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Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

2003 motion picture starring Russell Crowe

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I Didn’t Want it to End!

  • Jun 6, 2004
  • by
Pros: Superb acting; attention to detail; sweeping ocean vista’s.

Cons: Not long enough.

The Bottom Line: In the final analysis, as the credit rolled I felt cheated; I wanted more or this suburb movie about naval action in the 19th century.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.

I love the ocean; the smell of seaweed in the morning as it is carried in one a cool ocean breeze full of freshness. I love the blue expanse of the ocean on a clear day and the gray sore mood of the teaming whitecaps when the sky turns sullen. And I love the nights on the high sea where the pitch black sky is pinpricked by millions of tiny twinkling lights which stretch from horizon to horizon reminding us all in one gesture that we are small, insignificant, and yet not alone.

And as I love the ocean so to do I love the majesty, tradition, and honor of naval service. As a child I lost myself in the exploits of C.S. Forrester’s Captain Horatio Hornblower, and his gallant frigate the HMS Bounty. I read all the books and let my imagination take me to places long since change by time and circumstance. And when I graduated from High School I left home and joined the U.S. Navy and spent some 15 years living the adventure and traveling to places I never would have experience without proudly wearing the uniform.

Now that I am now retired and an amateur naval historian, I know well the stories of the Napoleonic Wars, that epic struggle between Britain and France for mastery of the seas, and know well the part Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson played in England’s eventual victory.

So when I first heard that a period piece in the guise of Master and Commend: The Far Side of the World (hereafter referred to as Master and Commander) was coming to the silver screen, I practically frothed at the mouth awaiting its arrival.

The Story Line

Master and Commander opens with the following caption: April 1805 Napoleon is master of Europe. Only the British Fleet stands before him. Oceans are now battlefields. Telling and true for from the middle of the 16th century mastery of the sea opened the door to lands armies alone could not knock on. And in order to transport armies and goods over long distances naval supremacy was a must. At the beginning of the 19th century, Spain was a declining naval power, while Great Britain and France fought running battle for dominance of the world’s oceans, culminating in The Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, but that is a different tale…

Directed by Peter Weir (The Year of Living Dangerously – 1983, Witness – 1985, The Truman Show – 1998), with screenplay by Weir and John Collee, Master and Commander is based on two novels by Patrick O’Brian, part of a twenty-book series of Royal Navy Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey’s adventures spanning the later 18th – early 19th centuries. This particular installment followed Captain Aubrey, superbly portrayed by Russell Crowe (The Crossing – 1992, L.A. Confidential – 1997, Gladiator – 2000, A Beautiful Mind – 2001) as he captains the 24 gun 6th Rate frigate HMS Surprise. Aubrey’s orders are to intercept French 4th Rate 44-gun Frigate Acheron currently en-route to the Pacific Ocean with the intention of making war in those waters off the coast of Brazil. Aubrey is to either sink, burn, or take the French warship as a prize.

In the first five minutes of the movie however the larger, faster, more heavily armed Acheron draws first blood, when materializing out of a fog bank she delivers a devastating broadside to the HMS Surprise, damaging the ships bowstrip, mainmast, and rudder, severely crippling the ship. If it weren’t for the same prevailing fog, the quick thinking of Aubrey and able rowers, the HMS Surprise would have surely been lost and well, the movie ended.

Against all opposition Aubrey decides not to sail home for a refit of his shattered vessel, but to effect repairs at sea in a quite little inlet off the Brazilian coast. Repairs completed the game of cat-and-mouse is taken up again as the HMS Surprise chases the Acheron around Cape Horn into the Great South Sea (Pacific), where she looses her mizzen topmast and a well liked seaman.

The chase final ends at the Galapagos Islands (of all places) where British whalers are currently plying their trade, creating the perfect backdrop for the Acheron to do her worst, and for the climatic battle scene to take place.

My Thoughts and Impressions

As it unwinds, mostly onboard the HMS Surprise, the plot evolves into an extended game of cat-and-mouse: encounters with the aptly named Acheron as the "phantom ship" are in juxtaposition with prolonged glimpses into life onboard a 19th century Royal Navy Frigate. We are treated to little interaction with the French crew, save through spyglass. Most of the human interplay is reserved for Aubrey and his mixed crew of seasoned naval veterans, conscripts involuntarily impressed into service, young midshipmen, and powderboy’s who are far too young to see battle.

Weir’s concentration on the HMS Surprise and her crew brings home a realism seldom seen in Hollywood productions; indeed the battle scenes between the HMS Surprise and the Acheron seem cursory to the telling of the lives of men too harshly lived. And Weir’s passion for detail is evident in every frame as he brings to life O'Brian's rich historical details -- the sailors' routine, the pettiness and superstitions, the grim realities of 19th-century navies, the realistic battle scenes, the blood, and horror, and heroism, the honor and devotion to duty and country, are all portrayed in a stark often macabre reality.

The cast is rich, varied, and too numerous to list in narrative, but the relationship between Aubrey and his old friend, and ships doctor, Stephen Maturin, portrayed by Paul Bettany (Mood Swingers - 2000, A Knight’s Tale -2001, A Beautiful Mind – 2001, The Heart of Me -2004) is well worth exploring and receives the most attention throughout the movie. Maturim is Aubrey’s alter ego, his rational voice, and his musical partner. It is through their music that we are treated to the two men’s attempt to bring civility to an otherwise uncivilized pursuit. But Maturin is Aubrey’s intellectual equal (Aubrey's military mind and almost mindless devotion to duty is offset by Maturin's humanity, conscience and scientific curiosity). They are both endowed with a similar sense of honor, and know each other well enough—although we are not told from where their relationship sprang—to playfully, and oft-times earnestly challenge their respective positions, though Aubrey has to obvious upper hand; as captain the final word is his. Their friendship was made warm and believable by their obvious onscreen chemistry; the closeness they shared while locked in a battle of wills made me wish for the same kind of uncompromising male friendship in my life. Watching their verbal spars in the officer's mess and their infrequent musical duets together (Aubrey play the violin and Maturin plays the Cello) was for me clearly one of Master and Commander's greatest pleasures.

Though through necessity there is “nautical” speech peppered throughout Master and Commander, it is only used to lend realism to the story, and contemporary speech is used otherwise. The use of contemporary chatter is designed to keep the less nautical engaged in the movie drawing them deeper into the action, allowing them to care, and enveloping the story in a cloak of humanity as the HMS Surprise pursues the Acheron across two oceans.

In the final analysis, as the credit rolled I felt cheated; I wanted more; the movie ended just as the Aubrey and Maturin were once again engaged in play, and the ship was clearing the decks for action, once more in pursuit of the Acheron after Aubrey learns a prickly bit of information. This is testimony to the movies draw, it has everything one would expect from a high-seas adventure movie set in the 19th century—exhilarating battles, menacing weather conditions, honor, bravery, devotion to duty, treachery, superstition, God, and a wonderfully cast of characters that brings life onboard the HMS Surprise to a point where you can virtually taste and smell the salt laden sea spray on your lips and feel the fresh sea air on your skin.

Cast of Characters:

Russell Crowe - Capt. Jack Aubrey
Paul Bettany - Dr. Stephen Maturin
James D’Arcy - 1st Lt. Pullings
Edward Woodall - 2nd Lt. Mowett
Richard McCabe - Mr. Higgins
Robert Pugh - Mr. Allen
Ian Mercer - Mr. Holler
Tony Dolan - Mr. Lamb
Max Pirkis - Blakeney
Lee Ingleby - Hollom
Jack Randall - Boyle
Max Benitz - Calamy
Richard Pates - Williamson
Joseph Morgan - William Warley


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older

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More Master and Commander: The Far ... reviews
review by . February 07, 2010
Russell Crowe is brilliant in the role of Captain
The year was 1805 at the height of the Napoleonic Wars.  France and England were in a seemingly relentless life and death struggle for control of the seas.  In those days the oceans were where the major battles were fought.  Captain "Lucky" Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) has drawn an especially difficult assignment.  As Commander of the British man-of-war "Surprise" he has been ordered to pursue the bigger, faster and highly elusive …
review by . September 21, 2010
There are not many movies that actually enhance the reading of a good book, much less books, but Master and Commander does exactly that.     Patrick O'Brian's Aubery-Maturin series is the kind of literature that sucks you in and won't let go. While telling the story of a charismatic British Naval sea captain and his ships surgeon, O'Brian recreated the whole world of the 19th century British seaman. But as wonderful as those books are with thier nautical language and exciting …
review by . May 25, 2004
posted in Movie Hype
"Master And Commander" is a masterpiece of a film. It shows an accurate description of Napoleonic-era nautical warfare, as well as the bonds shared between a group of men on the sea. Russell Crowe plays Captain "Lucky" Jack Aubrey, leader of the HMS Surprise. Paul Bettany plays the ship's doctor/Aubrey's confidant. The entire cast does an outstanding job.The story begins with an attack on the Surprise by the Acheron, a French warship that Aubrey is hunting. The rest of the film plays out with Aubrey …
review by . April 28, 2004
posted in Movie Hype
The best that can be said of this movie is that the special effects, realistic sea battles, and cinematography are fantastic. They really make the movie. Unfortunately, the story itself is rather plodding and does /not/ do Patrick O'Brain's novel justice. The plot is essentially a cat and mouse game between Captain Aubrey (British) and a French ship in 1805. There are subplots-such as leadership, bonding of the crew, superstition, and the brilliant seamanship of the Captain. The ship's doctor is …
review by . March 01, 2004
Those who enjoyed the various Horatio Hornblower films (one of which stars Gregory Peck) will especially appreciate this adaptation of material from a series of novels written by Patrick O'Brian. Directed by Peter Weir and starring Russell Crowe as Captain "Lucky" Jack Aubrey, Master and Commander examines life aboard a British warship during the Napoleonic Wars as it encounters and is battered by a French privateer, the Acheron, and then pursues its enemy from the coast of Brazil southward around …
review by . November 17, 2003
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Crowe, Weir, and the great Visuals.     Cons: None     The Bottom Line: Master and Commander The Far Side of the World is one of the best films of the year and a likely Oscar contender not to be missed.      In 1805, control of the seas was key to the wealth and power of a nation. With rich trade routes and colonies at stake, France and England found themselves locked in a bloody war for control of Europe and the high seas. On board …
About the reviewer
Vincent Martin ()
Ranked #188
I am an IT Professional and have worked in the industry for over 20 years. I may be a computer geek, but I also like reading, writing, cooking, music, current events and regretfully, politics.
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About this movie


Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a 2003 film directed by Peter Weir, starring Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey, with Paul Bettany as Stephen Maturin and released by 20th Century Fox, Miramax Films and Universal Studios. It is adapted from three novels in the Aubrey–Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian. The film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Academy Award for Best Picture, and won in two categories, Best Cinematography and Sound Effects Editing. The movie is also notable for being on the list of most expensive films of all time, adjusted for inflation.
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Genre: Action, Adventure
Release Date: November 14, 2003
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2hrs 19min
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