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:: Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World

There are whispers of Oscar nominations for this film amongst critics, many of whom have heaped adorable praises on director, Peter Weir, and Russell Crowe, as if in awe of their reputations. Master & Commander is not the same calibre as the Titanic, rather it is a slightly above-board swash-buckling adventure on the high seas.

It is 1805, the Napoleonic Wars are raging, and the HMS Surprise is plying the warm waters of the Brazilian coast. Captain Jack Aubrey, or Lucky Jack as he is known in the British Navy, commands the Surprise, with orders to intercept the French frigate, Acheron. However, it is Aubrey’s ship that is surprised by stealth from the swifter and sturdier Acheron.

So begins a cat-and-mouse chase across the Pacific with the Acheron giving Aubrey the slip twice. Aubrey becomes obsessed with his prize, pursuing further south to Cape Horn, through ice and snow, to the remote Galapagos Islands, than he ever intended. When dwindling supplies, horrendous weather and mishaps on board fail to deter Aubrey’s obsession, Aubrey's right-hand man and good friend, the ship's doctor Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), begins to fear that his obsession is beginning to outweigh his common sense and is perilously close to bringing on their destruction. By this time, the film has dropped to a listless pace, and the audience is left feeling like the crew on the ship, anxious for the big battle.

This bog in the middle of the film is to allow a study of the friendship between Aubrey and Maturin and their competing beliefs – Aubrey torn between duty to one’s country and discipline, and Maturin, the modern man, passionate about grand discovery and exploration. Crowe delivers the required machismo and sensitivity in Captain Aubrey but his Aussie twang is not befitting of his British character, which is quite lackadaisical of Crowe. Bettany, however, is outstanding as a foil to Crowe’s oversized character. Bettany imbues his Maturin with humanism, intellect and principles. It is his performance that makes watching M & C interesting and bearable.

Adapted from the first and tenth of Patrick O’Brien novels, Weir and co-screenwriter John Collee, are painstakingly faithful in their production of M & C right down to details like the fabrics, buttons and woolen hats, which were made by firms in business since the 1700s. The Surprise is an exact replica of a British navy ship, and a majority of battle and weather scenes were staged rather than computer generated. It’s hard not to admire the effort and detail that went into M & C, and perhaps this is the approach to enjoying this film.