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Master and Commander:

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 Harlin’s Cutthroat Island was considered one of the biggest flops in Hollywood history.

Then came 2004, when Pirates of the Caribbean surpassed everyone’s 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, it’s a whole bunch of talking and not a lot else. You’re still awed by the authenticity of it all, but it’s 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 it’s hard to understand what could possibly cost that much money). If your heart’s not in it, it’ll probably be stormy seas, but if you’re up for it, it’s a pretty good time.

While it didn’t garner the box office success expected, it still managed to rake in some decent coin. And now it’s available on DVD in separate 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen and full screen versions, and also a widescreen only collector’s 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. They’re 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. It’s reference quality, but other than the scenes in which there’s actually something going on, it doesn’t 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 you’re 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. It’s split into nine sections, each covering a different aspect of production, including casting, makeup, shooting at sea and the music. It’s 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 O’Brian” 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 Looks do.

Also on disc two is a series of deleted scenes, some of which are actually pretty good. Considering the already long movie, however, it’s 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 "making-of" information.

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 Entertainment
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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