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Review: USAsMoby Dick Proves Seaworthy

2/15/1998 7:00 PM Eastern

Patrick Stewart as Captain Ahab and Ted Levine as Starbuckdeliver the strongest performances in USA Network's four-hour Moby Dick,although the miniseries overall doesn't really gain its sea legs until the secondinstallment.

USA and Hallmark Entertainment seemingly spared no expensein mounting this $20 million co-production, shot off Australia, but the camera pays toomuch attention to the details of the surroundings, particularly on land, which slows downthe pace in part one. Indeed, this epic truly comes alive only when the Pequod setssail, which isn't until well into the opening installment. As might be expected, thebest scenes are at sea, in terms of both cinematography and dramatic impact.

While the story also is about Ishmael's journey frominnocence, the biggest conflict is between the peg-legged Ahab, obsessed with the whitewhale that devoured his leg, and Starbuck, who tries in vain to keep the captain fromdetouring from the whaling ship's mission of killing whales for oil. At times,Starbuck contemplates mutiny, and even murder. 'Tis madness,' Starbuck tellsAhab, to seek vengeance against 'a dumb thing,' but Ahab won't be swayed.Toward the end, just when Ahab seems to see the light, the lookout yells, 'Thar sheblows!' The final, bloody conflict is on, leading to Ahab's famous line,'From the heart of hell, I stab at thee!'

Franc Roddam does a yeoman's job as co-producer,director and script co-writer, and Robert Halmi Sr. -- who is co-executive producer withFrancis Ford Coppola, and who has made a career of bringing classics, like The Odyssey,to the TV screen -- has again chosen wisely here.

The lesser characters aren't really explored indetail, including the relationship between Ishmael (Henry Thomas) and Polynesianharpoonist Queequeg (Piripi Waretini), which, at the outset, moves too abruptly fromuneasy to friendly.

Gregory Peck, Ahab in the 1956 theatrical film, has a cameoas a minister in this drama. He also narrates a preview special, The Making of MobyDick, which offers interesting behind-the-scenes looks at the use of acomputer-generated 'virtual whale' and a miniature Pequod.

Moby Dick bows on USA March 15 and 16 in primetime,while the preview airs March 8.

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