Monday, November 24, 2003

Commanding Masters: I know last week I promised a movie, book and disc review, but I reneged. I'm giving you instead another movie review. This time, something actually in the theatres: "Master and Commander - The Far Side of the World". Short version: if you like the books, you like the movie. Long version: This movie was not dumbed down and is instead a heartfelt take on the novels. There's no love stories, no traditional comic side-kicks, no macho bravado, and no weakening of what was a hard, dirty, violent life as a professional sailor in the King's navy.

Yes, the movie changed a few things around. Instead of the War of 1812 with the Brits against the Yanks, it's now 1805, with the Brits slogging it out with the French (probably the last time anyone feared the French in a war; I mean anyone not allied with them). Of course, if you're going to get anyone to see the movie in the U.S., it's probably best not to have us as the "bad guys". And there were a few other changes that were needed to meld essentially two books, the first and the tenth.

With the books (and I've only read 5), what makes them so much fun is that O'Brian never takes it easy on you. There's no glossary, only a simple drawing of a ship, with the various sails and masts identified. Right away, you're thrown into a world of nautical slang, foreign dialects, and British minutiae. You either ride the tide, or you're drowned. Simple and at times, maddening. Well, same with the movie. Either you're okay watching a film about ships, about "The Service", about cannonballs and broadsides, and about two different men who share an uncanny friendship that serves as salvation to them both throughout their journey, or you're going to be unhappy. There's no sappy love interest to draw in the traditional female audience, and there's almost no scenes shot on land to placate those who will get sick of the rolling waves and claustrophobic conditions.

Crowe simply nails the character. I was afraid he'd play Jack Aubrey too sanctimonious, too "heroic", but he draws out the character's strengths: his wit, his compassion, and his tremendous leadership. He makes the movie. His friend and confidant, Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) is played very naturally and true to form. They only leave out the bit concerning his being a spy for Ireland, but the movie can only be so long. There are a couple of scenes where you burst out laughing (just like the book) and enough instances that make you glad you don't live in the 19th century. You also become intently involved with the lives of some of the junior officers and even some of the lowly "able seamen".

This is one of the few movies I'd say you really should see on the big screen (for obvious reasons). There's also some great music - assuming you like classical, with an emphasis on violin and cello (Aubrey and Maturn's instruments). Very enjoyable 2+ hours.

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