The story of the first major battle of the American phase of the Vietnam War, and the soldiers on both sides that fought it, while their wives wait nervously and anxiously at home for the good news or the bad news.
In April 1805 during the Napoleonic Wars, H.M.S. Surprise, a British frigate, is under the command of Captain Jack Aubrey. Aubrey and the Surprise's current orders are to track and capture or destroy a French privateer named Acheron. The Acheron is currently in the Atlantic off South America headed toward the Pacific in order to extend Napoleon's reach of the wars. This task will be a difficult one as Aubrey quickly learns in an initial battle with the Acheron that it is a bigger and faster ship than the Surprise, which puts the Surprise at a disadvantage. Aubrey's single-mindedness in this seemingly impossible pursuit puts him at odds with the Surprise's doctor and naturalist, Stephen Maturin, who is also Aubrey's most trusted advisor on board and closest friend. Facing other internal obstacles which have resulted in what they consider a string of bad luck, Aubrey ultimately uses Maturin's scientific exploits to figure out a way to achieve his and the ship's seemingly impossible goal.Written by
Russell Crowe's character Aubrey wear the rank of a Captain & not a Master & Commander. Now and as in the past centuries, in the Navy, the term Captain referred to a position on board a ship as well as a rank. Generally, those officers who commanded a ship were called Captain regardless of the officer's actual rank. During the early 19th Century the Royal Navy rank of Commander fell between Lieutenant and Captain. Larger RN ships would employ a Sailing Master, a professional & expert who tended to the navigation of a sailing vessel. Generally during the period of the film, Commanders wore only one gold epaulette on the left shoulder. Captains wore the epaulette on the right shoulder until they served three years, designated "Post", after which they wore them on both shoulders.
The Royal Navy assigned Commanders and at times Lieutenants to command smaller ships. For example, when William Bligh was the Captain of the HMS Bounty (also known as HM Armed Vessel Bounty), he held the rank of Lieutenant. Those with the rank of Commander and charged with a ship were referred to as "Master and Commander" for the one officer would serve as the both the captain & sailing master. In the film a Sailing Master works among the crew and Russell Crowe's character wore two epaulettes.
It should be noted that this film was based on two of Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey / Maturin novels: Master and Commander, and Far Side of the world. At no point in the film is Aubrey referred to as "master and commander". However, in the former novel - the first in the series - Aubrey is made captain of the Sophie, which has the two masts of a brig, yet is classified as a sloop, which traditionally has one mast and which would be commanded by a lieutenant. This being the case, Aubrey referred to himself as a Captain but self-depreciatingly referring to himself as being "master and commander", which is appropriate for the man in charge of a sloop. See more »
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. See more »
A window in time, and the best film ever made about tall ships!
Normally, I do not begrudge someone their opinion about a movie, but when they cast aspersions about other reviewers here, I feel compelled to respond. One disgruntled reviewer of this film stated that she cannot understand how anyone could like this movie, let alone love it. Further, she claimed that we, the other reviewers, only believe what we are told to believe. Nothing could be further from the truth.
That someone would loathe what others have lauded is not surprising, really. I have to admit that I, too, have disliked films that were highly rated by a large majority of film critics. 'Fargo' comes to mind as does 'Moulin Rouge' and 'Mystic River.' However, unlike the reviewer, I watched these films several times over before reaching a final judgment in the event that I had been too hasty in my initial impressions. Neither of these films, though, were hailed as classics like 'MASTER AND COMMANDER'
Many people go into a theatre with a preconceived notion of what they think they will see, only to be disappointed when what they see is not what they expected. Each person carries with them their own set of experiences and no amount of explanation or arguments will change their mind, either. Yet, once in awhile a movie transcends the boundaries that define it, and its true genius is not something that everyone is going to apprehend. This is the case with 'MASTER AND COMMANDER'.
All I can say to that reviewer is simply, 'I am really sorry that you were not able to see what I saw.'
Movies like 'MASTER AND COMMANDER' only come around once in a generation. It is, without question, the finest movie ever made about tall ships. However, its greatness lies not in the story line but in those elements that typically ruin what would otherwise be great historical films, namely: dialogue, special effects, and sound track. Take for example, 'Gangs of New York.' The cinematography and sets were outstanding but the dialogue of everyone but Daniel Day-Lewis was severely lacking in historical authenticity. Another example is the 'Passion of the Christ' which used a mix of Aramaic and Hebrew to add its authentic feel, but it came across as highly artificial.
'MASTER AND COMMANDER' brought to life a language totally forgotten: the language of the sea, circa early 1800's. Every actor spoke the language as if they were born into it, and that element alone made the viewer feel as if they were viewing a window in time of a world rarely seen.
The sound editing alone was worth the price of admission. I have never been to a film where I actually felt that I was part of the environment. 'MASTER AND COMMANDER' did that, and even if you play the DVD on a plain TV, you would still marvel at the realism of the sound.
Finally, unlike every other sea movie that preceded it, the special effects were seamlessly integrated into the real footage of the ships at sea. At no time, did I get the sense that I was watching a scale model in a tank. In reality, the actual ship passed through rough seas on its journey around the Horn and these real scenes were added to the movie.
All these factors I mentioned above set the movie apart but that does not mean it had a substandard plot and mediocre acting. On the contrary, Russell Crowe was at his best playing Lucky Jack Aubrey with a panache that could only be matched by the late Errol Flynn. If I were a seaman aboard the HMS Surprise, I would truly feel that I could follow him anywhere. Crowe commands both the stage and the ship wherever he goes.
Paul Bettany as Jack's most trusted friend and the ship's doctor, turns in his best performance to date. Another unusual part of this movie is that while no seagoing fare would be complete without a love affair, the one in this movie is a platonic one between the captain and the doctor.
The two have a special relationship that is constantly strained by Crowe's call to duty and his overarching ambition. Having served with the great Lord Nelson, Lucky Jack does his best to emulate him and carve out a piece of British naval history for himself.
The film reminded me of works like 'Run Silent, Run Deep' which although dealt with more contemporary battles at sea (WWII), also featured a classic battle of wits between unseen adversaries. We never get to meet Jack's nemesis directly, but we learn by his battle tactics that he is a worthy opponent and a lot like Jack himself.
'MASTER AND COMMANDER' is a movie that I never tire of watching, and each time I see it I learn something new. It has its weaknesses like every movie does. It lacks continuity and subplots. It lacks character development of some of the more interesting supporting actors. Often I found it hard to keep track of who is who when everyone is referred to by their last names. Yet, all in all, 'MASTER AND COMMANDER' is a must-see movie and a must-own DVD.
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