Master & Commander: The Far Side of The World

You want a REAL epic adventure? Forget the wooden horse and Achilles' heel. You want sailing ships, guns forward, and swashbucklers fighting for king and country. Now of DVD, Russell Crowe serves as the Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World. Adventure awaits!

RATING: 5 out of 5

You heard me fire off a full broadside on this summer's epic, My Big Fat Greek, sorry, Troy...and in my review I make mention of how hard Troy tries to be the epic that everyone expects. Some fans of the this cinematic exercise of pretentiousness have critisized me for this comment, asking me to cite an example of an epic film that doesn't try to be AN EPIC. Sure, there are "trademarks" to an epic film: big names, big soundtracks, and big battles. Now available on DVD is a movie that didn't set out to be an epic. It just happened as its heroes set sail for Brazil. This unexpected epic is Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World is a far cry from the 2003 summer swashbuckler adventure, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl. It is, however, closer to A&E's adventurous mini-series, Horatio Hornblower. Master and Commander follows Captain "Lucky Jack" Aubrey. He's the captain of the HMS Surprise (c. 1806), and considered the best guy to set out on a voyage. Why? When it comes to combat on the oceans of the Atlantic, "Lucky Jack" is unmatched. So, with Napoleon Bonepart playing a game of "chicken" with England, Jack receives his next orders from the crown: hunt down the French privateer ship Archeon. Capture her, if possible. Sink her, if necessary.

Easier said than done. Turns out this Frenchie thinks, sails, and fights just like Jack!

Master and Commander sports what could be one of the best historical looks at "life on the high seas" since Das Boot (ironically, directed by Troy's Wolfgang Petersen). The depiction of the British Navy being "not just a job, but an adventure" is realistic, from the cruel to the creepy to the extremely cool. You see all sides of life on theSurprise, and you get to know these guys. You see them facing life and death together, fighting for home and hearth thousands of miles away, and even letting loose with a few rounds of rum, grog, and wine. This isn't simply an epic adventure on the Atlantic, but it is definitely a GUY movie with battles galore, stuff blowing up, and guys just being guys...

...but the ladies will dig Master and Commander because Russel Crowe's breeches are spray-painted on him. And he's doing the high boots look. Yeah, don't kid yourselves -- Maximus can also swash a buckle if called to General Quarters!

But my wife, as we were watching Master and Commander, asked me "Why didn't I give a s--t for the characters in Troy like I do for these guys?" My answer: Peter Weir. Weir, the same director who gave us films like Dead Poets Society and The Mosquito Coast, really knows how to direct actors, write a script, and shoot a film. His films bring class actors who create a chemistry together and you strike up relationships with them as individuals and as a family. His movies are not just cool but they are cool looking. Weir embraces the landscape (and the seascape, in this case) to create a breathtaking look at the world around our heroes, making the environment an essential part of the cast. But Weir never forgets one of the essentials in putting together a great movie: a great story with great characters. The story is, at its core, a game of the hunter and the hunted, and Captain Aubrey prefers to be the former and not the latter. While telling this story, Weir brings us closer to these characters in scenes such as two friends playing music to pass the time, cutting loose a shipmate struggling through a storm to return to safety, and bidding commrades goodbye after the battle is won. Wolfgang Petersen's Troy tries to emulate this, but the relationships and dialogue feel forced. In Master and Commander (and his other films), Weir never loses sight on what makes a story compelling: its storytellers...who just happen to find themselves in the middle of a larger-than-life adventure.

If you saw this movie on the big screen, get the DVD. It stands up on the television. If you missed Master and Commander, check it out. This movie rocks!

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