The movie version of “In the Heart of the Sea” takes a boatload of liberties with Nathaniel Philbrick’s nonfiction account:
▪ The real incident was a fluke. After ramming the Essex, that angry whale was never seen again. Hollywood’s creature, on the other hand, must be a cousin of “Jaws” — or Moby-Dick, for that matter: Once is not enough.
▪ It may look great on film, but the ship did not burst into flames as it sank in the night. In reality, those barrels of whale oil just made a slimy mess.
▪ The wreck and unsavory survival tactics were no secret at the time. But in the movie, author Herman Melville has to use cash and liquor to pry the story out of former cabin boy Tom Nickerson. As Philbrick says, the sinking “was one of the most well-known marine disasters of the 19th century. Nearly every child in America read about it in school.”
▪ To create his fictional “Moby-Dick,” Melville got all the inspiration he needed from his well-thumbed copy of first mate Owen Chase’s book. Philbrick, too, relied on Chase, as well as a newly discovered memoir by Nickerson, who needed no prodding to relate his experiences.