Herman Melville's tome Moby Dick was based on the harrowing experience of sperm whale hunters in the early 1800s. Surprisingly, that big fat book didn't even tell the whole story—the trials of the American boat crew after the vessel was shattered by the enormous animal. Artisan brings The Discovery Channel's Moby Dick—The True Story to DVD, a vivid retelling of the whalers' attempts to survive. Floating adrift for days, encountering a deserted island, and cannibalism are all aspects of this doc that give you second thoughts about boarding that Carnival cruise.
The story of the whalers, based in part on the cabin boy's recently discovered diary, is told via "dramatic re-enactments" and talking-head expert opinion. The enactments are tasteful and surprisingly well-acted; dialogue is sparingly used, so the cheese factor is kept at a minimum. The present-day experts know their stuff; their inside information rarely repeats itself and always enlightens. There's also one guy who has so much hair on his face and head that you can't help but wonder the drawbacks of being an academic, isolated as you are from the outside world. And isn't that the fun of educational documentaries—wondering what Whale Expert Dr. Bob Smiley does in his spare time when not researching the effects of sea kelp on whale DNA?
The well-spoken narration and editing moves the doc at a quick clip; you don't always feel like you're soaking up an educational experience. There is a nice balance between educational material and re-enactment that keeps this thing swiftly entertaining, particularly the parts where the guys have to dine on "Ed" or "Joe's" dead body to survive. Maybe you should keep the younger kids from viewing this puppy, because those scenes even got me a little uneasy.
Further upping the quality of the presentation were some surprisingly excellent effects used to show how the whale attacked the ship. These effects, for the most part, looked very real, thanks to movie-quality CGI work. I spotted some archival whaling footage, but it was used sparingly.
Moby Dick is presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The colors—there's lots of blue here since everyone is out to sea for the most part—are deep, rich, and the transfer is very clean. No grain or dirt was present while shadows have depth and blacks are very solid. There were some moments where the scenes were cast in too much darkness, but this seemed to be an artistic choice and not a problem with the transfer. The 1.0 mono sound was blah, but for an educational documentary I'm not going to be picky, though it lacked any distortion or major flaws. Plus, a wide variety of sounds—from high-pitched whale noises to low dialogue—were expertly modulated. No extras, but when placed in your PC, you can access Discovery.com highlights with the DVD. Overall, this is a nice addition to any parent or Discovery Channel collection—educational, nice-looking, and very informative.
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