Attack of the Killer Bs: The Asylum’s Moby Dick (2010)

Herman Melville's classic tale retold - by the people behind Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus...

It hardly needs saying that Moby Dick is rightly considered a classic of world literature. It’s a subtle, allegorical work in which Herman Melville explores everything from social class to the existence of God, carefully weaving these grand themes into a narrative about life aboard a whaling ship. It’s been read, analysed and debated more attentively than 99 per cent of books ever published and is one of the literary triumphs of western civilisation.

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So, naturally, it’s entirely appropriate source material for a straight-to-DVD cheapie by The Asylum, the people behind Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus.

Well, they’ve already given us their take on a classic tale in the form of Titanic II (yes, really), so why not? And d’you know what, I think they’ve excelled themselves with this.

The bulk of Moby Dick (aka 2010: Moby Dick) takes place in the present day, with a brief opening preamble in which we see a youthful radar operator named Ahab aboard a submarine in the 1960s, which is attacked near Siberia by a terrifically unconvincing CGI whale-beast. Ahab quickly loses his leg to the creature in a flurry of thrown-together special effects and Sega Saturn-quality computer graphics before we cut back to the here and now.

We’re then introduced to marine biologist Dr Michelle Herman (I guess “Michelle” sort of assonates with “Ishmael”), played by the bikini-clad Renée O’Connor. She’s testing a whale-song generator off the coast of California with her assistant, Pip, who’s only there to, in his own singsong words, “get pay-ayyyed”. But before long they’re interrupted as a huge CGI liquorice allsor- sorry, submarine – surfaces behind them and a dogsbody crewmate demands that the pair of whale-singers come aboard.

Once safely ensconced within the USS Pequod (groan…), Michelle and Pip meet Captain Ahab, whose artificial leg can be heard clumping along the decks from miles away. He’s played/hammed up by silver-haired Barry Bostwick of Spin City fame, and boy howdy, does Bostwick ever throw himself into his performance.

I’ll set out my stall here: Bostwick is the main reason to watch this film. Sure, it’s fun to laugh at preposterous special effects, but nothing compares to the sight of a classically trained thespian making a meal of dialogue like “He’s not a whale – he’s the devil himself!” and “I’d strike the sun if it insulted me!”. For comparison, it’s enough to say that he makes Kenneth Williams’s Carry On performances look subtle.

Anyway, it turns out that the Pequod’s on the trail of an enormous whale that Ahab assumes to be Moby Dick, which the crew hope to entice out of hiding by using Michelle’s song generator to broadcast a recording of the beast’s cries that Ahab took in the 60s, presumably while having his leg torn off.

From here on out we’re in classic monster movie territory, with the whale laying waste to anything in its path, while the Pequod and other sundry military vehicles try to put an end to its orgy of destruction.

Mind you, these vehicle-on-whale battles stretch to breaking point any suspension of disbelief on the part of the viewer. It’s like watching a series of video game cut-scenes circa 1998, really staggeringly awful, to the point that you begin to wonder if the animator on this film was being ironic. Though that said, any CGI so bad it causes one to splutter tea across the room in incredulity does at least elicit more of a reaction than the bland (and also obviously fake) computer wizardry of rubbish like The Phantom Menace.

There isn’t a great deal more to say about Moby Dick’s plot. The Pequod’s crew eventually track down the whale to the coast of an uninhabited (and, naturally, computer-generated) Pacific island. But the threat of a dry-land encounter with Ahab and the chaps causes Moby no distress. Indeed, at one point in the film we get to see the 500-foot whale leap over a mountain before crushing a man to death on the island’s beach. Need one say more?

Well, yes actually, because before the film’s final confrontation Ahab needs to replace his damaged false leg and, underscoring his All-American Hero credentials, does so with a makeshift crucifix. I’m not making this up. The film ultimately boils down to an ageing man in combat fatigues, toting a comically oversized harpoon-gun, walking on a crucifix and heading out to sea to battle a giant CGI whale. What’s not to love?

Moby Dick is a B-movie in the classic tradition. From its would-be highbrow “heritage” to its OTT acting, from its ridiculous dialogue to its god-awful special effects, this is the sort of thing Jerry Warren would doubtless be making if he was still alive today. There’s no nudity, not much gore, and I can’t remember there being any foul language. But despite the absence of those particular seasonings, Moby Dick is a barnstorming, genuinely laugh-out-loud 90 minutes of schlocky fun. If only all The Asylum’s creature features were this good/bad…

And seeing as Moby Dick is practically impenetrable as a book, isn’t it kind of The Asylum to have served up a precis of it like this? Finally, everyone can enjoy the tale. Melville would be proud, if only he could stop rotating.

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Moby Dick is released on DVD by Metrodome on Monday 25 July.