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|Master and Commander:
The Far Side of the World
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Peter Weir|
|Produced by||Alan B. Curtiss|
|Screenplay by||Peter Weir
|Based on||Master and Commander
by Patrick O'Brian
|Music by||Iva Davies
|Editing by||Lee Smith|
|Studio||Samuel Goldwyn Films|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox
|Running time||138 minutes|
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a 2003 American epic historical drama film directed by Peter Weir, starring Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey, with Paul Bettany as Stephen Maturin and released by 20th Century Fox, Miramax Films and Universal Studios. The film's plot and characters are adapted from three novels in author Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey–Maturin series, which has a total of 20 novels of Jack Aubrey's naval career.
At the 76th Academy Awards, the film was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. It won in two categories, Best Cinematography and Best Sound Editing and lost in all other categories to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
The film takes place in May 1805, during the Napoleonic Wars. Captain "Lucky Jack" Aubrey of HMS Surprise is ordered to pursue the French privateer Acheron, and "Sink, Burn, or take her a Prize." As the film opens, a crewmember aboard the British warship hears a bell sound and the ship becomes alert. As captain Aubrey looks through his telescope at the fog, he sees cannon fire, and the ship is ambushed by Acheron, a ship twice as large as the British warship.
Surprise is heavily damaged, while its own cannon fire does not penetrate the enemy ship's hull. Later in the battle, Surprise's rudder is shot off and her helm is blown away, making the ship unsteerable, adding to the fact that the ship is taking water fast. Using smaller boats, the crew of Surprise tow the ship into a fog bank and evade pursuit. Aubrey learns from a crewman who saw Acheron being built that it is heavier and faster than Surprise, and the senior officers consider the ship out of their class. Aubrey notes that such a ship could tip the balance of power in Napoleon's favour if allowed to plunder the British whaling fleet at will. He orders pursuit of Acheron, rather than returning to port for repairs. Acheron again ambushes Surprise, but Aubrey slips away in the night by using a clever decoy buoy and ships lamps.
Following the privateer south, Surprise rounds Cape Horn and heads to the Galapagos Islands, where Aubrey is sure Acheron will prey on Britain's whaling fleet. The ship's doctor, Maturin, is interested in the islands' fauna and flora; Aubrey promises his friend several days' exploration time. When Surprise reaches the Galapagos they recover the survivors of a whaling ship destroyed by Acheron. Realizing the ship is close, Aubrey hastily pursues the privateer. Maturin accuses Aubrey of going back on his word, and of following Acheron more out of pride rather than duty, something which Aubrey flatly denies, although not without acknowledging that he has exceeded his orders in pursuit of the privateer.
Marine officer Captain Howard attempts to shoot an albatross, but accidentally hits Maturin. The surgeon's mate informs Aubrey that the bullet and a piece of cloth it took with it must be removed, but also that the operation should be performed on solid ground. Despite closing in on Acheron, Aubrey turns around and takes the doctor back to the Galapagos. Maturin performs surgery on himself using a mirror. Giving up the pursuit of the privateer, Aubrey grants Maturin the chance to explore the island and gather specimens before they head for home. On crossing the island looking for a species of flightless cormorant, the doctor discovers Acheron on the other side of the island. Abandoning most of his specimens, Maturin hastens back to warn Aubrey, and Surprise prepares for battle. Due to Acheron's sturdy hull, Surprise must get within very close range to deal damage, something which the officers consider almost impossible. However, after observing the camouflage ability of one of Maturin's specimens — a phasmid (stick insect) — Aubrey disguises Surprise as a whaling ship; he hopes the French would move close to capture the valuable ship rather than destroy it. The Acheron falls for the disguise and is disabled. Aubrey leads boarding parties across the wreckage, engaging in fierce hand-to-hand combat before the ship is captured. Looking for the Acheron's captain, Aubrey is directed to the sickbay, where a French doctor tells him the captain is dead and offers Aubrey the commander's sword.
Acheron and Surprise are repaired; while Surprise will remain in the Galapagos, the captured Acheron is to be taken to Valparaíso. As Acheron sails away, Maturin mentions that Acheron's doctor had died months ago. Realizing the French captain is still alive and has deceived him by pretending to be the ship's doctor, Aubrey gives the order to beat to quarters and escort Acheron to Valparaíso. Maturin is again denied the chance to explore the Galapagos. Aubrey notes that since the bird Maturin seeks is flightless, "it's not going anywhere", and the two play a selection of Luigi Boccherini as the crew assumes battle stations and prepare to follow the Acheron once again
- Captain Jack Aubrey – Russell Crowe
- Dr. Stephen Maturin – Paul Bettany
- First Lieutenant / Acting Captain Thomas Pullings – James D'Arcy
- Second Lieutenant William Mowett – Edward Woodall
- Captain Howard, Royal Marines – Chris Larkin
- Midshipman Lord William Blakeney – Max Pirkis
- Midshipman Boyle – Jack Randall
- Midshipman / Acting Third Lieutenant Peter Myles Calamy – Max Benitz
- Midshipman Hollom – Lee Ingleby
- Midshipman Williamson – Richard Pates
- John Allen, Sailing Master – Robert Pugh
- Mr. Higgins, Surgeon's Mate – Richard McCabe
- Mr. Hollar, Boatswain – Ian Mercer
- Mr. Lamb, Carpenter – Tony Dolan
- Preserved Killick, Captain's Steward – David Threlfall
- Barrett Bonden, Captain's Coxswain – Billy Boyd
- Joseph Nagle, Carpenter's Mate – Bryan Dick
- William Warley, Captain of Mizzentop – Joseph Morgan
- Joe Plaice, Able Seaman – George Innes
- Michael Doudle, Able Seaman – William Mannering
- Awkward Davies, Able Seaman – Patrick Gallagher
- Nehemiah Slade, Able Seaman – Alex Palmer
- Mr. Hogg, Whaler – Mark Lewis Jones
- Padeen Colman, Loblolly Boy – John DeSantis
- Black Bill, Steward's Mate – Ousmane Thiam
- Young Sponge – Konstantine Kurelias
- Captain of the Acheron – Thierry Segall
- Private Trollope – Aidan Black
- Jemmy Ducks – Sebastian Grubb
The film combines elements from 13 different novels of Patrick O'Brian, but the basic plot mostly comes from The Far Side of the World. However, in the film version, the action takes place in 1805, during the Napoleonic wars, instead of 1813 during the Anglo-American war, as the producers wished to avoid offending American audiences. In consequence, the fictional opponent was changed from the USS Norfolk to the French privateer frigate Acheron. Acheron in the film was reconstructed by the film's special-effects team who took stem-to-stern digital scans of USS Constitution at her berth in Boston, from which the computer model of Acheron was rendered. The stern chase around Cape Horn is taken from the novel Desolation Island, although the Acheron replaced the Dutch 74-gun warship Waakzaamheid, the Surprise replaced the Leopard, and in the book it is Aubrey who is being pursued around the Cape of Good Hope. The episode in which Aubrey deceives the enemy by means of a raft bearing lanterns is taken from Master and Commander, and the episode in which Maturin directs the surgery on himself, while gritting his teeth in pain, to remove a bullet is taken from HMS Surprise. Other incidents in the film come from other books in O'Brian's series. The film's special edition DVD release contains behind-the-scenes material giving insights into the film-making process. Great efforts were made to reproduce the authentic look and feel of life aboard an early nineteenth-century man-of-war. However, only ten days of the filming actually took place at sea on board Rose (a reproduction of the 18th-century post ship HMS Rose), while other scenes were shot on a full-scale replica mounted on gimbals in a large tank. The Rose is now renamed HMS Surprise in honor of her movie role and moored at the San Diego Maritime Museum as a dockside attraction (and in September 2007 returned to sailing status). There was a third HMS Surprise which was a scale model built by Weta Workshop. A storm sequence was enhanced using digitally-composited footage of waves actually shot on board a modern replica of Cook's Endeavour rounding Cape Horn. All of the actors were given a thorough grounding in the naval life of the period in order to make their performances as authentic as possible. The ship's boats used in the film were Russian Naval six- and four-oared yawls supplied by Central Coast Charters and Boat Base Monterey. Their faithful 18th century appearance complemented the historic accuracy of the rebuilt "Rose", whose own boat, the "Thorn" could be used only in the Brazilian scene. The on-location shots of the Galapagos were unique for a feature film as normally only documentaries are filmed on the islands.
Sound designer Richard King earned Master and Commander an Oscar for its sound effects by going to great lengths to record realistic sounds, particularly for the battle scenes and the storm scenes. King and director Peter Weir began by spending months reading the Patrick O'Brian novels in search of descriptions of the sounds that would have been heard on board the ship—for example, the "screeching bellow" of cannon fire and the "deep howl" of a cannon ball passing overhead.
King located collectors in Michigan who owned a 24-pounder and a 12-pounder cannon. King and two assistants went to Michigan and recorded the sounds of the cannon firing at a nearby National Guard base. They placed microphones near the cannon to get the "crack" of the cannon fire, and also about 300 yards (270 m) downrange to record the "shrieking" of the chain shot as it passed overhead. They also recorded the sounds of bar shot and grape shot passing overhead, and later mixed the sounds of all three types of shot for the battle scenes.
For the sounds of the shot hitting the ships, they set up wooden targets at the artillery range and blasted them with the cannon, but found the sonic results underwhelming. Instead, they returned to Los Angeles and there recorded sounds of wooden barrels being destroyed. King sometimes added the "crack" of a rifle shot to punctuate the sound of a cannon ball hitting a ship's hull.
For the sound of wind in the storm as the ship rounds Cape Horn, King devised a wooden frame rigged with one thousand feet of line and set it in the back of a pickup truck. By driving the truck at 70 miles per hour (110 km/h) into a 30–40-knot (56–74 km/h; 35–46 mph) wind, and modulating the wind with barbecue and refrigerator grills, King was able to create a range of sounds, from "shrieking" to "whistling" to "sighing," simulating the sounds of wind passing through the ship's rigging.
Iva Davies lead singer of the Australian band Icehouse traveled to Los Angeles to record the soundtrack to the film with Christopher Gordon and Richard Tognetti. Together, they won the 2004 APRA/AGSC Screen Music Award in the "Best Soundtrack Album" category. The score includes an assortment of baroque and classical music, notably the first of Bach's Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007, played by Yo-Yo Ma; the Strassburg theme in the third movement of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3; the third (Adagio) movement of Corelli's Christmas Concerto (Concerto grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8); and a recurring rendition of Ralph Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. The music played on cello before the end is Luigi Boccherini's String Quintet (Quintettino) for 2 violins, viola & 2 cellos in C major ("Musica notturna delle strade di Madrid"), G. 324 Op. 30. The two arrangements of this cue contained in the CD differ significantly from the one heard in the movie.
The song sung in the wardroom is "Don't Forget Your Old Shipmates." The tunes sung and played by the crew on deck at night are "Spanish Ladies" and "The British Tars" ("The shipwrecked tar"), which was set to tune of "Bonnie Ship the Diamond" and called "Raging Sea/Bonnie Ship the Diamond" on the soundtrack.
The movie opened #2 in the first weekend of North American release, November 14–16, 2003, grossing $25,105,990. It dropped to the #4 position in the second weekend and #6 in the third, and finished the domestic run with $93,926,386 in gross receipts. Outside of the U.S. and Canada the movie grossed $116,550,000, doing best in Italy (at $15,111,841) with an overall worldwide total of $212,011,111. As of December 2010, this puts the film at #397 on the all-time worldwide gross ranking (unadjusted for inflation).
- Won, Best Cinematography, Russell Boyd
- Won, Best Sound Editing, Richard King
- Nominated, Best Picture
- Nominated, Best Director, Peter Weir
- Nominated, Best Art Direction
- Nominated, Best Sound Mixing (Paul Massey, Doug Hemphill and Art Rochester)
- Nominated, Best Costume Design
- Nominated, Best Film Editing
- Nominated, Best Visual Effects
- Nominated, Best Makeup
Master and Commander was critically well received. 85% of 204 reviews tallied by the aggregate web site Rotten Tomatoes gave the film an overall positive rating, and the film has a "certified fresh" rating. Roger Ebert gave the movie 4 stars out of 4, saying that "it achieves the epic without losing sight of the human".
Director Peter Weir, asked in 2005 if he would do a sequel, stated he thought it "most unlikely", and after disclaiming internet rumors to the contrary, stated "I think that while it did well...ish at the box office, it didn't generate that monstrous, rapid income that provokes a sequel." In 2007 the film was included on a list of "13 Failed Attempts To Start Film Franchises" by The A.V. Club, noting that "...this surely stands as one of the most exciting opening salvos in nonexistent-series history, and the Aubrey-Maturin novels remain untapped cinematic ground." In December 2010 Russell Crowe launched an appeal on Twitter to get the sequel made: "If you want a Master and Commander sequel I suggest you e-mail Tom Rothman at Fox and let him know your thoughts".
- "Box Office History". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 30, 2009.
- Hendrix, Steve (16 November 2003). "Now Playing at a Theater Near You: Old Ironsides". The Washington Post. Retrieved on 25 August 2009.
- HMS Surprise, Patrick O'Brian, 1973, UK, Collins (ISBN 0002213168 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK])
- ""The Sounds of Realism in 'Master and Commander'" - National Public Radio interview with Richard King". Npr.org. 13 November 2003. Retrieved 2012-04-28.
- "All Time Worldwide Box Office Grosses (#301-365)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 30, 2009.
- "The 76th Academy Awards (2004) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-11-20.
- "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2012-04-28.
- "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World". Chicago Sun-Times.
- Seattle Times, August 30, 2005 NWsource.com
- Bowman, Donna; Noel Murray, Sean O'Neal, Keith Phipps, Nathan Rabin, and Tasha Robinson (April 30, 2007). "Inventory: 13 Failed Attempts To Start Film Franchises". The A.V. Club. Retrieved July 13, 2011.
- "Russell Crowe tweets Master and commander sequel movie news". Trailerdownload.net. 2010-12-06. Retrieved 2012-04-28.
- Media related to Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World at Wikimedia Commons
- Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World at the Internet Movie Database
- Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World at Box Office Mojo
- Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World at AllRovi
- Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World at Rotten Tomatoes