This may not be the most wrongheaded adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick ever filmed (that would be this Saturday morning cartoon, pictured), but it’s a close second. According to Variety, screenwriters Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (the duo behind Accepted) “revere Melville’s original text” but plan to change it drastically into a “graphic novel-style” adventure tale, starting with the dropping of the first-person narration. (Never mind that the book begins with one of the most famous lines of first-person narration in all of literature: “Call me Ishmael.”) The movie will also change Captain Ahab so that he’s shown “more as a charismatic leader than a brooding obsessive.” And modern digital effects will be used”to tell what at its core is an action-adventure revenge story.”
Um, no. I realize that one of the main philosophical points of Moby-Dick is that everything is open to multiple interpretations, but as Ahab learns, some interpretations are just dead wrong. Anybody who’s ever been enthralled by Melville’s classic (or bored to tears by it while slogging through it in high-school English) knows that it is not an action-adventure tale, since, until the title character shows up during last few chapters, there ain’t a whole lot of action. Mostly, it’s a buncha sailors sitting around talking about philosophy and religion while they wait for whales to come by so they can kill them. What makes it work is the contrast between the playful, open-minded curiosity about the world’s wonders that motivates Ishmael’s journey and the ominous dread of Ahab’s single-minded quest for vengeance. Think you can capture that in CGI, fellas?
Oh, maybe I should just let them run with it. I am a fan, after all, of director Timur Bekmambetov’s meth-head visual style (Wanted, Night Watch).And maybe he and his writers can make some other needed changes. Like,the ship needs some babes; in Melville’s original, the coziestrelationship on the Pequod was between Ishmael and Queequeg. What ifthey followed Battlestar Galactica’s lead and made Starbuck awoman? And she could drink a lot of coffee, in order to enable someotherwise anachronistic product placement. Oh, and I can’t wait for theaction figures that’ll come in the Moby-Dick Filet-O-Fish HappyMeal – Ahab, with his spring-loaded peg leg that fires as aprojectile, or Queequeg, who comes with his own harpoon and intricatelycarved coffin.
Or, we could say to Bekmambetov: We’ll make you a deal. You don’tcome to America and despoil our literary classics, and we won’t sendfilmmakers to Russia to turn Tolstoy’s War and Peace into 300, or update Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment from an anguished epic meditation on sin and redemption into what at its core is a serial-killer murder mystery thriller.