In Herman Melville’s 1851 novel “Moby-Dick; or, The Whale,” peg-legged Captain Ahab takes to the sea seeking revenge on the titular white whale that tore off his leg and maimed his ego. Ahab’s quest is an obsessive one against a mammal that does not appear in the novel until after about 600 pages. Slowly but surely, Ahab’s madness spreads to his crew members, and many of them struggle to find purpose not only in Ahab’s quest but also in their lives at sea. However, Ahab will not be stopped and ultimately they all pay the price for his madness and desire to kill the whale.
“Moby-Dick” wasn’t a favorite among literary critics in the 1800s. However, the extraordinary story about the human condition and the futility of vengeance has been adapted in numerous ways for film and television before becoming the inspiration for an American opera in two acts by Jake Heggie with a libretto by Gene Scheer.
To celebrate the LA Opera’s new production of the well-received opera “Moby-Dick,” it’s a perfect time to look at the sightings of Melville’s novel in films and television before you see the breathtaking sea tale unfold on stage. Here are seven other places to find the elusive great white whale’s cultural influence:
“The Sea Beast” (1926)
If you’re in the mood for a classic, this 1926 silent film (remade in 1930) is the way to go. It stars Hollywood legend John Barrymore (he was Drew Barrymore’s grandfather) as Captain Ahab in a loose adaptation of “Moby-Dick.” While the novel is tragic, this silent gem (a great commercial success for Warner Bros. in the Roaring ’20s) has a twist of an ending that, while not loyal to Melville’s novel, is quite touching.
“Moby Dick” (1956)
With a screenplay by “Fahrenheit 451” author Ray Bradbury and starring Academy Award-winning actor Gregory Peck, director John Huston’s epic is a shining example of Hollywood filmmaking in the 1950s. You wouldn’t expect anything less from the man famous for helming screen classics such as “The Maltese Falcon,” “The African Queen” and “The Man Who Would Be King.”
“Dicky Moe” (1962)
This classic “Tom and Jerry” cartoon released by MGM brings to life the story of “Moby-Dick” for children with an animated peg-legged captain of the Komquot boat searching for the elusive whale called Dicky Moe. When the captain’s crew runs for the hills, he turns to Tom and Jerry to help man the ship and find Dicky Moe.
“Star Trek: The Original Series” (1967) and “Star Trek: First Contact” (1996)
Driven nearly mad by the deaths of his USS Constellation crew, Commodore Decker assumes command of the Starship Enterprise in the series’ second-season episode, “The Doomsday Machine.” Portrayed with grand operatic compulsion by guest star William Windom, Decker risks the lives of Captain Kirk and the USS Enterprise crew when he goes full-tilt Ahab on a giant, seemingly unstoppable planet-killing machine. “Moby-Dick” also influences several other stories in the franchise, most notably 1996’s “Star Trek: First Contact.” In that theatrical film, Captain Picard is made to understand that his desire to kill the alien race antagonist the Borg is the same as Ahab’s thirst for the great white whale’s blood.
“Phineas and Ferb” (2011)
There are no whales in this animated “Phineas and Ferb” spoof on “Moby-Dick,” but there is a giant mechanical shark in “The Belly of the Beast” episode celebrating the Harbor Days Festival in this recent Disney series. Candace, Phineas’ sister and Ferb’s step-sister, and her best friend, Stacy, try to harpoon the shark while aboard a ship aptly named “The Pea-quod,” with a peg-legged captain in tow.
“In the Heart of the Sea” (2015)
A new intriguing chapter in the story of “Moby-Dick” arrives Dec. 11 in theaters with director Ron Howard’s film “In the Heart of the Sea.” Howard’s historic adventure thriller is not based on Melville’s novel, but rather on the incredible 1820 journey of the whaling ship Essex, which inspired the epic “Moby-Dick.”
“Moby-Dick” is on stage through Nov. 28 at LA Opera. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.laopera.org.
--Tribune Content Solutions for LA Opera