The Sea Wolf started life in 1904 as an adventure novel written by American journalist and author Jack London. Since it was first published, the story has been adapted for the screen no fewer than thirteen times. The latest version, released on DVD last week, was made in 2009 as an epic two part 3 hour TV movie co-produced by Canada and Germany. The films truly international cast includes Sebastian Koch, Neve Campbell and Tim Roth. Wolf Larsen (Koch) is the tyrannical Captain of the notorious seal hunting vessel, the Sea Wolf. While on the high seas, he takes on castaway Humphrey Van Wyden (Stephen Campbell Moore). But instead of abandoning him at the next harbour, Wolf puts the mild mannered literary critic to work and rules over him with an unyielding iron fist. Much to Wolf's surprise, the graft transforms Van Wyden into a hardened adversary - every bit as formidable as Wolf himself. But it's not until the appearance of Wolfs brother, Death (Roth), and Maud Brewster (Campbell), the daughter of a rival ship owner that the dynamic truly explodes into life, leaving three men to war over love, duty, life and death. The film is presented in two separate parts as it was when originally shown on German TV. The first part is mainly concerned with establishing the characters and moves along at a leisurely pace highlighting the day to day mundane routine of life at sea. Sebastian Koch, probably best known for the Oscar winning The Lives Of Others, gives a solid performance here clearly taking inspiration from Russell Crowe in Master And Commander and Anthony Hopkins in The Bounty. His portrayal of Wolf is perplexing; he is not particularly likeable but still commands attention. He is also unpredictable, one minute beating crew members and the next enjoying a quiet dinner with them below decks. British actor Stephen Campbell Moore is the main focus of the story. His character is the only one that goes through any kind of transformation during the film. When we first meet him he is a typical fish out of water thrown into a difficult life on board the Sea Wolf, he suffers from sea sickness and reluctantly fulfils his role as a deck hand. By the end of the film he has transformed into the ships first mate and has no qualms in standing up to his captain gaining the respect of the ships crew. Neve Campbell seems an odd choice for the role of Maud, I struggled to figure out where her accent was supposed to be from, actually a common problem with all the actors in the film, accents seem to come and go. She just doesnt add anything to the film aside from the obvious love interest and providing further conflict between the two brothers. The usually excellent Tim Roth appears bored throughout the film and lets his scarred face do most of the acting. The role of Death is underwritten in comparison to the character of Wolf and although he is clearly the villain there is nothing for Roth to really get his teeth into. The second part of the film picks up the pace considerably with more scenes of action and few twists to the plot. The seal hunting scenes will no doubt upset Greenpeace members and prove difficult viewing for vegetarians. Both parts of the film open with a disclosure that no animals were harmed during the making of the film which would lead you to believe that these scenes are realistic, however while they are extremely graphic there is an obvious sheen of fakery and unreality that detracts rather than disgusts. While I understand the film is probably trying to stay true to the source material, I think it would have worked better as a tightened two hour feature film. There is little need for it to be so long and there is plenty in the bloated first part that could have been edited down. On the plus side I really admired the attention to detail and fans of similar TV fare such as Hornblower will most likely appreciate the films realistic portrayal of the claustrophobia of life on board a ship.
All in all the transfer is a fair representation of the films television roots. The image quality lacks any real depth and is quite soft with muted colours giving the film a very grey look. The cinematography is pretty good and conveys a real sense of the isolation of the ocean as well as giving the impression this was actually shot on the high seas rather than within the confines of a studio water tank. The soundtrack builds up the general atmosphere on board with every sound effect adding to the organic feel of the ship from the creak of the deck to the sound of the wind in the sails. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix enhances the visuals making full use of the surround speakers.
The only extra is a two minute trailer for the film. Its quite disappointing that there is no behind scenes look at the film as I think it would have been interesting to discover more about the filmmakers commitment to authenticity as well as showing how the actors coped filming at sea. Also a history of the story and how it came to be adapted so many times for the screen would have been a worthy extra. The Sea Wolf was released on DVD last week.