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Nathaniel Philbrick’s whale of a tale

Nathaniel Philbrick with his wife, Melissa, at an early screening of the film at the Nantucket Dreamland Theater last week.Kris Kinsley Hancock

Nathaniel Philbrick had given up on the idea that his National Book Award-winning novel, "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex," would make it to the silver screen. After all, it was first optioned 15 years ago. But it's also not like Philbrick was sitting around his Nantucket home waiting — the noted maritime historian has since published five books, with a sixth coming out this spring. So it wasn't on his mind in 2012 when he got word that Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth was interested in the script. "That was the first inkling that it wasn't completely dead," said Philbrick. "But I still maintained a certain skepticism." Not anymore. The Warner Bros. film starring Hemsworth and directed by Ron Howard hit theaters Friday. Philbrick and his wife, Melissa, attended an early screening of the film at the Nantucket Dreamland Theater last week. Philbrick and Howard met for the first time at Mystic Seaport, lunching in the captain's quarters of the Charles W. Morgan, America's oldest whaleship that's still afloat. Although Philbrick didn't adapt the book for the big screen — that was handled by screenwriter Charles Leavitt — he did help out. When Hemsworth puzzled over how to throw a harpoon, Philbrick told him to watch the 1949 film "Down to the Sea in Ships." "I told him, 'You've got just to see that movie; it's an amazing resource,'" the author recalls. "Clearly, he mastered that." Philbrick also saw the finished film recently in D.C. "I'm by no means an objective critic, but I was blown away," he says. "There's a scene when they leave Nantucket, when the ship is hit by a thunderstorm, and, man — it's just amazing. You feel like you're there. You feel the waves bursting in your face."

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Names can be reached at names@globe.com. Follow Lauren Daley on Twitter @laurendaley1.

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