Ahab Scowls in Soggy ‘Moby’; Koran Contest; Battling Beards: Greg Evans

William Hurt’s scowling, growling Captain Ahab is more convincing than the hokey computer-enhanced leviathan he stalks in Encore’s two-part, three-hour “Moby Dick.”

Hamming it up with an “Aargh, me maties!” pirate voice, Hurt at least gives this $25 million German production something for its money. That digital whale, not so much.

Drifting from the original Melville, the miniseries (Encore’s entry into original programming) announces its infidelity early on.

In the opening scene, invented by screenwriter Nigel Williams, Ishmael (played by Charlie Cox, a Robert Pattinson- lookalike) rescues young crewmate Pip from a beating. The wandering sailor then extends his hand to the black boy and parrots the book’s famous first sentence: “Call me Ishmael.”

That’s as clever as it gets in this handsome but dour “Moby.” Ethan Hawke’s Starbuck is all sullen disapproval, and Gillian Anderson creates a dreary Elizabeth Ahab (don’t bother looking for her in the book). Ishmael, the novel’s witty, poetic narrator, is transformed into a nice, boring guy with pop-idol looks.

Director Mike Barker handles the action scenes effectively, but the tale’s long stretches of shipboard squabbles and rough sailing make for a wearying voyage.

“Moby Dick” airs tonight and tomorrow on Encore at 8 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2

‘Koran by Heart’

Nabiollah Saidov, a 10-year-old boy from rural Tajikistan, can recite all 600 pages of the Koran from memory. And in Arabic, a language he doesn’t understand.

Actually, “recite” doesn’t do justice to the kid’s talent, as captured in Greg Barker’s thoughtful HBO documentary “Koran by Heart.” Nabiollah chants in a soprano that leaves one judge of Cairo’s International Holy Koran Competition in tears.

More than 100 participants from 70 countries, some as young as 7, compete in the annual Ramadan event. The contest draws participants from the spectrum of Muslim life, while promoting a moderate vision of Islam that decries terrorism.

Barker focuses on Nabiollah and two other 10-year-old contestants. Though the tone is gentle, “Koran by Heart” doesn’t flinch from the high cost of such religious devotion: Though Nabiollah’s memory is terrific, he can neither read nor write.

“Koran by Heart” airs tonight on HBO at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2

‘Whisker Wars’

Cable TV’s fascination with regular Joes and their odd hobbies or dangerous jobs continues with IFC’s “Whisker Wars,” a comical documentary series about the bizarre, not particularly appealing “sport” of facial-hair competition.

The show is produced by Thom Beers, the man behind such surprise cable hits as “Deadliest Catch,” “Ice Road Truckers” and “Storage Wars.” But hair-growing is no match for rough seas, slick highways or even abandoned storage units.

“Whisker Wars” is a one-joke show, the punchline delivered early (and often) by Beers himself, who narrates in mock- stentorian style. “Germany has long dominated the sport of bearding,” he intones, as if he’s announcing the Olympics.

Less arch is Aarne Bielefeldt, whose waist-length whiskers and Bavarian mountain-man costumes make him a circuit favorite.

“Not really much to say,” Bielefeldt says after a win. “It grows.”

“Whisker Wars” airs Friday on IFC at 11 p.m. New York time. Rating: *1/2


What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Greg Evans at gregeaevans@yahoo.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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