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Posted on Nov 11, 2003 in Books and Movies

Master & Commander (The Far Side of the World) – Movie Review

By Jeffrey Bellows

If you’re in search of a movie with action filled special effects from start to finish, Master & Commander is not what you’re looking for. The action is first rate, but the power of the movie is the characters of the Captain and the Doctor. If Rambo is your ultimate, I suggest you pass on Master and Commander.

However, if you’re looking for an accurate portrayal of life in the age of wooden ships and iron men, circa late 18th – early 19th century, then this is for you. It is set in the year 1805, and picks up along the north coast of Brazil with a small 28 gun British vessel captained by our hero the Australian gladiator, insane genius mathematician, Alaskan town sheriff / hockey player chasing a larger French frigate intent on wreaking havoc in the Pacific.


For me, character development is what makes and breaks a story, and the makers of this film do a splendid job of it. Of course, I loved the battle sequences with the cannons booming, the smoke billowing, splinters flying. Human nature demands we enjoy a good fight, and this movie depicts more than a battle of cannons and swords, but of wits as well. It does an excellent job of showing the viewer the burdens and blessings of command as well as what life was like for the officers and crew in the British Navy of the period.

For myself, the special effects are outstanding, the battle sequences were riveting with the exception of one where they attempt to give you a first person view of the action, and with the smoke and virtually no lighting, I felt it didn’t work very well as a cameraman with a hand held made his way about the decks. The depiction of daily life at sea, for me, an old salt of several deployments, was a treat to watch, and for those of you (us) who pay attention to detail, and are familiar with such nautical terminology as "port" and "starboard," probably already know that the term "port," meaning left, was not adopted until the mid 19th century. Prior to that, it was larboard, and I was quite pleased to note the use of the correct term in the film. There are several others as well, but I’ll leave those to surprise and delight you as they did me.

I would rate this a Must See movie, but a word of warning must be given as this is not a "chic flick" by any stretch of the imagination. The closest it comes to romance is a smile at a native girl when they stop for provisions, but of course, sailors are a very superstitious lot, and women aboard ships of those days were considered bad luck. So send the wife off shopping while you go enjoy this movie, and as for the children…the PG-13 rating is well deserved, but if it’s sex and debauchery you’re mindful of rather than blood and carnage, well…you’re the parent.

I enjoyed it a great deal, and when the time comes, this will definitely be joining the ranks among my DVD collection.