When you’ve watched this movie as many times as I have, you have to start referring to it as a classic. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) may not have won Oscars for the stars (Russell Crowe — Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey; Paul Bettany — friend and ship’s doctor, Stephen Maturin; Max Pirkus — plucky midshipman, Blakeney), an oversight as far as I’m concerned, it did win for Best Cinematography, and Best Sound Editing, and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects. (It was up against Lord of the Rings.) This is an awesome movie.
Crowe plays Lucky Jack, the captain the seamen would follow (and do follow) to the far ends of the earth. He’s a tough, seasoned, fair-minded captain who isn’t accustomed to losing sea battles but puts his ship and crew first when faced with a French ship that is clearly faster, outguns them, and seemingly has an impenetrable hull. He’s a master tactician, eluding the French through cleverness, skill, and deception, yet dogs them determinedly even through storms of the dangerous Cape Horn. He is also a skilled musician, playing string duets with the doctor, his good friend Stephen who plays the cello, when nautical matters are not pressing and they need to unwind.
Also on board The HMS Surprise, is a very young midshipman who is a favourite with all. He is wounded in their first skirmish and, despite being disabled as a result, he learns to cope and carries on with his duties. Another midshipman does not fare as well. Hollom (played by Lee Ingleby) is too old to still be a midshipman (30) and certain members of the crew think he’s a Jonah, jinxing the ship and crew. Two other able actors, James D’Arcy (First Lt. Thomas Pullings) and Max Benitz (Midshipman Calamy), add immeasurably to the plot, tension, and magnetic quality of the film. Benitz is great when he’s given his first command (an extremely clever tactic devised by Aubrey to steer the French off on a wild goose chase), but I don’t want to spoil the movie for you if you haven’t seen it. And if you haven’t seen it, you should.
The filming, as confirmed by the Oscar, is absolutely amazing. The seascapes are breathtaking and there’s one shot where the bow goes up on the waves in a hot summer scene and when it comes back down, the men are bundled up and there’s snow and ice on the deck and the rigging. The wildlife filmed on location in the Galapagos Islands makes a wonderful diversion and showcases the keen interest by scientists of the time in documenting the various and new forms of bugs, plants, and animals to be found there. The baroque and classical music played by the two musicians is really great. As well, there are so many subtle things in the movie such as the names on the cannon cradles, and of course, jokes based on the ship’s name, that all lend extra fun to watching this film.
Based on Patrick O’Brian‘s Aubrey–Maturin novels, the story takes place in the time of Nelson and Napoleon but is completely centred in the Pacific. There are several extremely realistic battle scenes, storm action, and a hand-to-hand engagement for the final battle when, as Captain Aubrey says, “Surprise is on our side”! A great, classic, shipboard war movie. * * * * *