February 5, 2015

Are the trailers for Ron Howard’s upcoming epic In The Heart of the Sea missing a hyphen?


Moby-Dick is a book that is very close to this publishing house’s heart, for obvious reasons. It’s also my favorite novel. (Bold choice, I know.) But there’s one thing in the world I love more than Moby-Dick: the hyphen that separates Moby and Dick. It’s deeply important to me! If you asked me “Alex, what’s more important, your family or the hyphen that separates Moby and Dick? I would think about it and then say “Well, I’m an only child of two only children, so there aren’t many of us.” And then you would say “That must have been lonely.” And then I would say “Well it might seem that way, but if you don’t know anything different… anyway, my family is more important but not by much.”

As a fan of Moby-Dick and a proud Melville-ian, I’m extremely excited for Ron Howard’s upcoming adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick‘s In The Heart Of The Sea—an excellent (Read it! It’s good) narrative history of the inspiration for Moby-Dick, the final voyage of the whaleship EssexI somehow missed the trailer when it first premiered, but I watched it on a recent sick day and it looks amazing—with one crucial exception that nearly ruins the whole affair.

The trailer starts well enough: the Essex, heading into a storm (foreshadowing!); Chris “definitely hotter than Liam” Hemsworth staring into the distance like he was in a Malick movie (a metaphor for being hot!); an island that looks sort of like a whale (a metaphor for a penis!). Then there’s a shot of the crew, which is exciting, partly because Cillian Murphy, who is good but has never quite lived up to his potential, is in this movie, which is exciting. And then it gets great.

With a whale charging the ship, Chris Hemsworth picks up a harpoon and he means business.

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Dope! Chris is way hotter than Liam.

Then things get schmaltzy for a while (bla bla piano music bla bla families) before we get some sweet shots of the bros on the boat having a blast and a Malickean voiceover as shots like this sail by:

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“Trust gave way to doubt,” we’re told. The boat starts to shake. Chris Hesmworth starts to look very concerned, though in a hot way.

Then shit gets really real. The boat is on fire! Then the boat ISN’T on fire but a man just fell overboard and the ropes all get really tight at the same time and an anchor is flying all over the place wreaking havoc. Oh no! And then the boat’s on fire AGAIN! What’s going on?

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In short, the trailer for In The Heart Of The Sea looks awesome. But there’s one huge problem.

As the action escalates, the trailer gives us a little background about the story—who’s making it and what it’s about.

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So far so good! Willlloooooow!

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OK, A Beautiful Mind is super overrated and space is super boring but still, Frost/NixonEdTV, and Arrested Development make up for it. 

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Could use more misandry, but whatever I’ll take it. Stories are cool and good.

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Oooh this is getting good! I like myths, but stories of men FACING myths? Hell yes.

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Wait. What?

I have a lot of questions. Are we calling Moby-Dick a myth now? Or is Moby-Dick a novel about the mythic whale Moby Dick? Both of those things seem wrong. Moby-Dick is a novel about a whale named Moby Dick. That whale is not a myth, though the novel itself is based on a true story—the story that In The Heart Of The Sea is supposed to be retelling. So really the dudes on the Essex faced the whale who sort of became Moby Dick in the novel Moby-Dick. Sorry—those dudes faced the myth who sort of became Moby Dick in the novel Moby-Dick. (Or is it the whale who became Moby Dick in the myth Moby-Dick? Questions abound.

Second: What the fuck is going on with “Moby Dick” appearing out of thin air? Like, is it supposed to be “Comes the story of the men who faced the myth, Moby Dick” or is it more like hashtag rap: “Comes the story of the men who faced the myth………. Moby-Dick“? I honestly had no idea, so I watched another trailer for the movie.

The second trailer is way better—it starts with Chris Hemsworth (babe) being jolted awake and builds the tension slowly (and largely silently) from there. Plus, there are way more totally sick shots of the giant whale smashing into stuff like this:

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You also see the whale’s face in one of the shots, but I couldn’t get a good screenshot of it. (Spoiler: it has a little mouth.)

Anyway, most of the footage is the same (aside from the added footage of the whale going apeshit/having a little mouth) so we don’t need to go through the song and dance. Here’s what matters.

Things start similarly:



Then things change.

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OK! This is much better. In The Heart Of The Sea is an extraordinary true story! Not a myth! Maybe Hollywood has learned its lesson?

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Sure? Sure. Whatever. I have issues with this for being vague and redundant (and for forcing me to take an extra screen shot) but whatever. Moving on.

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Well that’s technically a lie. The movie’s release date has been pushed back to December, which is sad. But no reason to punish this trailer and Academy Award ® Winning Director Ron Howard just because I was late to this trailer. MOVING ON.

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Again, you can witness this encounter in December now, not March. This mostly feels like padding, regardless. Let’s get more succinct, trailer-making people. Brevity is the soul of wit.

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Now we’re back in business. And things have changed! This time… nothing pops up! What myth did it inspire?

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God. Damnit.

So we have two sentences citing “Moby Dick” sans hyphen.

Sentence the first: From Academy Award winner Ron Howard the director of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind comes the story of the men who faced the myth Moby Dick.

Sentence the second: From Academy Award winner Ron Howard the director of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind comes one of the greatest true stories ever told. This March witness the encounter that inspired the myth Moby Dick.

So, should there be a hyphen? I turned to two veteran copyeditors to find out.

Here’s Random House’s managing editor and copy chief Benjamin Dreyer‘s response:

Interesting question. Very interesting question.

This is what I’d do: Set commas after “Howard” and “Mind.” (And one after “March.”) They’re grammatically called for, and they’d be there if the text in the trailer were not broken into separate bits. I’d consider that a helpful editorial intrusion, for the benefit of the reader.
I would otherwise honor the text and NOT put a hyphen in Moby Dick where one was not provided. Doing so would count, I’d say, as an intrusive know-it-all editorial intrusion.
No one will blame you for the absence.
I recognize that I’m simultaneously pushing you in two different directions, but sometimes finesse is more important than consistency.

And here’s Melville House‘s managing editor Wah-Ming Chang on the second sentence:

Oh! It certainly should have a hyphen. Ron Howard thinks he’s clever, doesn’t he? Slipping in the title in the middle of a storm scene like it’s a subliminal message; but we know he just doesn’t know. Facts is facts: the story of the whale ship Essex inspired the story of Moby-Dick, not the character Moby Dick. And here’s a last-resort confirmation: per the copy on the cover of Nathaniel Philbrick‘s book on which the movie is based, the tale is “the inspiration for Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.”

But she did add this historical note, which largely jibes with Dreyer’s take:

The hyphen rule for this title is attributed to G. Thomas Tanselle: the hyphen was added to the title page during proofs—but probably the typesetters said no way to going through the entire manuscript to add the hyphens to all instances of the name. (Bonus: How many times does the name “Moby Dick” appear in the book?) Oddly enough, there is one instance of the hyphen inside the text: “…the Pequod bore down in the leeward wake of Moby-Dick.”
So: I might suggest that this hyphen was one of those corrections that was introduced without the editors’ thinking through the consequences. I’m sure the history of the semicolon and the comma for those “Or” subtitles is just as confusing, for example. The title for Gone With the Wind is another example of breaking a common rule: prepositions fewer than five letters are always lowercase in titles, but for some reason this title retains the (probably mistakenly) capitalized “With” in all references. Look it up.

I’m still confused! Though it seems like the first trailer almost definitely should not have a hyphen, while the second could go either way. But this still seems far from settled. If you have an opinion one way or the other let me know what you think: if you tweet @melvillehouse or email me at alex at mhpbooks.com I’ll include your responses below.

Either way, Chris Hemsworth is way hotter than Liam Hemsworth.

UPDATE: Readers respond!

And here’s an email from reader Chris Dattilio:

Hi Alex!

Spelling consistency, even a desire for spelling consistency, even for proper nouns, is an extremely modern development in written English, and one which is arguably already dying.  Thank goodness!
Did Melville care, at the time of publication, if Moby-Dick was Moby-Dick or Moby Dick?  Does the character deserve a different spelling than the novel?
I think we do well to remember that Melville was born ‘Melvill,’ and changed the spelling of his name in his mid-teens, while we ask ourselves that question.
Peter Ackroyd points out in his magnificent biography of Shakespeare that the bard himself spelled his own name at least 17 different ways during his lifetime.  If it’s good enough for Shakespeare…

Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.