During the Napoleonic Wars, a brash British captain pushes his ship and crew to their limits in pursuit of a formidable French war vessel around South America.During the Napoleonic Wars, a brash British captain pushes his ship and crew to their limits in pursuit of a formidable French war vessel around South America.During the Napoleonic Wars, a brash British captain pushes his ship and crew to their limits in pursuit of a formidable French war vessel around South America.
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.
- Nov 9, 2004