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

 Originally Written 
Sunday, November 26, 2006

Master and Commander is a rarity in the world of film, something you hardly ever see. Any type of nautical film today seems to have something to do with pirates, whether it be the ever popular Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy and or the lesser known cult film Cutthroat Island. Two films that come to mind that are technically not even nautical films. Truly stated, Master and Commander sets forth as one of the few, one of the first in a long time, to bring to the big screen a true nautical tale which portrays the trials and complications that would have faced a crew during the Napoleonic Wars.
Master and Commander is based upon a highly successful series of nautical war novels about the British Navy and the lead character of Captain Jack Aubrey. Russell Crowe plays Aubrey, a man who is well respected by his crew and well known for his amazing nautical tactics and overwhelming luck. The setting is the era of the Napoleonic War and Aubrey and his crew are shaken by a surprise attack from a French vessel named the Acheron. The attack almost destroys Aubrey's ship but they are able to make a fortunate getaway.

Aubrey, not one to let an attack on his ship go unpunished and decides to pursue the French and capture their vessel. While the French ship has the greater advantage against them in speed and force, Aubrey is able to devise a plan which maneuvers them directly behind the Acheron. But capturing the enemy ship still isn't an easy task. Throughout the film "Lucky Jack" and the rest of his crew face a mean streak of bad luck that threatens to end their lives at every turn due to storm, drought, and the possible death of their ships doctor. But through the strength, loyalty, and determination of the crew and their captain they are given one last opportunity to survive and defeat their enemy.

This review was originally fueled by some choice words from an old Rotten Tomatoes buddy, Shawn (hopso78), who said a few things that I completely disagreed with and thought were quite to the extreme. First he stated Master and Commander was... 
"one of the most boring films that have ever graced the silver screen."
Master and Commander has three outstanding battle scenes between the French and British ships displayed at the beginning, middle and end of the film, all three battles are extremely action packed and dare I say the best filmed ship battles I have ever seen. Additionally, there is the terrible storm that the crew is faced with, the amputation of a young boys arm (while they don't show it still sent shivers down my spine), and to round it all off an old-school brain surgery with an old miser who gets his skull scraped!  When I think boring I think Lost In Translation, a film where absolutely nothing happens and the characters sit around talking to each about nothing remotely interesting.  Something is actually occurring in Master and Commander.

Second item of issue was his comparison of this film to Pirates of the Caribbean as...
"a disgraceful wannabe 'Pirates' film". 
Other than ocean and the occasional ship Pirates of the Caribbean has absolutely nothing in common with Master and Commander, in fact trying to even compare the two is a huge insult to this film. These are two completely different films in two completely different genres.  Pirates of the Caribbean is a very unrealistic and corny story, Master and Commander is about as realistic and serious as you can possibly get. Master and Commander isn't supposed to be a fun romp through the high seas fighting dead pirates and a horrible curse, it's a look into the life real sailors faced during this time of war on the high seas.

I understand this film won't be enjoyed by everyone, I'll even go as far to say that women probably won't enjoy it at all, because it's really geared towards the guys (but I don't mind being proved wrong on this). The honest truth is if you're not interested in the story or the setting you'll be unable to appreciate essence and nature of this film. If you go into this thinking something similar to drunken fun with Johnny Depp, then you'll find a film that will probably test your patience, but I still wouldn't go as far as to say the "most boring film ever". 

Overall, Master and Commander is a serious film with top notch acting, the best nautical battle scenes I have ever seen and by far the best portrayal about what life was like for the sailors of this period. It's not the best film ever, it's not even my favorite Russell Crowe film, but it is a film that proves once again prove what a talented actor he is in another role that differs from anything he's done before. In the end, Master and Commander is an awesome film, one that truly is the best of its kind. And if you go into it understanding its purpose and what it's trying to accomplish you won't make the mistake of comparing it to films such as Pirates of the Caribbean, and you'll probably end up enjoying it. 



  1. Oh yes! Now we have something to agree with. This one is a gem! Really sad to know how little recognition it gets.

    The new comment system is a little weird... no option for blogger accounts.

  2. I remember when I first watched this I thought it was good, but a tad boring. So when I went back to watch it a few years later I was shocked by just how much I loved it. The dynamic between Bettany and Crowe is just perfect, they play so well off each other. Add to that the loyalty to (at least) appearing realistic, offers it so much depth.

  3. The new comment system takes a little getting used to but it is far superior to Blogger's basic thing. This at least allows people to reply to a particular comment. There's an option for Open GL accounts I think you can use that and sign in with your Google account info, since Blogger is essentially Google. If not any browser like Firefox should remember the information you have to type in to comment for next time.

  4. Ah! We agree... and you commented! You've jinx us all! ;)

  5. ummm, not that it really makes all that much difference, but the name of the french ship is not 'the man of war' but 'acheron'. acheron is a french man of war, and aubrey's commission from the british admiralty is to 'sink, burn or take her a prize', so while part of his desire to catch acheron is personal, it's also what he has been ordered to do.
    and lucky jack aubrey is one very sexy man, and all the crowe fans of my acquaintance find him enormously attractive. so your thought that women might not enjoy this film is a bit off the mark - i watch this film more often than any other of crowe's and never, ever get bored. the music, the dialogue, the action, the scenery, the story line - all pretty near perfect.

  6. @becks - ah ha, thanks for mentioning that, Aubrey's ship was the Man-of-War HMS Surprise that's where I got that from, just mixed up the names. I've fixed it now.

    I'm sure your right about fans of Russell's who are women enjoying this, but I was thinking a little broader and not in terms of just fans, but women in general. From my personal experience a lot of the women I know, who aren't particularly big Crowe fans find this film rather boring and geared towards a more male audience. But of course there's always exceptions, and female Crowe fans are definitely an exception.


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