This film is deeply earnest, and that works for it in some ways and against it in others. On the one hand, the integrity that Gregory Peck brings to the role of Captain Ahab makes the old fashioned language seem important, and the fact that everyone seems so in awe of the whale helps sell the whale’s appearances even though he doesn’t look very realistic. On the other hand, the overly serious take on the material makes the movie feel less like a living tale and more like an Important Story. There are times when it felt like a classic movie and there were other times when it felt like something you’d have to slog your way through in a classroom.
I was interested in this film because it was recommended by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, who said that it was a film he saw as a child which really stuck with him. I can see why it would appeal to a kid: it functions as a monster movie, more or less, but with extra gravity that most horror movies of the time lacked, and there’s a simplicity to the way that they streamlined the narrative that would make it a perfect fit for a serious-minded child. I think that kids are a little better about suspending their disbelief, so they wouldn’t have to balance Ahab’s potency against Moby Dick’s plastic look as I did – they could have both a great white whale and a great whale hunter.
Ultimately, I don’t disagree with young Mignola’s assessment of the movie, but for me at the age I’m at now, this wasn’t quite enough of one thing or the other to be truly memorable.