ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  peter weir

RATED  -  pg-13

GENRE  -  drama

LENGTH  -  139 minutes

RELEASED  -  14 november 2003

DISTRIBUTOR  -  20th century fox

OFFICIAL SITE  -  master & commander

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $150,000,000
master and commander: the far side of the world - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from elf at

buy the dvd from elf at

ship surgeon stephen maturin and navy capt. jack aubrey sail out to see the richness and strangeness of life on the far side of the world, against the backdrop of napoleonic wars.

had a 150 million dollar budget that was bankrolled by four film production companies.


picture from master and commander: the far side of the world

picture from master and commander: the far side of the world

picture from master and commander: the far side of the world


four out of four possible stars

Expertly crafted from beginning to end, Master and Commander: The Far Side Of The World might bear a long running time and an even longer title, but the film bears none of the weight of its length or subject as it races toward a conclusion at a hurricane's pace. Employing dynamic actors in interesting, though not wholly unique roles, director Peter Weir proves he can construct a rip-roaring epic that fulfills all the requirements of large-scale filmmaking. Water-based stories are usually the most difficult to bring to the screen and the effort evident in every shot of this film. The unpredictability of the ocean and the higher-than-average cost make films such as Commander a rather daunting prospect for financiers and crew.

But when the production results in a film like Master and Commander, the monetary cost and the blood and sweat of the crew seem entirely worth the effort. The film is beautifully shot and the sets are intricately decorated so if the narrative were to ever fall off the edge, the scenery would certainly take up the slack. But being the capable director that he is, Weir marches his film forward at a pace that won't let you kick back, but allows the characters to retain as much importance as the scenery. And perhaps more so. Through the ocean and the ships and the costumes are beautiful, Weir has a fine way of allowing the relationships between the characters to remain an important element of the story.

Opinionated and bombastic as he is, Russell Crowe gets the point across on screen as "Captain Jack Aubrey" and while his personality away from the camera might test the patience of his fans, his performance leaves no doubt as to his superior ability to bring a well-rounded character to life. As Captain Jack is a character based upon a very successful series of books, written by Patrick O'Brian, the film will find a number of fans before the opening credits even begin. But Crowe will probably garner the series a few new fans as his portrayal of the Captain is both affecting and demanding.

Co-star Paul Bettany, playing the ship's surgeon and Aubrey's best friend, "Stephen Maturin," also makes an impressive appearance with a character who is not always predictable (as characters in action films often are). As Maturin, he seems to keep something from the audience that makes his character unusually "deep" for a historical epic. Though the film is not based on specific historical events, the filmmakers might have taken a tract that made the time period more important than the people who lived the events of the era. But Captain Jack, Stephen Maturin, and the rest of the crew are the heart and soul of this picture and because their struggles are in the fore-front of the film, the entire package is infinitely more affecting and gripping.

On an interesting note, the "enemy" in the film, the French sailors, are presented as a faceless evil with no real individuality aside from the faces of but a few sailors Captain Jack speaks to near the end of the film. In some ways, this approach might seem one-sided in terms of representing history, but given that the audience will become quite engaged in the welfare of the Captain and his crew, paying politically correct homage to all sides of the war might have transformed the film into more of a historical lesson than the emotional tale of a crew of sailors at sea.

It's very worth mentioning palatability of the music used for the score as there is quite an interesting combination of previously composed orchestral music added to a score that was created specifically for the film. There are three credited composers on the film (Christopher Gordon, Iva Davies, and Richard Tognetti) and it sounds as if each of the tracks was tackled by a different composer. Though arguably the most affecting piece of music comes from late nineteenth century English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams' "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis," a piece of music composed about one-hundred years after the story in the film takes place. But it doesn't really matter when Williams created his music as it is an inspired choice of score for some of the most dramatic scenes in the film.

Weir and his screenwriters have wisely left the film open to further adventures by ripping the audience away from the story before the length of the film has a chance to make an impact, but after viewers have become fully entranced with the story. The scenery is beautiful, the story exciting, and the characters more than likeable. As an action adventure film, the production has epic written all over it and is an expert example of a movie that wows you with the visuals but doesn't forget to reel you in with a few interesting humans. It's got a good balance of both elements and for a period film, that success is an important one.

Without decent effort placed in both elements, you end up with something that should be aired on The History Channel (an interesting, yet staid lesson) or a film that doesn't make its history believable. And without believability, an epic becomes laughable because of the frequent death-defying stunts, escapes, and scrapes. Master and Commander is both believable and interesting and falls prey to none of those pitfalls. On a last note, the screenwriters (John Collee and director Weir) wisely included a bit of humor in the picture, keeping the subject matter from being too heavy-handed and allowing the characters to show their humanity more accurately. They even did a rather impressive job on the dialogue, as interesting dialogue is seemingly a rare feat in modern cinema. This film is big-screen entertainment at its best and is a rewarding experience in the theater.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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