and Commander: The Far Side of the World
wouldn't be your standard holiday cruise, but for a satisfying
getaway this season, try a turn aboard the H.M.S. Surprise.
The Surprise is an English naval warship at the center of Australian
director Peter Weir's eminently entertaining Master and Commander:
The Far Side of the World, still playing in theaters around
Santa Cruz County.
Old fashioned in almost every sense of the word, Master and
Commander is a fully engaging tour on the Surprise as it sails
around Cape Horn and the coast of Brazil in the early years
of the 19th century, alternately fleeing and pursuing an enemy
French frigate of greater speed, size, and strength. Perhaps
the grandest surprise of all, Master and Commander delivers
drama, action, heroics, and first-class star power via Russell
Crowe, all for a PG-13 rating and a visit to an era of technology
that by now feels like a galaxy far, far away.
The only way this seafaring epic, based on the hugely popular
and historically accurate seafaring adventure novels by the
late Patrick O'Brian, is not old fashioned is in the ultimately
invisible technologies that so exquisitely establish a sense
of time and place time and place when ships were sunk with canon
balls and surveillance was conducted on quarterdeck with pocket
From the creaking of wooden masts as they sway in the South
Atlantic wind to the booming of cannons as they fire toward
an enemy hull, Master and Commander feels so complete in its
commitment to set and setting that the pleasure of it overtakes
the fact that this a story of war. Even a confirmed landlubber
who wouldnít know a mainsail from a bed sheet could enjoy
Setting aside the entertaining coincidence that the bad guys
are French and the good guys are English, director Weir leaves
the complexities of modern warfare to those waging it and takes
us back to the year 1805, before Darwin, before doctors scrubbed
for surgery, and before those corny old jokes had gone corny.
Royal Navy Captain "Lucky Jack" Aubrey, played by
Crowe, leads a faithful crew through seas stormy and still,
baking hot and freezing cold, bound by duty and perhaps a little
pride to capture the superior French vessel and thwart Napoleon's
advance on Great Britain.
His only sort-of foil is the ship's doctor, Stephen Maturin,
who is also his excellent friend. Played by Paul Bettany, who
starred as Crowe's imaginary friend in A Beautiful Mind, Dr.
Maturin is afforded a nice little subplot as a naturalist who
yearns to drop hook and do a little exploring in the Galapagos.
In lesser hands, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
could have been another highly stylized bloodletting production
that made big noise and ultimately went nowhere. This film was
in good hands. Crowe is a standout as the manly and affable
hero, but final accolades must go to filmmaker Weir, who can
add this film to the happy side of his oeuvre, along with The
Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show, and The Year of Living
Except for a brief exchange between the captain and his friend,
Master and Commander does not burden itself with moralistic
quandary about good and evil. Jack is the captain, he's the
man, and you know he's going to come out on top. Even with that
guarantee, Master and Commander is a great escape and a good
story. I'd say it's one of the surest bets you can take in these
For KUSP, this is Helen Meservey.