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Chris Hemsworth, In The Heart Of The Sea

E! Entertainment

Chris Hemsworth is unrecognizable in In The Heart of the Sea, a movie some viewers may find hard to swallow.

The film is set in 1820 and was directed by Ron Howard. Its story inspired Herman Melville to write Moby-Dick. Hemsworth plays sailor Owen Chase. His and his crew's New England whaling ship Essex is attacked by a sperm whale and the men later resort to desperate and gruesome measures (read: cannibalism) to try to survive.

Hemsworth, who showcased a super buff figure as Thor in the Thor and The Avengers films, went on a 500 to 600-calories-a-day crash diet to lose weight for his new role.

In the Heart of the Sea also stars Cillian Murphy, Benjamin WalkerCharlotte RileyBrendan GleesonGame of Thrones star Michelle Fairley and Ben Whishaw as Melville himself, who interviews the last surviving member of the ship's crew. The movie hits theaters in the United States on Dec. 11.

holiday movie preview,  in the heart of the sea

Warner Brothers Pictures

Check out what five critics said about In the Heart of the Sea.

1. Variety's Justin Chang says that "even stripped of the unhelpful comparisons" to Moby-Dick, "this account of the sad fate of the Essex...generates altogether less suspense, terror and awe than Jaws managed with a single Robert Shaw monologue."

"There's nothing cathartic or even particularly stirring about the sight of these whalers slowly wasting away, despite the strenuous plucking of every heartstring by Roque Banos' score, the actors' persuasive display of weight loss, the excellent scorched-skin makeup effects, and the anguished cutaways to the older Nickerson [Gleeson's character], still crazed with guilt over what he had to do to survive," he writes. "Whishaw's Melville looks on with strained pity in these scenes, and you can just about see the gears in his head spinning away as he tries to figure out how to turn this by-the-numbers jumble of set pieces into the Great American Novel."

2. The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy says In the Heart of the Sea is "something less than a whale of a tale."

"In the end, this isn't anything near the tale that Melville told; it's merely a story of great personal misfortune and tragedy, rather than one that trades in such lofty matters as the defiance of God, personal will and civilization versus the natural elements, the line between obsession and madness, revenge, the existential meaning of the sea and so many other matters," he writes. "By comparison, In the Heart of the Sea comes off more like a long anecdote."

3. The Guardian's Jordan Hoffman gives the movie three out of five stars.

"Not even Chris Hemsworth wielding a harpoon can stop Ron Howard's retelling of the Essex of Nantucket story from losing its way in the waves," he writes.

"Don't get me wrong: cinemas could use a movie where Chris Hemsworth, our closest modern equivalent to Steve Reeves, faces down sea monsters with a harpoon in his hand and fire in his eyes," he adds. "It's just that rolling from serious drama to action-adventure and back to drama again can make you seasick. What's more, many of the action scenes feature some noticeably poor computer generated effects."

4. Total Film's Matt Maytum also gives In the Heart of the Sea three out of five stars.

"At its best when chasing whales, Ron Howard's seafaring adventure is perfectly serviceable, but never next-level thrilling," he says. "For a story inspired by Moby-Dick, it should be searching for something bigger."

5. The Herald Sun's Leigh Paatsch gives the movie two out of five stars and calls it a "sinker."

"A LESS catchy, more accurate title for this mopey maritime drama is How Moby Dick Got Written," he writes.

"Whenever the predator takes a breather, what remains of the ex-Essex team take a long look at their dwindling provisions, and quickly wonder if cannibalism will soon be on the menu," he says. "After two dreary hours of this—by which time any leering ladies still watching will be hoping an emaciated Hemsworth puts his shirt back on—In the Heart of the Sea finally hits dry land and collapses in a state of complete exhaustion."