Making the Grades
In this heyday of spectacular special effects, there is a drought of complex characters on our theater screens. Thus, when presented with Russell Crowe's amazing abilities to paint a picture of the inner turmoil facing his seafaring character Captain Jack Aubrey; the surrounding epic battle sequences, pounding sound blasts, and choreographed shipboard battles of Master and Commander take their place on the sidelines--just where effects were intended to be in the first place.
While the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800's are happening on the far side of the world, ?Lucky Jack? is helming the British Navy's H.M.S. Surprise off the coast of South America. Suddenly in the midst of fog, a French ship of much greater magnitude and sophistication attacks. Badly damaged, the British vessel's most optimistic fate is to limp home, yet the bold commander announces other plans.
Arguing the Surprise is truly a piece of England, Captain Jack feels a responsibility to seek retribution. With a short stop to patch holes, repair splintered wood, and renew provisions, his crew accepts the formidable challenge of attempting to seize a superior foe. The only dissenting voice resonates from his trusted friend and ship's surgeon, Dr. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany).p> I fully expected the usual outcome after Maturin clearly admits his increasing uneasiness with the captain's tactics. Usually such disagreements serve to feed a growing animosity that drives far too many movies to an inevitable closing battle between protagonist and antagonist. Thankfully this script charts a different course and delves much deeper into the men's motivations.
Dr. Maturin could hardly be called an anti-war crusader. His mere presence on board, along with his handy--albeit primitive--surgical abilities, seem evidence enough to recognize his support for the unavoidable cost of freedom. Yet watching his commanding officer venture beyond designated orders to pursue the French is an activity he can't condone. He would much rather be claiming his fame as the first naturalist to visit the Galapagos Islands which are passing by the duty bound ship, instead of patching fractured skulls with implants he creates from common coinage.
Lucky Jack shows surprising respect for his comrade, whose concerns are tantamount to treason. ?Chasing this larger, faster ship with her long guns is beginning to smack of pride,? says the doctor. Displaying an unusual quality within a cinema hero, the captain finds a way to appease the requests of his pacifistic pal while trying to maintain his aggressive reputation.
This adventure should please audiences who enjoy military strategies. And while the violence is frequent and often bloody, the filmmakers have managed to present battle scenes in a way that fosters respect and admiration for the perilous lifestyle these sailors led. Even so, the vivid recreation of cannonballs blasting through the ship along with various scenes where Dr. Maturin operates on crewmembers using crude tools will likely be best saved for teens and adults.
Void of sexual content, the film includes only a few mild profanities and an unnecessary single use of the sexual expletive. Otherwise, this superb adaptation of Patrick O'Brian's novel is a definite consideration for mature family members looking for some action mixed with high ethics at seas.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
After the attack from the French ship, Captain Jack Aubrey has the difficult job of balancing pride against protecting and defending his countrys freedom. How can you tell the difference between reacting in revenge versus justified self-defense?
Do you think Dr. Maturin is opposed to fighting for his nations sovereignty? Do you think he is simply using his love of nature as an excuse to avoid further conflict?
Click the link for a complete list of Patrick O’Brian novels featuring Captain Aubrey and Dr. Maturin. Ordering any of these books from Amazon.com through this link helps support Grading the Movies!