We'll watch the newest incarnation of MOBY DICK on Encore/Starz when it appears this upcoming August 1st and 2nd. Among the cast is Gillian Anderson, playing Elizabeth, Ahab's wife. Since Elizabeth is hardly mentioned in the book, we take it that the character is re-imagined, a la Sena Jeter Naslund's novel, Ahab's Wife.
The rest of the cast includes John Hurt as Ahab, Ethan Hawke as Starbuck, Charlie Cox as Ishmael, Billy Body as Elijah, and Donald Sutherland as the Rev. Mapple.
MOBY DICK was once a forgotten book, but no more. Now it seems to permeate our culture. There is a seafood restaurant chain called Moby Dick. The founder of the coffee chain, Starbucks, says that he took the name from the novel. The book has spawned or at least inspired hundreds of other books and movies, direct derivatives. The secondary derivatives must be without number.
Want to see how much Cormac McCarthy used Moby Dick in Blood Meridian? Go to this link.
Peter Benchley's Jaws owes much to Moby Dick, especially Steven Spielberg's movie adaptation of the novel. I like the Moby Dick-like interpretation of Jaws at this link.
When Spielberg made Jaws, he offered the role of Brody to Robert Duvall who only wanted to play the Ahab character, Quint. Spielberg thought Roy Scheider was too macho to play Brody (due to The French Connection), but eventually Scheider was cast as Brody and was very good in the role.
According to Wikipedia, the role of Quint was originally offered to actors Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden, both of whom passed. "Producers Zanuck and Brown had just finished working with Robert Shaw on The Sting, and suggested him to Spielberg as a possible Quint."
Spielberg wanted a segment where Quint would be seen watching Gregory Peck in Moby Dick and laughing at him for his ineptitude. But he could not get the rights to the clip, as Gregory Peck was ashamed of his part in the movie.
Gregory Peck was miscast as Ahab. Melville's Moby Dick was not the icon it is today; no one wanted to back a movie of it. John Huston wanted an unknown to play the lead, but his backers would not finance the film unless he nabbed a big star. He flattered and lied and finally signed Gregory Peck, telling him that he was perfect for the part.
Ray Bradbury's novel, Green Shadows, White Whale, is not exactly a novel: it is Ray Bradbury's memories of his time spent with John Huston in Ireland writing the script for the movie. Most of these were previously published in the form of short stories.
Bradbury recounts his difficulties with the script, his arguments with Huston, Huston's abuse of his wife, the Dublin of the time, his conjuring of Melville and the whale. The making of the movie is itself excellent drama, with John Huston as Ahab, Ray Bradbury as Starbuck. Ray Bradbury wrote:
"It was seven o'clock in the morning.'
"I awoke and stared at the ceiling as if it were about to plunge down on me, an immense whiteness of flesh, a madness of unblinking eye, a flounder of tail. I was in a terrible state of excitement. I imagine it was like those moments we hear about before an earthquake, when the dogs and cats fight to leave the house, or the unseen and unheard tremors shake the floor and beams, and you find yourself held ready for something to arrive but you're damned if you know what.'
"I am Herman Melville."
"Believing that, I sat at the typewriter, and in the next seven hours wrote and rewrote the last third of the screenplay plus portions of the middle. I did not eat until late afternoon, when I had a sandwich sent up, and which I devoured while typing.'
"I was fearful of answering the telephone, dreading the loss of focus if I did so. I had never typed so long, so hard, and so fast in all the years before that day nor in all the years since. If I wasn't Herman Melville, I was, oh, God, his Ouija Board, and he was moving my planchette. Or his literary force, compressed all these months, was spouting out of my finger tips as if I had twisted the faucets.'
"I mumbled and muttered and mourned through the morning, and all through noon, and leaning into my usual naptime. But there was no tiredness, only the fierce, steady, joyful, and triumphant banging away at my machine with the pages littering the floor--Ahab crying destruction over my right shoulder, Melville bawling construction over the left.'
"At last the metaphors were falling together, meeting up, touching and fusing. The tiny ones with the small ones, the smaller with the larger, the larger with the immense. . .What nailed it fast was the hammering of the Spanish gold ounce to the mast...The gold coin represents all that the seaman want, each and every one...The men do not know it, but the sound of the maul striking the coin's fastening nail is their sea coffin lid being hammered flat shut."