Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Pirate movies haven't been kind to Hollywood in recent years. Many came and
went with most people not noticing; Renny Harlins Cutthroat Island was
considered one of the biggest flops in Hollywood history.
Then came 2004, when Pirates of the Caribbean
surpassed everyones expectations and grossed over $300 million at the
domestic box office alone. Later that year, we were treated to Master and Commander:
The Far Side of the World, which toned down the audience-friendliness of Pirates,
but upped the authenticity.
Master and Commander follows the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell
Crowe) and his crew, sailing the HMS Surprise through two oceans in pursuit
of the French ship which attacked and crippled them. Aubrey is the best of the
best, and uses his brains to track the ship on the vast ocean, and his vast
battle experience to tackle a ship with a larger crew, and more firepower.
But there was a lot of travel time in those days, so a good portion of the
movie is dedicated to the trials and tribulations of the crew of the Surprise
in ordinary everyday sailing life. We watch as Dr. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany)
cares for the wounded, including amputating the broken arm of a young boy, who
quickly bounces back and has a large role to play later on.
The authenticity of Master and Commander is jaw-dropping. The team actually
purchased an old sailing ship and transformed it into an exact replica of the
HMS Surprise, and the same giant tank that was used for Titanic was also used
in this film. The costume design, production design, cinematography, and pretty
much everything else are in top form. Most notable is the performance by Paul
Bettany, who definitely deserved an Oscar nomination at the very least.
The only problem is that the movie can tend to be v-e-r-y slow at times. For
most of the movie, its a whole bunch of talking and not a lot else. Youre
still awed by the authenticity of it all, but its hard to give it your
full attention. Those not the least bit interested in the subject matter will
probably have an even harder time.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a great-looking film that
used every bit of its $135 million well (even if its hard to understand
what could possibly cost that much money). If your hearts not in it, itll
probably be stormy seas, but if youre up for it, its a pretty good
While it didnt garner the box office success expected, it still managed
to rake in some decent coin. And now its available on DVD in separate
2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen and full screen versions, and also a widescreen
only collectors edition which features a whole second disc of goodies.
The picture quality is pretty good for the most part, with excellent detail
and color (when there is some), but during some scenes it almost looks like
they forgot to master them altogether. Theyre grainy, bland, and look
as though they were shot sometime in the 1960s.
Audio, available in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and dts 5.1, is much, much better.
Its reference quality, but other than the scenes in which theres
actually something going on, it doesnt really have much to do. During
the action sequences, all five speakers are rumbling with sound effects, while
the subwoofer shakes the room. Cannons firing and exploding, people shouting,
water splashing; it all makes you feel like youre part of the action.
The single disc versions of the film feature no extras, but the special edition
makes up for it. Pop in disc two and you get a very nicely done 70-minute documentary
entitled In the Hundred Days. Through the course of the doc, director
Peter Weir takes us through the production, starting with the day he was approached
with the project. Its split into nine sections, each covering a different
aspect of production, including casting, makeup, shooting at sea and the music.
Its a very generous and well-produced documentary, and would probably
be enough in itself.
But we also get a series of featurettes: In the Wake of OBrian
has Weir discussing the process of bringing a series of novels to the big screen.
Cinematic Phasmids covers the special effects, Sound Design
covers the sound design (really??), Interactive Cannon Demonstration
lets the viewer select different speakers or combinations of speakers to experience
different ranges and positions, and the HBO First Look does what the HBO First
Also on disc two is a series of deleted scenes, some of which are actually
pretty good. Considering the already long movie, however, its easy to
understand why they were cut (and there are probably others that could have
been cut, as well). Finally, there are some multi-angle featurettes, a still
gallery, and trailers.
The set also includes a map and timeline, and a collectible booklet with more
The transfer is the same on all the discs, so if extras are not a concern,
you could probably do well enough with the single disc version.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, from 20th Century Fox Home
138 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1) 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn Jr., Peter Weir, Duncan Henderson
Screenplay by Peter Weir & John Collee, Directed by Peter Weir
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