Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World (2003)

Directed by Peter Weir

The movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World comes to us with one of the longer titles of the year and, in the context of the current times, the suggestion of more movies of other adventures of Captain ‘Lucky’ Jack. (I don’t know, maybe Master and Commander: The Even Further Side of the World?)

Set in 1805, the period of the Napoleonic wars, the movie centres on a British ship, the H.M.S. Surprise, an older, smaller ship of the British navy ordered to find and take out a much larger, newer ship of the French fleet, the Acheron.

The heart of the Surprise is its captain, Jack Aubrey, played by Russell Crowe.

It should be obvious to anyone watching this movie that it is very, very good. It’s an easy film to admire.

However I think to really enjoy the film it helps if you like sea adventures, such as the movie creates for us.

If you do like these kinds of movies, and especially if you’re a lover of the old tall ships and sailing, you’ll be in heaven watching this.

But be warned … this is a guy’s movie. But, where generally that means a dreadful film, The Far Side of the World is the exception – a great, exciting seagoing adventure.

The movie is about the cat and mouse game the Surprise plays with the French ship. It’s rooted in the character of Lucky Jack, its captain, and his strategic abilities, how he behaves as a captain (such as his treatment of his crew), and the kind of man he must be to excel at this work (which he does).

While his opponent is a skilled, we essentially never meet the French captain. So in order to better highlight the character of Captain Jack, we have his closest companion on the ship, the ship’s surgeon (Stephen Maturin).

The captain and the surgeon are largely opposites and while friends, they often disagree. The surgeon is more reflective and intellectual while Captain Jack is more a man of action guided by a strong sense of honour and obligation.

As others have said, this is Russell Crowe’s movie. He’s the heart of it and, with the exception of a few moments at the beginning, he’s in just about every scene. He’s never been better, though, and you get the sense he must have been in love with the project.

Director Peter Weir also gives a stellar performance. Here’s a movie others would have completely thrown over to computers.

But Weir has gone the other way, using a real ship. I can’t think of any sea adventure movie that looks as good, or as credible and compelling, as this one.

He also has not made a movie all about “money shots,” though their are a few of them. But there are really just two battles in the movie.

Weir seems to have focused on showing what life on such a ship, at such a time, might have been like. And by and large, he does this.

The ship feels crowded. The movie communicates the tedium of a long voyage. And, when those battles do occur, the movie gives a terrifying sense of the noise, the confusion, and destruction of such battles. (I remember thinking during the last battle how difficult it was to tell who was who – it was simple pandemonium with two crews hacking away at one another almost blindly.)

With movies, it’s the end result that counts and in the case of Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World the end result is a magnificent sea epic full of adventure and excitement. It may not be for everyone but even those who aren’t fond of water or “guy” movies will recognize this is a great achievement.

The DVD – Fox Gets Greedy

I have to say I was very disappointed in the DVD packaging from Fox. The quality of the picture and sound are excellent, but why two versions – the movie only version and the more expensive 2-disc “Collector’s Edition“?

Generally, when movies like this come out it is the 2-disc version that’s released or a single disc with some special features. But you don’t have to make a choice between paying the normal price or paying extra for the additional material. (And I understand the 2-disc version doesn’t even have a commentary.)

If this is to be the new pattern of DVD releases, I’ll simply stop buying until the movies are available as “previously viewed” and only occasionally spend more for full packages – depending on the quality of the movie. (This more or less means classic movie releases.)

I can’t help feeling I’ve been burned by Fox. (By the way, in this part of the world the bare bones version was selling at about $26 and the 2-disc version went at about $42 – and unless it’s the extended Lord of the Rings with a 3 or 4 disc package, I don’t pay that kind of money for DVDs.)

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