Comes news that Universal has hired the director of Wanted and the screenwriters who gave us the Olsen twin masterpiece New York Minuteto write and direct Moby-Dick. At first this didn’t seem too apocalyptic for people who might care about the book, but then the Variety article cheerfully imparts the following information.

The writers revere Melville’s original text, but their graphic novel-style version will change the structure. Gone is the first-person narration by the young seaman Ishmael, who observes how Ahab’s obsession with killing the great white whale overwhelms his good judgment as captain.

Ah, Hollywood-style “reverence.” The first thing we do to the text we revere is destroy the narrative framing that allows the rest of the story to unfold, and gives us the distance to really understand what makes Ahab tick, and what makes Starbuck keep trying to save him, and…and Ahab doesn’t just lose his good judgment; he strips away his own humanity, bit by bit, eventually refusing a fellow captain’s request for help finding his son because to do so would slow down his pursuit of the whale. And he knows it’s happening to him while he does it, and he knows why, and he still can’t stop it. That’s what makes Ahab great. Which brings us to:

This change will allow them to depict the whale’s decimation of other ships prior to its encounter with Ahab’s Pequod, and Ahab will be depicted more as a charismatic leader than a brooding obsessive.

In other words, Ahab is going to become Aragorn with a peg leg, and the whale is a cetacean Sauron, who wreaks his havoc until Ahabagorn shows up to Put Things Right, Put Nature in Its Place…but the whole point of the story is the way in which a brooding obsessive–who knows himself to be a brooding obsessive and has decided that he’s not going to let self-awareness stand in the way of his obsession–can exert power over the people under his command and let his obsession destroy them too. It’s a story about how man must eternally strive against things that are larger than him, whether that struggle is just or not, whether it is doomed or not. That story’s not good enough for you, Mr. Bekmambetov? This is a version of what happened to the character of Quint in the transition from Peter Benchley’s Jaws to Spielberg’s version. The literary Quint, particularly at the moment of his death, is explicitly an Ahab figure; not much of that survives in the film version. But it gets much worse, as we see in the following selection:

“Our vision isn’t your grandfather’s ‘Moby Dick,’ ” Cooper said. “This is an opportunity to take a timeless classic and capitalize on the advances in visual effects to tell what at its core is an action-adventure revenge story.”

Your grandfather’s Moby-Dick? You mean the one that is explicitly not an action-adventure revenge story? The one that’s about what happens when a group of men realizes that their destinies are no longer in their control? The one that’s about the human mind’s endless ability to turn in on itself, and maybe destroy itself in the process? You’d rather have a car chase across the high seas, with a whale as a villain? A whale? Even Ahab (at least in Melville’s version of Moby-Dick) knows that it’s not the whale’s fault…but he blames the whale anyway, and in the end it’s this ability to seize his own prerogative, consequences and crews and everyone else be damned, that makes Ahab a great character.

And about using a whale as a villain…what is with this iea that we need to turn Moby-Dick into a villain? How the fuck can an animal be a villain? By eliminating the voice of Ishmael, who recognizes how crazy Ahab is and who views the whale as a quarry and adversary worthy of respect, the filmmakers are saying that they’re going to give us a car chase across the high seas…all so they can make use of advances in visual effects. Are we going to get a Whale-Cam? When Ahab is pinned to Moby-Dick, are we going to get an Ahab-Cam, as the dying whale dives for the briny deeps with…oh no. He’s not going to be pinned to Moby-Dick, is he? He’s going to get his revenge on the whale, and that’s going to be the real crime against the story.

Ahab can’t win! That’s the point of Ahab, is doom! Doom for him, doom for everyone on the Pequod except Ishmael, who for all we know might be one of the other sailors who survived and is adopting another persona to tell the story. Doom! That’s the point! If you make a Moby-Dick with a happy ending, you are going to hell.

People can make whatever movies they want, obviously, but don’t stand up in front of a microphone and pretend reverence for a literary landmark that you’re in the process of turning into Hollywood dog food.

Here endeth the rant.


  1. To make matters worse, all existing copies of the book, no matter where they are, will be destroyed, wiping the memory of the novel from the collective mind of mankind and replacing it with this new vision of the white whale.


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