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Peter Weir
Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, James D'Arcy, Edward Woodall, Chris Larkin, Max Pirkis, Jack Randall, Max Benitz, Lee Ingleby, Richard Pates
Writing Credits:
Patrick O'Brian (novels), Peter Weir, John Collee

A ship's commander in the Royal British navy finds his vessel and crew in ruins after a surprise attack from an unseen foe. Now, he and the ship's doctor must work together to insure that their duty is protected as they pursue the mystery ship half way around the world.

Box Office:
$150 million.
Opening Weekend
$25.105 million on 3101 screens.
Domestic Gross
$93.143 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 2.40:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 138 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 4/20/2004

• "Inside Look”


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 22, 2004)

In 2001, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring demonstrated that folks would embrace a well-made fantasy flick set in the world of elves, dwarves, and other such mystical folk. In 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl proved that audiences would flock to an exciting and fun buccaneer adventure.

Set on the high seas of the early 19th century, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World attempted to spark interest in another kind of film that usually failed to provoke much attention. While World failed to capture the enormous box office receipts of the others I mentioned, it made a decent $92 million and earned a smattering of Oscar nominations, including one as Best Picture. It established an audience for this sort of period piece and may well spawn additional entries in the series, though that remains to be seen.

World depicts the adventures of British naval commander Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe). He helms the HMS Surprise and gets the assignment to find and stop the French privateer Acheron. At the start of the film, we see a battle between the two. The Acheron sneaks up on the Surprise and gets the better of the British boat. After they do some repairs, they set out to track down the Acheron and do his duty. However, Aubrey’s obsession seems to enter Ahab territory, which leads his friend and ship’s physician, Dr. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) to question whether Aubrey really works for the British Empire or for his own pride.

Essentially, that’s your plot. This synopsis simplifies things and obviously omits many characters, but the movie boils down to the quest to find and halt the Acheron, with an emphasis on Maturin’s concerns about Aubrey’s obsession. Despite the simplicity of the plot, World brings out a lot of nuance in its depiction of the environment. While the movie depicts enough battles to keep our interest, it focuses more heavily on the day-to-day life on board the ship during their quest.

In some ways, the pursuit of the Acheron feels like a MacGuffin. Sure, the story loosely revolves around that chase, but it mostly exists as a framework for an examination of the Surprise’s crew. This occasionally makes for some slow moments, but World mostly holds our interest as we examine the on-ship dynamic.

A lot of the momentum comes from Crowe’s fine performance as Aubrey. Crowe seems to have earned himself more than a few foes due to his personal choices. Based on what I’ve read, I rather like the guy. He doesn’t sugarcoat things and play many of the usual Hollywood games, and that impresses me.

Whatever one thinks of the man, one can’t quibble with his work, and he does well as Aubrey. As always, he throws himself fully into the role, and Aubrey presents a larger than life personality that seems well-suited for the forceful Crowe. However, he doesn’t just pound his way through the part. Crowe appears warm and gently paternal when he works with the ship’s younger crewmembers, though he avoids sappiness and sentimentality. He presents a solid performance that adds depth to the role of the obsessive captain.

The moderate focus on the young seamen also adds interest to World. We see a lot of Midshipman Blakeney (Max Pirkis), and that gives us a nice entry point into the lives of these teens and younger who got cast into a man’s world. Other films touch on these issues, but World explores them with greater intensity.

These moments avoid gooey and cutesy trappings, as director Peter Weir keeps the movie on a natural and stately track. Given the sporadic nature of the action, World easily could turn dull, but Weir manages to maintain our interest. The underlying tension of the pursuit helps, and Weir depicts that in a fine way that keeps us intrigued. He never lets us see the Acheron from the French point of view. Instead, it always remains at a distance and viewed through British eyes. We don’t know any more than the Surprise crew, and that intensified the mystery.

Successful sea-based movies don’t come around often, but Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World presents a winning adventure. It features enough action to keep our attention and also offers a nicely detailed examination on life aboard a 19th century warship. Replete with fine performances and excellent production values, the film comes as a pleasant surprise.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio A (DTS) A- (DD)/ Bonus D-

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the picture fell short of reference levels, it still looked good as a whole.

Sharpness mostly appeared positive. Occasionally I noticed a little lack of definition in wider shots, but those didn’t occur frequently or seem severe. Instead, the movie generally appeared distinctive and crisp. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, but edge enhancement created a few distractions. I saw more than a few examples of light haloes throughout the movie. Print flaws remained absent, as the film suffered from no signs of grit, specks, or other concerns.

I didn’t expect a somber sea journey like World to present a varied palette, and I got what I anticipated. The colors represented the filmmakers’ intentions and seemed more than adequate in that regard. The movie tended toward a low-key somewhat golden tone much of the time, likely inspired by the candlelight that infused so many of the shots on the ship. Segments above deck weren’t much brighter, and even the bits on the Galapagos Islands were fairly subdued. Black levels seemed pretty solid, though some shots were slightly inky. Low-light created some challenges, especially via the many nighttime shots. These came across as a bit dense, but most shadows were reasonably visible. The movie seemed a bit darker than I recall from my theatrical screening. Nonetheless, World mostly looked fine visually.

While the picture of Master and Commander looked pretty good, I thought the audio seemed simply amazing. The DVD packed both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Both seemed pretty similar, but I gave the edge to the DTS mix. I’ll discuss it first and then relate what differences I noted between the two.

For your reading pleasure, here’s a text recreation of the World soundtrack: creak...swish... creak... splash... BLAMMITY-BLAM-BLAM-SMASH!!! The soundtrack mixed many scenes of quiet solemnity and reflection with some of the most intense battle sequences I’ve heard.

Those pieces earned World its “A” for audio, though the rest of the track worked fine as well. The mixes nicely replicated the feeling of being on the sea, with all the ambience that fits the setting. Waves lapped, gulls squawked and planks creaked.

But I’d never give a DVD an “A” for accurate creaking. No, it was those vicious fight scenes that easily merited the high grade. Boy, did they pack a wallop! Elements flew all around the spectrum in a highly effective and logical manner, and these really placed us smack dab in the middle of the action. All five speakers presented an immense amount of information in these superbly crafted sequences. The opening battle between the Surprise and the Acheron offered real demo material, and the subsequent assaults lived up to that level. Some of the sailing shots also became quite immersive, and storms worked well too. Nonetheless, it was the battles that mostly impressed.

Audio quality also came across as terrific. Speech seemed natural and distinctive, with no issues connected to edginess or intelligibility. Music was vibrant and dynamic. Scores with a heavy percussive element always seem to fare best, and this was no exception. The music presented a lively and well-recorded affair that always sounded solid.

Of course, the effects played the most prominent role, and they seemed tremendously strong. The low-key ambient elements were natural and smooth, and louder bits appeared detailed and impressive. Every blast of a cannon and every crack of a blow came across strongly. These boosted the caliber of the mix, as did the fantastic bass response. Low-end was consistently loud and bold but also tight and firm. I noticed no boominess or distortion, as the bass kicked down the walls.

It also meant the difference between the “A” I gave to the DTS mix and the “A-“ I awarded the Dolby Digital one. Both seemed a lot alike in their scope and the integration of their soundfields, but the quality of the DTS version was a bit stronger. The reproduction of low-end material made the biggest difference. No matter how loud the DTS mix became, the bass remained extremely controlled and concise. On the other hand, the Dolby version seemed looser. This wasn’t a terrible concern, but its bass lacked the same impressive precision and clarity. Both tracks remained excellent; I simply preferred the massive attack of the DTS one.

Fans can find Master and Commander in two flavors. Fox produced both a “Collector’s Gift Set” that retails for $39.98 and this standard version that goes for $29.98. The only difference comes from the supplements, as the Gift Set includes a second DVD with many supplements.

From what I understand, the first DVD of that package is the same as the sole platter in the standard single-disc release. It only includes one extra: Inside Look, an “exclusive insider’s look at upcoming projects from Fox”. This presents trailers for The Day After Tomorrow and Man On Fire. We also get a look at the production of I, Robot with actor/executive producer Will Smith, director Alex Proyas, actor Bridget Moynahan, and co-producer Steven McGlothen. All together, these bits add up to six minutes, 43 seconds of material. It’s all promotional and nothing special.

Although we don’t get many movies in the genre, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World shows that these flicks can earn attention if warranted. As a rich and lively piece of work, World demonstrates the stronger points of the subject matter and comes across as successful and enjoyable. Picture quality was unexceptional but mostly positive, while audio seemed terrific across the board. As for supplements, this version presents virtually none, but for an extra ten bucks, fans can pick up a gift set that includes an additional disc with those materials. Whichever one works for you, I do recommend World, as it seems like a fine piece of work and a standout within its genre.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3103 Stars Number of Votes: 58
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