How Master and Commander, King Kong Inspired Netflix Film – The Hollywood Reporter

Growing up, Chris Williams loved adventure movies, and among his favorites was King Kong. “The idea of the uncharted island, the mysteries beyond the horizon, was so compelling to me, and then there’s meeting this fierce beast that was so huge in scale and so formidable,” he says. “Yet over the course of the story, you form a real connection and empathy toward the creature. That, to me, was just an incredible feat of storytelling.”

Williams, an Oscar winner for Disney’s Big Hero Six, also recalls seeing old maps of the sea: “The mapmakers would populate the ocean with these really fantastic sea creatures.” This was the spark that would become The Sea Beast, in 2018 among the first original animated features to be greenlit by Netflix Animation.

The entertaining and inspiring adventure is set in a rich maritime world based on the 1700s, except sea monsters are real. “This has given rise to a new vocation, which is that of sea monster hunter,” Williams says of the setting for the story, which follows Jacob Holland (Karl Urban), a revered sea monster hunter, and Maisie Brumble (Zaris-Angel Hator), a brave young stowaway, as they set off to pursue a fearsome beast, the Red Bluster.

Williams, who directed and co-wrote the story, says the filmmakers wanted to talk about a “cycle of aggression and violence that can be caused by a desire for revenge or conquest. This cycle can be difficult to break away from, and [we wanted to address] ways in which we can find common ground and break away from this aggression,” he says.

“Unfortunately, there were some themes that became more relevant over the course of the years of development. One of the things we talk about is the nature of war and how, once started, it’s difficult to find peace and resolve conflicts. It examines the toll that it takes in ways that I think are especially poignant, in light of the global news.”

Williams adds, “The idea that powerful people can sometimes pit us against each other for their own personal gain is also something we talk about.”

Zaris-Angel Hator as Maisie Brumble, Jared Harris as Captain Crow, Karl Urban as Jacob Holland and Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Sarah Sharpe in The Sea Beast.

Zaris-Angel Hator as Maisie Brumble, Jared Harris as Captain Crow, Karl Urban as Jacob Holland and Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Sarah Sharpe in The Sea Beast.


The setting required plenty of research, including visits to the Maritime Museum of San Diego and time spent on board its replica tall ship HMS Surprise, which was used for Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. In fact, Gordon Laco, a historical consultant on Master and Commander, also contributed to The Sea Beast, “teaching us how the ships work, what the tactics and weaponry would have been, all the way down to the language and customs on these ships.”

Animated at Sony Pictures Imageworks, the production faced the particular challenges of water simulation as well as the need to create ropes on the vessel — “They can move a lot, but they never stretch,” Williams explains.

The wind also needed careful attention. “One thing that blindsided us was the sails and having a sail simulation that could convincingly fill with wind. We wanted the sailing to feel very accurate. Once we [figured this out], there was almost no looking back. We knew we could make the movie.”

This story first appeared in a Jan. stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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