A review of "Master and Commander"

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
2003, directed by Peter Weir

I must admit, although I’ve been repeatedly told I would enjoy enjoy them, that I have not read the Patrick O’Brian novels about Capt. Aubrey and Dr. Maturin sailing around on very large ships. This may have helped with my thorough enjoyment of Master and Commander, but I am also feeling inspired to start reading the books sometime this spring. I also like sailing and ships in a very layman/landlubber fashion, which gave me a disposition to enjoy Master and Commander.

But as for the movie — a fun and gripping trip with a British ship chasing the bad French around South America in the 1800s (starting in the Atlantic and ending in the Pacific). But are the French actually chasing them? Ehahaha (as the French say). The plot was fairly well crafted for an action film, and some nice twists kept me interested. I assumed there were several holes left open for sequels, including the subtle possibility of an onboard spy and something going very awry just after the conclusion of this film.

Perhaps some of the geopolitical details are a bit off, but the sailing and the battles are great fun, and there are some nice relationship points between the Capt. and Dr., as well as within the crew. I was prompted to some intriguing thoughts about ages of young officers in training on these tall ships, and briefly left feeling like a real weanie of a 26-year-old since I’ve never crewed a ship let alone commanded one. On the other hand, I’m a girl, so they probably wouldn’t have let me.

The fine and entertaining portrayal of 19th century medicine also helped me get over not sailing around on a tall ship. Several different moments left me both amazed and queasy.

Although the acting, particularly by Paul Bettany as Dr. Maturin, was quite good and the visuals were amazing, I was personally most appreciative of all the sound in Master and Commander. I could watch this movie again with my eyes closed to get an even better sense of the creaking and cracking on a wooden sailing ship working through storm and calm, as well as around the southern tip of South America.

As a final note, the Galapagos Island bits were great for those of us who have not managed to visit — look for the not too difficult to spot allusions to evolution and Darwin.

A solid and fun film, particularly if you enjoy ships and action. Some gore and tense moments, but what you could realistically expect from sailing ships faced with wild storms and large balls of metal being hurled through their hulls.