When I had to read Moby Dick in college, I was not a fan. It was a book with too much description of the details of whaling for my young and unformed taste.

So, with latent memories of long hours wading (in sea water) through the novel, I wasn’t excited to see the new movie In the Heart of the Sea. I was wrong on several counts, but the biggest one was whether I would be enthralled with the movie. I was, very much so.

This Ron Howard film, is the story of Herman Melville coming as an aspiring novelist to Thomas Nickerson who had been a boy on the ship Essex out of Nantucket that encountered a phenomenon nearly beyond belief.

In 1820, a nearly 100 foot long, white sperm whale had aggressively—and it appeared—purposely attacked the Essex in the southern Pacific, ultimately sinking the ship.

This true story is what inspired Melville to write his novel, but in this case truth is stranger, and perhaps more compelling than fiction.

The gripping tension in the movie is not just with the whale that seems bent on destroying the ship, but also between Captain George Pollard and first mate Owen Chase who measure the world and God’s purposes quite differently.

The result is that the movie works for those who are intrigued by adventure stories, but also find moral ambiguity equally gripping.

Here’s the preview for the movie that opens Dec. 11.