Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on basement television.
It took me a disturbingly long time to figure out what the intent behind The Sea Beast was. Kids movies always have a moral to them, and I thought I knew what the moral was going to be, and I was right. The Sea Beast, like many a kids’ movie, is about tolerance. The problem isn’t that. Kids’ movies are always going to be at least a little easier to read simply because of the audience. While kids can certainly pick up on nuance, you have to be careful with it. No, the problem here is that this is a movie that you have absolutely seen before.
So walk with me for a minute. Imagine, if you will, a society that is plagued by dangerous, giant creatures. These creatures are dangerous, large, and a huge problem for the society in question. In fact, the people in the society have teams of warriors who, in this case, head out on ships to fight these massive creatures. But it might be that a young child from that society will discover that the creatures are actually peaceful, that the war that is being fought is one caused more by misunderstanding than anything. Can she, and the adult who allies with her, get the society to realize their terrible mistake before more lives are lost? What does this sound like?
It sounds like How to Train Your Dragon, and that’s because that’s almost exactly what it is. Instead of dragons we have sea monsters, and instead of Vikings, we have the equivalent of whalers, but it’s essentially the same plot. Oh, there’s a lot of Moby Dick thrown in here for god measure, of course, but if this had been called How to Train Your White Whale, you would only need to change the color of the giant monster.
This is the story, though. We have a group of hunters, tasked with killing the giant sea monsters that have slowly been pushed away from the shore of the unnamed kingdom in question. We will be paying particular interest to a ship called Inevitable, captained by Captain Crow (Jared Harris). Crow is haunted by a giant creature known as the Red Bluster, the Moby Dick equivalent for the film. We’re going to spend a lot more time with his second in command and adopted son Jacob Holland (Karl Urban).
Things are really going to take off when Captain Crow and Jacob are confronted by the king and queen (Jim Carter and Doon Mackichan) with the inefficiency of the hunters, who are supported by them. The royals have decided to stop supporting the hunters and will instead use their nay and a huge new ship captained by Admiral Hornagold (Dan Stevens). Thinking quickly, Jacob offers a deal—both the new ship and the hunters will go out one more time to hunt the Red Bluster, and if the hunters don’t return with it, they’ll agree to being unfunded.
Things then become complicated when the crew of Inevitable discovers a stowaway named Maisie Brumble (Zaris-Angel Hator), an orphan whose parents were hunters themselves and killed by sea monsters in the past. Naturally, the Inevitable finds the Red Bluster and battles it, but it escapes and does so after swallowing Maisie and Jacob, much like the whale in Pinocchio. And it is here that Maisie discovers that perhaps the sea monsters aren’t that terrible, but are only defending themselves. And slowly, Jacob comes around.
I’m not going to go into the third act here, because you can at least get to the guts of it on your own. You’ll get some details wrong, but I’m guessing that you’ll get the broad strokes of it right. It really is a new version of How to Train Your Dragon with monsters that aren’t nearly as cute.
I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. The main reason that I wanted to like this is that I like Karl Urban as an actor and I would love him to get a lot more credit and career than he has. The guy is always good, and he’s had some real success (the LotR movies, the Star Trek reboot, Thor: Ragnarok), but a lot of his movies, like Dredd aren’t nearly as successful as they should be. Urban is great, and I’d like him to be better known.
Sadly, though, there’s no real reason to watch The Sea Beast because the superior version was released a dozen years ago and had two sequels. In a year that also saw the release of animated features like Strange World and Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers at the very least, there was no reason for this to be on the Oscar slate.
Why to watch The Sea Beast: Karl Urban deserves your support.
Why not to watch: It desperately wants to be How to Train Your Dragon, and it isn’t.