In the past week we were treated to not one, not two, but three sci-fi depictions of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick on television: Thursday brought us Leela’s obsession with a fourth-dimensional space whale on Comedy Central’s Futurama; Friday saw Cartoon Network’s Thundercats heroes at the mercy of a ship captain obsessed with destroying a tentacled beast called the Ramlak; and Saturday showed us Danny Glover as a version of Capt. Ahab hunting for the great white dragon that killed his family in the Syfy movie Age of the Dragons.
I admit I passed on the Syfy Saturday night movie, but Futurama’s “Mobius Dick” was an entertaining nerdy twist on the whale tale and the Thundercats episode “Ramlak Rising” was a great follow-up to the pilot episode that showed Lion-O learning to move past his need for revenge against Mumm-Ra and focus more on helping his people.
There is certainly no shortage of adaptations of Melville’s epic adventure, or indeed the concept of obsession, in the sci-fi genre: It featured prominently in 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact, both in theme and in name, as Capt. Picard (Patrick Stewart, who has even played Ahab on TV) is faced with the truth of his obsession with the Borg. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) also is full of overt and more subtle references to Moby Dick (“From Hell’s heart … I stab at thee!!!”).
Sci-fi master Ray Bradbury tackled the tale in his 2007 novella Leviathan, turning the whale into a comet pursued by a space crew, and Philip Jose Farmer sent Ishmael into the distant future where flying whales are hunted by aircraft in The Wind Whales of Ishmael.
Then there are more obscure twists on the story: I remember a DuckTales episode from my childhood where Scrooge and his nephews get stuck in the Sargasso Sea and find a society of castaways ruled by a captain obsessed with protecting his people from a sea monster. He ultimately befriends the beast and it helps the ducks find their way home. (There were also episodes about a whale-shaped super-sub and an artificial sea monster that touched on similar themes.)
And of course the meme wouldn’t be complete without a recent Phineas and Ferb episode parodying the classic work.
What’s your favorite Moby Dick moment in sci-fi and fantasy?