get about 200 pages of actual story insterspersed in the total volume, the remainder being observations on every aspect of whaling of that time. The movie omits those vast stretches of observations and concentrates both on the story and on the spirit of the story. At this it excels. One feels the pain of the families watching their loved ones depart. The sermon on Jonah is powerful and moving. One wonders at the madness in Ahab's dark ranting. One sees the brotherhood of Queequeg and Ishmael. But beware about watching the movie to take a test or make a report on the book. Some things are changed from the book (i.e. whose body is affixed to the whale.) But make no mistake, this is a great movie.