The translation of a novel to film is a very tenuous thing. When that story is well-loved, it’s even more so. The public have an indisputable ruler by which to measure the movie, and will do so mercilessly. For those books that have reached the age and popularity level of “classic” many different adaptations may exist. When it comes to Herman Melville’s novel, 1956’s “Moby Dick” may not be the most critically acclaimed, but for me it stands as the benchmark.
John Huston’s Technicolor masterpiece captures the language and heart of the novel (adapted for the screen by Ray Bradbury) and injects it with the tension that only careful editing can convey. Images documenting a whaling hunt cut with motion shots from the waves add realism.
What really brings life to the story is the performances of the actors. The entire cast brings believable emotion and struggle, but Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab stands above the rest. His performance is larger than life, and he fills the screen with his passion and obsession.
For me, one of the best things about the artistry of the film is the pastel color palate. Technicolor is typically characterized by its bright, saturated hues, resulting from not only the production design but also from the dye-transfer process. For “Moby Dick” this technical process was physically altered, with the color layers being added in a different order to achieve the muted, unsaturated look.
Although it’s not the most literary accurate version of the novel, I feel its handling makes it one of the most enjoyable.