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

Goofs

Anachronisms 

The film is set in 1805, yet the book handed to Blakeney by the Captain was actually written in 1806: The Victories of the Right Honourable Horatio Lord Viscount Nelson, by Archibald Duncan.
In the closing scenes, as the dead are buried at sea, the crew is saying the Lord's Prayer (at around 2h 00 mins). Given the year, they would be using the version known by all from The Book of Common Prayer (1662 edition): "Our Father, which art in heaven..." Instead they say, "Our Father, who art in heaven..." the first instance of which actually appeared in the American Book of Common Prayer (1892 Revision). As a ship of the King's Navy, the established Anglican Book of Common Prayer would be the normative source of liturgy and prayer.
The distinctive Pinnacle Rock seen in the Galápagos was created by the US Navy using it for target practice in World War II.
Lord Nelson is spoken of very fondly and respectfully among officers and crew. Yet, by the time the movie is set, Nelson had fallen into public disgrace because of his illicit and open affair with Lady Emma Hamilton, the wife of the British ambassador to Naples. The Admiralty and fellow commanders felt that Nelson had put his personal life before of his duties and was heavily criticized by it, even being cold-shouldered by the king George III himself and at one point his removal of command was considered. The open admiration the crew in the movie expresses was more likely to happen in 1812, after Nelson's death and when the original novels are set.
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When Hollom has a panic attack after being menaced by the crew, Midshipman Blakeney asks (at around 1h 20 mins) "Are you O.K. Mr. Hollom?" Although the movie is set in 1805, according to the Webster New World Dictionary of the American Language (second college edition) "O.K." is an American colloquialism which was first used March 23, 1839 by C.G. Greene in the Boston Morning Post (Webster New World Dictionary of the American Language (second college edition) p. 989.)
The captain and his dinner guests sing "Don't Forget Your Old Shipmate" (at around 59 mins), a song composed by Richard C. Saunders, an officer in the Royal Navy who was not born until 1809.
During the cricket match on the Galapagos, the bowler is shown delivering the ball overarm (at around 1h 30 mins). A technique that was illegal under the laws of cricket until 1864, in 1805 only underarm bowling was deemed legal.
While Dr. Stephen Maturin describes the iguana-like lizards that live in the Galápagos as "vegetarians", a word not coined until 1842.
Captain Aubrey rejects sailing into the "rain forest" of Brazil for a new mast (at around 23 mins). The word "rain forest" was brought into English by a literal translation of the German word "regenwald" from a book written in 1898 and translated into English in 1903.
Throughout the fighting, pistols are seen to function well. During this time period, flintlock pistols failed to discharge up to 50% of the time, and were considered a secondary weapon in close combat.
The silverware used at the Captain's table and during the brain surgery scene (spoon at 00:24:11) is machine made and of a style that would not have been used till after the late 1830s when techniques for smithing changed. Spoons of that era would likely not be molded in one piece.
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Following the first encounter with the Acheron, Captain Aubrey inspects a chart using a magnifier. In the magnified image, a pattern of ink overspray is visible surrounding each letter in the phrase "Hidden Reef" as the magnifier is panned over it (at around 18 mins). Such a pattern is precisely characteristic of modern-day inkjet printers, but of neither quill pens or the printing presses of the period.
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Audio/visual unsynchronised 

During the final scene when Aubrey and Maturin are playing their instruments together, Aubrey briefly stops strumming his violin to put it to his neck. A violin can still be heard strumming (at around 2h 07 mins) as he does this, even though Maturin has stopped playing his cello with his bow and is also strumming at a lower key.
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Despite his abundant talent and the hard work he put in to learn the violin, it is apparent on several occasions that Russell Crowe is miming the violin part.
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Character error 

The two insects referred to as 'weevils' at the Captain's Mess table (at around 34 mins) were most certainly not weevils. The insects historically referred to as 'biscuit weevils', at the time, were extremely small and would not have shown up on camera therefore some artistic licence was taken to make the scene work.
Traditionally, toasts in the British Navy are not preceded by "to". For example, "Lord Nelson" not (at around 20 minutes) "To Lord Nelson".
Dr. Stephen Maturin observes the Galápagos marine iguana and later captures specimens of various local flora and fauna. The iguana he captures and then releases later on are green iguana, one of the most common types of iguana, a land animal that isn't found on the the Galápagos islands. This can be explained by the fact that marine iguana are a rare species, while many green iguana live in captivity and as pets.
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When Captain Aubrey orders the Surprise due South after battling around the horn, Lieutenant Pullings says, "Due South, Mr Bonden," to Barrett Bonden, who is at the wheel. The prefix "Mr" was used only for officers and would not have been used to refer to Bonden, who was the captain's coxswain and so not an officer.
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While the crew of the H.M.S. Surprise are practicing firing the cannons, Jack encourages them to do better by rhetorically asking "do you want to call Napoleon your king?" Even if the crew were defeated by the French, they certainly wouldn't call Napoleon "king", since Napoleon was the Emperor of France and not its king. He was also the King of Rome, but that wasn't his first title.
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Continuity 

When the ship is about to leave the Galapagos, Dr Maturin is on deck and has a growth of beard/moustache. He goes down to the cabin to remonstrate with Aubrey but appears there clean shaven. On deck again, slightly later, he has re-acquired his stubble.
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Prior to the first encounter with the Acheron we see the watch glass turned and eight bells struck (at around 3 mins). A few moments later (at around 26 mins), we see the glass turned again and six bells is struck which would mean that three hours had passed, yet the ship is still clearing for action - something which would have taken ten to fifteen minutes.
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When Maturin is wounded, the bullet is removed from his left side (at around 1h 30 mins). However, when he and Aubrey are discussing the length of their stay at the Galapagos, he is holding his right side and using a cane on that side as well (at around 1h 35 mins).
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In the opening scene when Surprise is attacked by Acheron, Captain Aubrey gives to command to "run out the starboard battery" (at around 28 mins). We then cut to the gun deck showing the guns not yet run out (at around 38 mins). However, Calamy ordered beat-to-quarters at 06:20 and while the boats were being lowered at 08:18 the port guns can be seen already run out and in a long shot from the stern at 08:24 the starboard guns appear to have been run out as well.
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When Aubrey decides to follow the Acheron into Valpariso, he order's the crew beat to quarters (at around 2h 06 mins). As a result, we see crew members and Royal Marines climbing the rigging into their assigned places on the mast (actually, repeated shots from beat-to-quarters responses from earlier scenes). However, in the overhead shot of the Rose/Surprise, there are clearly no men positioned anywhere above the deck (at around 2h 07 mins).
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Crew or equipment visible 

When all the men are singing at the captain's table, the camera moves round the table. At one point it is knocked by something (at around 1h).
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Reflections of studio light visible on the brass edge of Mr. Hollom's spy-glass in the beginning of the movie when the ship is inside of a fog bank.
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Errors in geography 

The geography of the Galapagos is misrepresented several times, e.g., having the dialog imply that they are next to Isabela Island when they are sailing near Pinnacle Rock, which is on Bartolome.
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Factual errors 

During the Storm when the Surprise is chasing the Acheron around Cape Horn, Barrett Bonden is shown alone at the wheel. It was customary on a Royal Navy vessel of the time to always have at least two men at the wheel both as a security measure in case one man was injured in battle, and because the rudder itself was extremely heavy and difficult to turn. During any sort of heavy weather there would certainly have been four or more men at the wheel as one man would not be able to control the rudder (which is why the ship has two connected wheels).
Throughout the movie, Captain Howard of the Royal Marines is referred to as "Captain Howard". British Naval Tradition would have dictated that he would have been given a "courtesy promotion" to Major. This "courtesy promotion" would not have been a permanent promotion, but rather just a change in wording to avoid confusion between the ship's captain and the Marine captain.
As the "Surprise" sails around the Horn and the weather deteriorates, the ship begins to ice up. However, in one shot the icicles on the bow of the ship are hanging straight down (at around 57 mins), which could not happen unless the "Surprise" was becalmed.
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At the beginning of the movie, Midshipman Calamy issues the order to "beat to quarters". This would not have been ordered by a midshipman. He would have reported to the officer of the watch (one of the lieutenants or the Master, certainly not another midshipman, as was shown) who would then have woken the Captain and reported that a sail had been spotted. It would then be up to the Captain to give the order.
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Unlike the Army, the Royal Marines used adults as drummers, not children.
In many scenes HMS Surprise/HMS Rose is clearly motoring, as the sails are either hanging limp or aback. In one scene the ship seems to be making at least 5 knots with all sails backed (at around 1h 12 mins).
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The Acheron is supposed to be a 44-gun frigate built in America and sold to a French privateer. No large American-built warship was sold to any foreign concern (nation or individual) during this time period (except the 74-gun ship-of-the-line "America" given to France after the Revolutionary War). American-built warships did not have a good reputation in Europe (something reinforced by the poorly built "America"). It was not until the War of 1812 that the large American frigates proved the superiority of their design. The use of a large American-built frigate in the story is apparently a holdover from the book in which it is an American warship which is pursued.
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Dr. Maturin presents Captain Aubrey a "stick insect" (order Phasmatodea) collected on the Galapagos. No species of Phasmatodea has ever been recorded as native to the Galapagos or otherwise established there.
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During the first encounter with Acheron, the order is given to beat to quarters, but during the first scenes when Mr. Calamy is searching the fog with his glass, the gun ports are open and the guns have been run out. This indicates that Surprise was already at quarters.
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Just after the beginning of the movie we see and hear eight bells being struck (at around 3 mins). This signals the end of a watch, however, it is clear from the scenes below decks that the watch is not actually being changed.
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At the end of the movie, when Aubry calls Mowett into the Captain's cabin to order them to follow the Acheron he also orders Mowett to "beat to quarters". Aubry and Maturin then continue to play their instruments.

In a frigate that has 'beat to quarters' and is 'cleared for action', the Captain's cabin would be opened up to the rest of the ship and gun crews would be manning the guns in the cabin. There would be no way Aubry and Maturin could have remained there.
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The opening text of the film sets the date of the events as April, 1805 and says that "Napoleon is master of Europe", but this assessment isn't very accurate, since at this point in time Napoleon didn't exert nearly as much influence over Europe as he would a few years later. From 1805 onwards he would fight multiple campaigns against Austria, Russia and Prussia. Napoleon was only truly "master of Europe" in 1810, after marrying an Austrian princess and having all of continental Europe (except Spain) under either his influence or direct control. From 1809 to 1813 there were no campaigns set against him, but from 1805 to 1809 there was several.
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In the credits, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams's name is spelled "Ralph Vaughn Williams".
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Incorrectly regarded as goofs 

As two seamen enter Aubry's cabin to present him with a model of the "phantom's" hull, both salute the captain (at around 28 mins). However, one salutes with his left hand while the other salutes with his right. It is often assumed that a proper salute is completed with the right hand. The salute was not standardized in the Royal Navy until the late Nineteenth Century. Before that enlisted "saluted" by "tugging the forelock". While typically done with the right hand, this form of "salute" could be performed with either hand.
Mr. Blakeney has his right arm amputated after the first encounter with the Acheron, but later when Captain Aubrey is teaching the midshipmen how to work their sextants to determine noon, it appears that Mr. Blakeney still has both hands on his sextant (at around 38 mins). However, Captain Aubrey is assisting the midshipman by holding the sextant upright while Blakeney makes adjustments.
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Some of the signal flags hanging from Surprise when under the sun did exist in the Napoleonic era as per the contemporary "Telegraphic Signals or Marine Vocabulary" created by Sir Admiral Home Popham and published throughout the period of the Napoleonic War. An original scan of the 1803 version is online and an 1806 version can also be found.

However, utilizing the codes, it seems they possibly signal starting at the mizzenmast: "Telegraphic Signal (red/white diagonal) then send "392" ended with a "substitute" flag. Possibly standing for "impossible-ility" the flags on the mainmast seems to indicate "602" or "part-ed-ing-ition" without a "Finished" flag as per the 1803 and 1806 code books referenced above. This doesn't seem to mean much of anything and may have been the crew hanging random flags.

As an aside, Popham's Signals were famously utilized by Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar when he signaled: "England expects that every man will do his duty."
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During the after action meeting in the Captains Galley, Mr. Allen says, "heavy frigate like that in the Pacific". This does not imply that they are in the Pacific at that moment - indeed, the opening scene showed the Admiralty's orders to Captain Aubrey to prevent the Acheron from reaching the Pacific. The line is merely to demonstrate why it is imperative they stop the Acheron from reaching the Pacific, Further, the ensuing chase around Cape Horn would show they are going from the Atlantic to Pacific..
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Revealing mistakes 

After the doctor has been shot, we see him in the hammock being tended to. He is very pale. However, as the hammock shifts, you can see the makeup line just below his neck while the rest of his upper body is still normal color (At 01:29:03 to 01:29:06).
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When the crew is shown battling a leak below the waterline, the boat is pitching on the sea. However the water is not sloshing back and forth in the bilge/hold because the "pitching" of the boat is simulated by camera movement.
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In the closing credits there are two credits for the recorded cannon sounds. In both instances the word 'artillery' is misspelled 'artillary'.
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At about 65 minutes in, while in the Galapagos island, when the Surprise picks up the sailors from the Albatros from the small life boat, Captain Aubrey orders "food and water for these men." While the Captain of the Albatros is telling his story, the camera pans to the right, and targets a sailor who is drinking from a cup. When the cup is raised to his mouth, one can clearly see his lips are firmly closed.
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Spoilers

The goof items below may give away important plot points.

Anachronisms 

During the boarding, Mr. Higgins prevents a cannon being fired by stopping the flintlock mechanism. Flintlocks, or gunlocks, on cannon were first used by the Royal Navy in 1745, but they were a rarity on French ships at this time who still used the matchlock, or linstock, to fire their cannon.
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Factual errors 

When Lieutenant Pullings is given command of the captured Acheron, he is hailed as "Captain" before leaving the Surprise (at around 2h 04 mins). Such an officer would be the "prize master" of that vessel and referenced by his rank. Within the Royal Navy the title of "captain" was only applied to an officer, regardless of rank, who was assigned as the commander of a commissioned vessel (which a prize ship was not).

Though never stated in the movie, in the book Far Side of the World, Pullings has been promoted to Master and Commander (though not given command of a ship) and is along as First Lieutenant as a volunteer. Captain Aubrey refers to him often as 'Captain Pullings', the courtesy due a Master and Commander.
When the Surprise, while disguised as a whaling ship, is being chased by the Acheron, the smoke from the Surprise is trailing behind her (at around 1h 45 mins). That would only be possible if the wind was coming from dead ahead, which is impossible in a sailing vessel.

Incorrectly regarded as goofs 

To pretend to be a whaling ship, Surprise removes its topgallant masts, apparently to change its appearance. Drawing and paintings of whaling ships show them to have been rigged in the same manner as any ships of their era; that is, with main, top, and topgallant masts. Thus there is no reason for the modification shown, and it would be far more likely to make the Acheron cautious because of the odd modified appearance of the Surprise. However, the HMS Surprise was outfitted with a mainmast of a size usually specified for a larger 36-gun frigate. This unusually large mainmast gave her a rather distinct and recognizable appearance. Housing the topgallant masts would hide this unique feature from the officers of the Acheron.

See also

Trivia | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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