Aside from some gripping battles and a storm sequence to rival anything seen on screen, Peter Weir's Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
is as much about daily shipboard life during the Napoleonic era--especially the relationship between Captain Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and Doctor Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany)--as it is about spectacle. Aubrey is a powerful figure whose experience and strength of character commands unwavering trust and respect from his crew; Crowe seems in his element naturally enough. Bettany, though, is his match on screen as Aubrey's intellectual foil. Director Weir successfully translates their relationship from novel to screen by subtly weaving in their past history and leaving viewers--whether they've read Patrick O'Brian
's books or not--to do the thinking.
Although the film's special effects ate up a huge budget they never overtake the drama, with careful characterisation and painstaking attention to historical accuracy taking centre stage. Matching action to detail, drama to humour and special effects to well-sketched characters, Master and Commander is a deeply satisfying big-screen experience, breathing a bracing gust of sea air into Hollywood megabuck filmmaking.--Laura Bushell
On the DVD: Master & Commander's single-disc edition displays the full glories of the big screen experience, with Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS sound options that make the most of the resounding battle scenes as well as the small but vital details of creaking planks and lapping waves, while the sweeping CinemaScope (2.35:1) photography anamorphically formatted for 16:9 widescreen splendidly reproduces Peter Weir's painterly compositions. It's a tad disappointing, then, to note the lack of a director's commentary (surely such an insightful director as Weir would have plenty to say) and the excessive promotional material--cinema trailers and plugs for Fox DVDs-- that plays even before the main menu screen appears: anyone who has bought this title for repeat viewing deserves not to be subjected to such a broadside of soon-to-be-out-of-date advertising. --Mark Walker