Ron Howard and Moby-Dick? Now that clash of populist cinema and classic literature had me looking forward immensely to this film, and I wasn't disappointed.

Moby-Dick is regarded as one of literature's greatest works, but it's a hefty tome both in volume and density of prose and wouldn't be to everyone's taste. Ron Howard, on the other hand, knows how to make a film hit a giant audience.

In the Heart of the Sea is based on Nathaniel Philbrick's 2000 non-fiction book of the same name, about the sinking of the American whaling ship Essex in 1820, a tale that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby-Dick.

The story begins rather sedately with Ben Whishaw's Herman Melville calling on Thomas Nickerson, played by Brendan Gleeson, who recounts the ultimately grim maiden voyage of the Essex to Melville.

In extended flashbacks, the story unfolds of Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), a vastly experienced First Mate who grudgingly serves under Benjamin Walker's rookie Captain George Pollard, Jr, in order to secure his own captaincy next time around. Cillian Murphy plays second officer Matthew Joy, a loyal assistant of Chase's, while the young cabin boy Thomas Nickerson is portrayed by Tom Holland.

There's an instant stand-off between the capable Chase and incompetent, arrogant Pollard, but that's nothing compared to the battle between man and beast as the ship faces a massive sperm whale, leaving the crew shipwrecked and more than a thousand miles from land.

The special effects are truly spectacular, while the latter crew's ordeal in the sea is torturously realistic, making In the Heart of the Sea a hugely enjoyable, epic adventure. Certainly, I'll never complain again about Dublin traffic after seeing what these characters had to endure.

Rumour has it that the film's release was delayed in order to be closer to Academy Award nomination time, and it's understandable. Apologies for the fishing analogy, but this is Oscar bait par excellence.

John Byrne