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Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a 2003 film directed by Peter Weir, starring Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey, with Paul Bettany as Stephen Maturin and released by 20th Century Fox, Miramax Films and Universal Studios. It is adapted from three novels in the Aubrey–Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian. The film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Academy Award for Best Picture, and won in two categories, Best Cinematography and Sound Effects Editing. The movie is also notable for being on the list of most expensive films of all time, both adjusted for inflation and unadjusted.

Plot

The film takes place in 1805, during the Napoleonic Wars. Captain Aubrey of the British man-of-war HMS Surprise is ordered to pursue the French privateer Acheron and "burn, sink or take her a prize." As the film opens, Surprise midshipman Hollom briefly spies a dark shape in a fog bank. After some uncertainty and hesitation, the call to beat to quarters is given. Aubrey and the other officers at first see nothing, but the Surprise soon comes under attack by the Acheron. The British warship is heavily damaged and its rudder destroyed, while its own shots do not penetrate the Acheron s hull. The crew tows the Surprise into the fog, where it evades its pursuer.

Aubrey learns from a crewman who saw the Acheron built in America that due to a cutting-edge design, the privateer is heavier and faster than the Surprise — the senior officers consider the ship out of their class, and such a ship could tip the balance of power in Napoleon's favor. Rather than return to port, Aubrey orders a refit at sea while they pursue the Acheron. The Acheron once again ambushes the Surprise, but by using a decoy the ship manages to escape in the night.

Following the privateer south, the Surprise rounds Cape Hornmarker. In the high winds the topmast breaks, throwing a popular crewman into the water. Aubrey is forced to leave the man to his fate, lest the wreck sink the Surprise. The ship heads to the Galapagos Islandsmarker, where Aubrey is sure the Acheron will want to prey on Britain's whaling fleet. The ship's doctor, Maturin, is interested in the isle for the strange creatures claimed to reside on the isles. Aubrey promises his friend that he will have several days to explore the islands.

When Surprise reaches the Galapagos they recover the survivors of the whaling ship Albatross, destroyed by the Acheron. Realizing the ship is close, Aubrey hastily pursues the privateer. Maturin feels that Aubrey is going back on his word, and is following the Acheron more out of pride than duty. During their pursuit, the Surprise is becalmed. The heat and lack of water lead the crew to believe there is a Jonah aboard — someone who is bringing the ship bad luck. Hollom is singled out as the source of the bad luck and his popularity with the crew plummets; the ship's carpenter's mate openly insults Hollom by failing to salute and is condemned to a flogging. It is revealed in a deleted scene that the crew's sympathies lie with the carpenter and not Hollom, who later commits suicide by jumping into the ocean clutching a cannon ball. After a memorial service for Hollom, the wind picks up, followed by a downpour of rain, and the pursuit continues.

One of the ship's Marines, attempting to bring down an albatross, accidentally shoots Maturin, who quickly loses consciousness. The surgeon's mate informs Aubrey that the bullet and the piece of cloth it took with it must be removed, but the operation should be performed on solid ground. Despite closing in on the Acheron, Aubrey turns around and takes the doctor back to the Galapagos. Maturin performs surgery on himself using a mirror and removes the bullet and piece of shirt.

Having relented his pursuit of the Acheron, Aubrey grants Maturin the chance to explore the island before they head for home. On crossing the island looking for a species of flightless cormorant, the doctor discovers the Acheron. Abandoning his specimens to make it back quickly, Maturin warns Aubrey, and the Surprise readies for battle. Due to the Acheron s sturdy hull, the Surprise must get in close to deal damage. After observing the deceptive qualities of one of Maturin's specimens — a stick insect — Aubrey has the idea to disguise Surprise as a whaling ship—the French, in their greed, would close to capture the ship rather than destroy it outright. The French take the bait and the Surprise pulls alongside the frigate, destroying her mainmast. Aubrey and Pullings lead boarding parties across the wreckage. With the help of whalers freed from the Acheron s brig, the French ship is taken. Looking for the French captain, Aubrey is directed to the sickbay, where the French doctor tells him his captain is dead. The doctor offers Aubrey the captain's sword.

The Acheron and Surprise are repaired. While the Surprise will remain in the Galapagos, Pullings is promoted to Captain and charged with sailing the captured ship to Valparaisomarker. As the Acheron sails away, Maturin mentions that a French crewman had told him that their doctor had died months ago. Realizing the Acheron s captain tricked him by dressing as the doctor, Aubrey gives the order to beat to quarters and escort the Acheron to Valparaiso. Maturin is again denied the chance to explore the Galapagos. Aubrey wryly notes that since the bird Maturin seeks is flightless, "it's not going anywhere", and the two begin to play a piece on cello and violin as the crew assumes battle stations.

Cast



Production

Development

The film is constructed from episodes from several novels in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series. The main plot, in which Aubrey in HMS Surprise chases an enemy frigate round Cape Hornmarker into the Pacific, is based loosely on The Far Side of the World, but the American frigate USS Norfolk in the book becomes the American-built French privateer Acheron in the film (the Acheron is based on 44-gun American frigates like the USS Constitutionmarker). The stern chase around Cape Horn is taken from the novel Desolation Island, although the Acheron replaced the Dutch ship of the line Waakzaamheid, the Surprise replaced the Leopard and in the book it is Aubrey who is being pursued around the Cape of Good Hope. The episode in which Aubrey deceives the enemy by means of a raft bearing lanterns is taken from Master and Commander, and the episode in which Maturin operates on himself to remove a bullet is taken from HMS Surprise.

The film has some differences from the novels, for example, in the movie, Stephen Maturin inadvertently gives Jack Aubrey the inspiration to disguise Surprise as a whaling ship to fool an enemy, implying that this is a new idea for Aubrey. However, in the first Aubrey/Maturin book Master and Commander, Aubrey regularly uses the tactic of disguising his ship during his very first command, and it is described as a common tactic used by warships to approach unsuspecting targets and avoid attention from larger enemy ships. The exploit of setting up a decoy of a large ship at night by attaching lights to a small boat was executed by the French privateer Robert Surcouf to successfully escape the British frigate HMS Sybille. It was also used by Lord Cochrane and described in his Autobiography of a Seaman, which was used by Patrick O'Brian as source material for his novel Master and Commander. In that novel, Jack Aubrey's first command, HMS Sophie escapes by using this tactic, while in the film it is Surprise which escapes Acheron using this trick.

The movie omits Dr. Maturin's additional occupation as an intelligence agent for the British government. Since the movie takes place almost entirely aboard ship, and civilization is rarely encountered, there may not have been any opportunity for Maturin to engage in intelligence work. A hint of his secret profession is given early in the film, when he suggests to Aubrey that the enemy ship may have known of their mission from French spies.

The movie gives the impression that Jack Aubrey promotes his first lieutenant, Pullings, who receives his new captaincy with joy. In fact only the Admiralty could make such promotions, and the difficulty obtaining them is a recurring theme in the books. This was especially true for men such as Pullings, who as a member of a lower class without money or social connections might spend years hoping in vain for advancement. It was, however, possible for Captains (such as Aubrey) to make a lieutenant an Acting Captain for the duration of the commission — which was usually until the ship (in this case, the captured Acheron) arrived with all-important dispatches back in London (something which usually merited a promotion), and which is where Pullings is bound for — eventually — at the end of the film.

In the novel, Pullings has already been promoted to Commander, but has not yet been given a command of his own. He accompanied Captain Aubrey on this mission in order to avoid being left on shore with nothing to do, as well as improve his prospects for being given command of a ship by demonstrating his zeal for king and country.

Nowhere in the Aubrey/Maturin series of novels is Dr. Maturin shot by a Royal Marine. However, in the novel H.M.S. Surprise, Maturin fights a duel with a Mr. Canning, a rival for the affections for Diana Villiers. Although Maturin is deadly with both sword and pistol, and kills Canning, he is wounded in the exchange and operates on himself to remove the deflected bullet from his chest.

The film also plays out the role of Hollom as a Jonah to a much greater extent. Hollom is shown ending his life by jumping over the side with a cannonball in his hands, whereas in the book he is presumed murdered by Horner, the ship's Gunner, when Hollom instigates and consummates an affair with Horner's shipboard wife. This romantic triangle was removed from the plot in the film by eliminating the character of Mrs. Horner, resulting in no female speaking roles of any kind.

The first two and final three chapters of The Far Side of the World do not appear in the film. Also, the prominent scene of Warley being sacrificed on the order of Capt. Aubrey does not appear in any of the books, and a substantial majority of the movie dialog is created by scriptwriters Weir and Collee.

The film's special edition DVD release contains behind-the-scenes material giving insights into the film-making process. Great efforts were made to reproduce the authentic look and feel of life aboard an early nineteenth-century man-of-war. Much of the filming actually took place at sea on board Rosemarker (a reproduction of the 18th-century frigate HMS Rose), while other scenes were shot on a full-scale replica mounted on gimbals in a large tank. The Rose is now renamed HMS Surprise in honor of her movie role and moored at the San Diego Maritime Museummarker as a dockside attraction (and recently returned to regular sailing status). There was a third HMS Surprise which was a scale model built by Weta Workshop. A storm sequence was enhanced using digitally-composited footage of waves actually shot on board a modern replica of Cook's Endeavour rounding Cape Hornmarker. All of the actors were given a thorough grounding in the naval life of the period in order to make their performances as authentic as possible. The ship's boats used in the film were Russian Naval six- and four-oared yawls supplied by Central Coast Charters and Boat Base Monterey. Their faithful 18th century appearance complemented the historic accuracy of the rebuilt "Rose", whose own boat, the "Thorn" could be used only in the Brazilian scene. The gunnery scenes were particularly authentic with live rounds being fired over numerous microphones in order to capture the proper sound effect of cannonballs flying through the air. The scenes showing French gunfire raking the deck of the Surprise and the grim choreography of the British gun crews under fire are uniformly excellent. The audience is also graphically shown what happened to wounded seamen aboard a British warship during the Napoleonic Era. The ship's doctor and his instruments are often shown at work without the benefit of anesthesia. The film accurately shows how the medical orderlies were among the largest and strongest men aboard ship since their duties involved holding the injured down during amputations and wound "probings". Naval history enthusiasts awarded Weir high marks for his efforts at recreating the historical ambiance of O'Brian's novels . The on-location shots of the Galapagos were unique for a feature film as normally only documentaries are filmed on the islands.

Soundtrack

The score includes an assortment of baroque and classical music, notably the first of Bach's Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007, played by Yo-Yo Ma; the Strassburg theme in the third movement of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3; the third (Adagio) movement of Corelli's Christmas Concerto (Concerto grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8); and a recurring rendition of Ralph Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. The music played on cello before the end is Luigi Boccherini's String Quintet (Quintettino) for 2 violins, viola & 2 cellos in C major ("Musica notturna delle strade di Madrid"), G. 324 Op. 30. The two arrangements of this cue contained in the CD differ significantly from the one heard in the movie.

The song sung in the wardroom is "Don't Forget Your Old Shipmates."The tunes sung and played by the crew on deck at night are Spanish Ladies and Rob Roy.

Several scenes of the film featured music on the Irish uilleann pipes by Tim Foley, of the band Skelpin.

Reception

Release

The movie opened #2 in the first weekend of North American release, November 14–16, 2003, grossing $25,105,990. It dropped to the #4 position in the second weekend and #6 in the third, and finished the domestic run with $93,926,386 in gross receipts. Outside of the U.S. and Canada the movie grossed $116,550,000, doing best in Italy (at $15,111,841) with an overall worldwide total of $212,011,111. As of January 2009, this puts the film at #336 on the all-time worldwide gross ranking (unadjusted for inflation).

76th Academy Awards:

Master and Commander was released the same year as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which won every award of the eleven that it was nominated for. The two awards that Master and Commander won were in categories that The Return of the King was not nominated for.

Critical response

Master and Commander was critically well-received. 85% of 196 reviews tallied by aggregate web site Rotten Tomatoes gave the film an overall positive rating, and the film has a "certified fresh" rating.

Sequel Outlook

Over six years after the movie's 2003 release, there are currently no announced plans for a sequel to be made by movie-rights holder 20th Century Fox, despite the remaining 20 books available in the Aubrey-Maturin series written by Patrick O'Brian.

Director Peter Weir, asked in 2005 if he would do a sequel, stated he thought it "most unlikely", and after disclaiming internet rumors to the contrary, stated "I think that while it did well... ish at the box office, it didn't generate that monstrous, rapid income that provokes a sequel."

In 2007 the film was listed on a list of "13 Failed Attempts To Start Film Franchises" by the media website www.avclub.com , noting that "... the Aubrey-Maturin novels remain untapped cinematic ground."

Although Russell Crowe is not under contract for another film, he is reportedly interested in making one. Most of the rest of the cast is reported to be under contract for two more films; a common procedure for movie studios when signing up for a film, whether a sequel is made or not, in order to ensure much of the original cast comes back.

On July 17, 2009, Russell Crowe was reported to be in the early stages of negotiations to make a sequel based primarily on the 11th novel in Patrick O'Brian's series, entitled The Reverse of the Medal.

Notes

  1. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0311113/soundtrack
  2. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/master_and_commander_the_far_side_of_the_world/
  3. Seattle Times, August 30, 2005 http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20050830&slug=peterweir30
  4. http://www.avclub.com/articles/inventory-13-failed-attempts-to-start-film-franchi,1872/


References



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