The effective transition between James Whale and Roger Corman. Baron Frankenstein has pity on his monster, but falls in love with its bride.
Sting is a great actor, attuned to the Romantic strain, Shelleyan and no mistake.
A work of genius partly owed to the increase of running length (the comparison is to Milestone’s Mutiny on the Bounty amplifying Bacon’s). More and more Melville is introduced until the real stasis is achieved of ambiguity or unknowability, as in Father Mapple’s sermon on Jonah or the smashing of the sextant.
Inestimable advantages flow to Roddam from the work that has gone before, the two films already mentioned and Donaldson’s version, Herzog’s Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes, but primarily Huston’s film itself.
Roddam tries the opposite tack of natural expectation. The sea, the sky, the starry firmament, whales, ships, Nantucketers, a replica of the Pequod as meticulously defined as the diagram in a book, pictorial equivalents of the language, are secondary to an incisive and elliptic view centered on television technique. Gregory Peck’s gestures as Father Mapple in the pulpit are unseen in a medium close-up, the camera moves in still closer for the peroration.
Queequeg stands to deliver a riposte, his head and shoulders are seen while he makes the facial gesture of South Seas ferocity shown earlier at his harpoon show of skill.
Ahab neglects the whale oil that is the purpose of the hunt, refuses to aid the Rachel’s captain, plays a game of high command with St. Elmo’s fire (wakening Queequeg from his death vigil), and softens Starbuck’s heart with a tale of forty years at sea amid the pitiless elements (Starbuck cannot kill him).
The succession of images that makes up the final whale hunt is surpassingly good and sufficiently varied from Huston to show the necessity and the advantage of doing so, The whale swims away under water after wrecking the Pequod, which goes down in flames, Ahab sinks feet-first in his trammels, the whale departs behind him.
Patrick Stewart is a perfect Ahab, the Shakespearean technique hits just the right profusion of notes.
The ellipses throw into relief the text in a very Shakespearean way, and this curiously redounds to the constrained image. Peck looks straight into the camera for the sermon’s final words, it’s a Bergman effect. A foreshortening of the deck during a shanty at the start of the voyage makes the line “bound for Australia” most striking in the force it lends to the perils of a very far adventuresome journey under sail, the close presence of actors bravely singing in this compressed view creates the picture fully functioning.
The technique further serves as an effective bridge to the more expansive reaches of Melville’s style, and this in turn lends itself dramatically to the rising tide of hysteria or fervor aboard ship. And then there is no lack or dearth of pictures per se, usually coordinated with the text (or the drama).