Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Review

by Homer Yen (homer_yen AT yahoo DOT com)
November 20th, 2003

"Master and Commander" - Manages to Hold Fast by Homer Yen
(c) 2003

"Master and Commander" is a Napoleonic-era adventure film in which successful but pride-filled Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) is tasked with a mission to prevent the French from extending their naval superiority into Pacific waters. During this time period, oceans are the battlefields. And Jack commands an impressive 50-man crew and 18-cannon frigate.
His tactical expertise and his determination will help him possibly track down his quarry. However, during their first sea battle, it is the other ship that proves to be the much worthier combatant. The initial bloody outcome is lopsided and Captain Jack discovers that the other ship has many more cannons, is much faster, and seems to be made of better materials. And thus the question that fills the audience's mind is whether Captain Jack has the ability to fulfill his duty or whether his hubris will eventually lead his ship to a watery doom.
However, pride is not monopolized solely by our stalwart captain. The film also takes great pride in recreating the atmosphere of those seafaring days when sailors showed what bravery was all about. Their ships were made from pieces of wood, movement was harnessed through wind, and every naval battle became a lottery of who would die and who would survive. They would stand by their stations as they steadfastly stared into the cannon fire that was being volleyed at them. They fought off insufferable weather such as searing heat or bone-chilling cold. And they seemingly risked their lives just by climbing the large masts to unfurl the sails. For these elements alone, it would likely make a nice IMAX presentation.

The problem, though, that many have had with watching IMAX films is that they always seem very long. Here, a lot of screen time is devoted to showing us the myriad details of what makes a sailing vessel operate or faraway shots of ships sailing across the vast sea and even wondrous wildlife on some distant island. The film feels like it needed to be 20 minutes shorter.
It's not hard to see that there's also a Discovery Channel-meets-National Geographic quality. You kind of feel that you're back in high school history class. Jack's best friend is the intellectual doctor Stephen Maturin. In addition to healing those wounded in battle, his is an avid naturalist. His character provides a nice counter to Jack's motherland-first mentality. It allows the story to have a human side, but because of the doctor's Darwinian interests, Captain Jack's seasoned looks, this film will appeal more to mature moviewatchers.
Yet, the IMAX aspect is indeed more interesting than the cat-and-mouse chase between the two ships across the high seas. The battle scenes are well made, and there is an adequate amount of awe and suspense that accompanies each meeting. But after you've seen the first exchange, the others seem like deja vu. This film is not the jolly good adventure that characterized "Pirates of the Caribbean." Here, the material, the storytelling approach, and the nature of the characters skew to a slightly older demographic. It's an adventure film for adults. It's more mellow than it should be yet probably more competent than one might think.

Grade: B-
S: 0 out of 3
L: 0 out of 3
V: 2 out of 3

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