Master and Commander: The Far side of the World
Dir: Peter Weir
Star: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, James D'Arcy, Billy Boyd
Cert / Year: 12A - PG13 / 2003
Format: DVD R2

It is 1805 and England is at war with the armies of Napoleon. At sea Captain "Lucky" Jack Aubrey is in charge of a small British frigate HMS Surprise. He is sent to South America to chase down a French privateer the Acheron with orders to capture or sink her. When the ships meet the Acheron nearly sinks the Surprise, as it becomes apparent he is facing a considerably bigger and better vessel than his own. After making repairs Aubrey decides, despite the protestations of his friend ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin, to give chase. Has catching this ship become an obsession for the Captain, and is it one that will cost him his ship?

If anyone has ever seen the Hornblower series of television movies they will be in familiar territory here. For those who haven't we are truly into the hellish life aboard a sailing man of war. It was a hard life that could be cut short if not from battle, then from the dangers inherent of navigating a ship of this type. The crew were worked to breaking point, and punished severely if they stepped out of line. However worse than the day-to-day grind was the sheer horror of battle, where death and mutilation was commonplace. So has Master and Commander captured all of this, and how does it compare to Hornblower?

Peter Wier is a brilliant director with an eye for beautiful photography and a knack for telling human stories. From Picnic at Hanging Rock to The Truman Show his back catalogue is impressive. Here yet again he does not fail us, bringing the British navy of the 19th century superbly to life. From the excitement of the opening battle to the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands there both the action and scenery provides a visual treat. This is slick stuff and a directorial our de force that captures life on board the ship in every correct detail.

How does it compare to Hornblower? Well the bigger budget is there to be seen on screen, and it is none more apparent than during the excellent battles. These are simply stunning. The accuracy of historical elements is also spot on with a convincing portrayal of a fighting ship of that period. The only complaint is occasionally the whole crew seem rather too happy and jovial. There is a feeling that the tone has been lightened to make it more acceptable to a wider audience, but it doesn't seem to fit the film. There is no doubt that the money rates it above Hornblower but it is a close thing (a true compliment to the high standards set by that television series).

It is unusual to see a totally male cast and even more so to see a totally non-American cast, but it has to be said that the talent on show is a great success. Russell Crowe builds on the foundations he laid with Gladiator and delivers an excellent performance as the Captain whose life is his duty. A nice counter balance to the Captain is progressive naturist ship's surgeon played by Paul Bettany. These two are poles apart and have wonderful chemistry, coming from two strong performances. In fact that isn't a bad performance from any of the cast with some of the younger members being particularly impressive. Standing out from them is Max Pirkis who does extremely well as the crippled young midshipman Blackeney.

With superb direction, great sea battles, and strong cast you would think that it is plain sailing for Master and Commander, and for the most part you would be correct. The only cloud on the horizon is that the period between the opening battle and the final battle is a bit too long. The scenes on the Galapagos islands in particular seem to drag rather, and while it may have been a loss in spectacle a little pruning would have helped move things a long rather better.

Master and Commander is an overwhelming success. It looks great, has enough action to keep you gripped, and some fine acting really brings the characters to life. The special effects used during the battles and rounding the cape are seamlessly integrated to make for some of the most outstanding moments in the film. Ok so itís a bit too jolly in places and lags a bit in the middle but these are minor quibbles in a film of such quality. Historical dramas don't get much better than this, so batten down the hatches, splice the main brace and set sail for a top-flight nautical adventure.


Capt. Jack Aubrey: Ah-ha! There's where you are wrong! Do you not know that in the service, one must always choose the lesser of two weevils?

Capt. Jack Aubrey: Name a shrub after me. Something prickly and hard to eradicate.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Picture 2.35:1 Anamorphic Superb sharp picture
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 DTS A simply stunning soundtrack, hear the foot steps on the decks above and the creak of the timbers. It is excellent.
Features The Main Feature
Trailer for the new film I Robot
Writer's Commentary
Features Rather dull deleted scenes
Peter Weir on directing the documentary
Special effects featurette
Interesting making of featurette
Multi-angle scenes
Still Gallery
Verdict The picture is great but the sound is even better, a great test for the sound settup. The extras are rather limited and maybe didn't warrent the second disc. Note there is also a cheaper single disc version that lacks these extras.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Glitz Link Back Top Home