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GreenCine Movie Talk
In The Theaters
I just saw it and boy does it...
318

Master and Commander -- The Far Side of the World
Topic by: Cinenaut
Posted: July 31, 2003 - 4:10 PM PDT
Last Reply: December 3, 2003 - 5:05 PM PST

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author topic: Master and Commander -- The Far Side of the World
hamano
post #41  on November 14, 2003 - 7:33 AM PST  
> On November 12, 2003 - 11:20 AM PDT hamano wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> Eating seals is NOT recommended. Although it's very nutritious, I found only one part of the seal to be tasty.
> ---------------------------------

But then again, a chaque a son gout, as they say....
hamano
post #42  on November 14, 2003 - 7:41 AM PST  
Oh, this is terrible! (^_^)
hamano
post #43  on November 14, 2003 - 8:11 AM PST  
Right... gotta get back on topic. Today's the big day...

Expanded NPR coverage of Master and Commander, including a very interesting piece on creating sound effects as authentic as the custom-cast metal buttons on the officers' uniforms.
IronS
post #44  on November 14, 2003 - 3:19 PM PST  
I just got out of the movie. Most of the icky items discussed were in the film (weevils, groan), even the ones that were not in the book the Far Side of the World (thankfully, the warm guano soup was omitted). Preserved Killick was not as crusty as I thought he should be. Pullings' scar was almost cute instead of hideous. Apparently Crowe and Bettany had coaches for their instruments and each of them did a passable job. There was one scene where Maturin was seen plucking the strings of his cello but the soundtrack was of bowing. Oh well, one can't have everything.

The movie did leave room for a sequel, I suppose, although I think O'Brian would not have agreed to have that particular interaction. Anyway, it is a swashbuckling film with the crew not so icky all the time.
Cinenaut
post #45  on November 14, 2003 - 4:02 PM PST  
Congratulations, IronS, you were the first on the virtual block to see it. I'm planning to go tonight.

I was amused today because the S.F Chronicle's review said the story seemed intended for children and Salon.com said Master and Commander was an adventure movie for adults.

The Chronicle had the only bad (or at least lukewarm) review I've seen so far.
IronS
post #46  on November 14, 2003 - 4:32 PM PST  
I'm trying to not have any spoilers. I do feel that my enjoyment of this movie is tempered by my knowledge of the characters through the books. For example, Pullings' reaction towards the end of the movie had more significance for a viewer who had known of Pullings' status at the beginning of the book. A single movie couldn't possibly convey all the nuances of temperament of the characters developed throughout the series. Still, it was fun and not overly icky (crew mostly clean, amputation not graphic, no body parts flying everywhere).
underdog
post #47  on November 14, 2003 - 9:04 PM PST  
> On November 14, 2003 - 4:02 PM PDT Cinenaut wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> Congratulations, IronS, you were the first on the virtual block to see it. I'm planning to go tonight.
>
> I was amused today because the S.F Chronicle's review said the story seemed intended for children and Salon.com said Master and Commander was an adventure movie for adults.
>
> The Chronicle had the only bad (or at least lukewarm) review I've seen so far.
> ---------------------------------

The Chron's reviewers tend to be clueless about the majority of the films they review, so I'd take that with a grain of salt (water).



dwhudson
post #48  on November 15, 2003 - 6:29 AM PST  
Christopher Hitchens, the former leftist turned frothing war-monger, writes in Slate that the movie doesn't even come close to books. Ho-hum...
hamano
post #49  on November 15, 2003 - 8:39 AM PST  
> On November 14, 2003 - 3:19 PM PDT IronS wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> There was one scene where Maturin was seen plucking the strings of his cello but the soundtrack was of bowing.
> ---------------------------------

WARNING! SOME SPOILERS!

Hi just got back from seeing it. Was the above scene you're talking about that one shot up at the windows of the Captain's stateroom from behind the ship, at night? You could see the two playing inside by lamplight. In that shot, the music was indeed being bowed, and it looked like Maturin was plucking, although you couldn't see his hands so he might have been bowing very short strokes. I looked for this because you mentioned it, and the other music scenes were matched well in terms of bowing/plucking (in one scene, Maturin was plucking and the music was plucking, then the bowing resumed but the visuals cut to the deck).

I couldn't really find fault with the continuity.

My first chuckle was the regular 20th Century Fox intro at the beginning, followed by the regular Miramax intro, followed by the full Universal intro. That's a lot of masters and commanders to get this one film made!

I thought the film was a really well crafted and involving swashbuckler. If you read my earlier posts, you'd know I haven't read any of the books yet, so I went as a Peter Weir fan rather than an O'Brian fan.

I think sometime between Year of Living Dangerously and Witness, Weir went to Japan to learn pottery or something, and came to appreciate the importance of craft in one's work. After that, he cut back on his trademark visionary/magic-realist touches somewhat, and tried to consciouly root out those "Peter Weir Moments" or "Peter Weir Shots" from his movies. As a big fan of his pre-Hollywood films, I was always a bit disappointed by his subsequent craftsmanlike approach to film-making. He did a great job, and critics hailed many of his films, but I missed his mysterious visual flair and his use of anachronistic music (Zamfir's panpipes for Picnic at Hanging Rock, Jean Michel Jarre's synth music for Gallipolli). For me even Fearless and especially The Mosquito Coast failed to transcend the script to go into the spiritual plane I used to associate with Weir.

--
2AM to 10:30AM break for sleeping
--

Getting back to this film, I felt he deftly made a film to match his understanding of the literary work of O'Brian. A number of reviewers have been tempted to compare Master and Commander to the Star Trek franchise, and I actually thought of Starship Troopers a little bit, but that's just because of the timelessness of the male bonding in war sort of thing. Das Boot also came to mind, with the crew doing military stuff in confined quarters.

My favorite part of the film was when Maturin was taken ashore to perform surgery on himself. That whole extended sequence of events which led to the final confrontation between the Surprise and the Acheron did a lot to really cement in the viewer's mind the closeness of the relationship between the two men, and how that closeness rewards them by advancing the story in their favor. The kind of humor and irony here is also probably what Paul Betany (Maturin) does best, judging from the one or two roles that I've seen him in before.

SPOILERS

For me the iconic "Peter Weir" sequence of the film was the episode with the cursed young officer who didn't have the "right stuff" for leadership. However, Weir didn't quite pull it off...I wonder if he was trying not to repeat himself, or just remain faithful to what's written in the books. First of all, I thought the scene where the old man is telling the other sailors about the "curse" was a bit overdone. Weir used too much strong lighting from below the frame for that "scary story told around a camp fire" look. The creepy effect of the brain injured old man's theory of the timing of the Acheron attacks and their current state of becalmed stasis was lost because the lighting effect may have been too exaggerated. I would have preferred flickering lamplight making shadows on the old guy's face, maybe.

Anyway, the Peter Weir of old would not have shown the young officer's suicide. He would have played it like this. The scene would have been the same at the beginning, with the young officer surprising his one-armed friend on nightwatch. The same up to when he says "Goodbye". Then the blond kid would have turned around and the young officer would have disappeared. The kid would have thought this was strange, but he would have gone back to watch, thinking his friend had turned in for the night. When the crew finds the officer is missing in the morning, the viewer is left with this thought. Did the young officer come to say goodbye to his friend before he jumped overboard, or was that his ghost after he already killed himself?

So overall, I enjoyed this film for what it was, but I still missed the way Peter Weir used to play with so called "reality". Peter Weir once had an exquisite ability to send a chill up your spine. Now he's making very excellent movies, but he's lost that touch he had in his youth.
IronS
post #50  on November 15, 2003 - 1:43 PM PST  
> On November 15, 2003 - 8:39 AM PDT hamano wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> that one shot up at the windows of the Captain's stateroom from behind the ship, at night?

Yes, that's the one.

> it looked like Maturin was plucking, although you couldn't see his hands so he might have been bowing very short strokes.

But the music wasn't in such short staccato strokes.

> the other music scenes were matched well in terms of bowing/plucking (in one scene, Maturin was plucking and the music was plucking, then the bowing resumed but the visuals cut to the deck).
>

I quite agree. Having suffered through years of playing the violin (however badly) in my youth, I do pay attention to whether the bowing and fingering sync with the music. Just another anal quality of mine.
hamano
post #51  on November 15, 2003 - 2:57 PM PST  
> On November 15, 2003 - 1:43 PM PDT IronS wrote:
> ---------------------------------
>Having suffered through years of playing the violin (however badly) in my youth, I do pay attention to whether the bowing and fingering sync with the music. Just another anal quality of mine.
> ---------------------------------
Guano is an anal quality of seabirds.

I tried violin but I never got past "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". I like Heifetz for his sloppily self-assured virtuosity.

There was another odd little "Peter Weir" moment, when Aubrey made eye-contact with the South American Indio lady. Weir was very interested early in his pre-Hollywood days in examining societies where two alien cultures bumped and rubbed against each other (Last Wave, Year of Living Dangerously). You can see some of that even in Witness (the Amish) and Mosquito Coast (Amazonian natives) but he turned it into a joke in Green Card.

In the olden days that look exchanged between Aubrey and the Indio woman would have reverberated somehow later in the story, but in Master and Commander it didn't really lead anywhere. Did I miss something?

Also, it bothered me that the stick-insect was shown twice, once as an illustration in a book Maturin was showing the blond one-armed boy, and later as an actual specimen that Maturin brought back from the island. It was a bit clunky to hit the viewer over the head with the "stick" twice... I knew some kind of deception or disguise was going to pop up the first time the stick and thorn bug illustrations were shown.

Cinenaut, what in the world was that grey, chunky thing that looked like dumplings in thick gravy they were serving the crew while the Surprise was becalmed? And what was that dessert that was made in the shape of the Galapagos? I'm guessing that the square things in the rectangular silver steamers was the Spotted Dog... shown twice for good measure...
skybrian
post #52  on November 16, 2003 - 10:45 PM PST  
I don't know from violins but I thought they sounded a bit too good. Aubrey and Matarin aren't so foolish as to bring their best instruments to sea.
dpowers
post #53  on November 17, 2003 - 11:06 AM PST  
i saw master and commander this weekend. would recommend that o'brian fans rent reef hunters for storytelling comparison.

i think, in the theater i saw it, it was 35mm. too bad with those shots of the galapagos islands and the ships, i wish they'd sprung for 70mm, and if they did, what the hell happened? anyway a little more grain of the wood, crags in the roc, that'd have been fab.

of all the scenes i wanted i would have loved just the scene where maturin is up in the rigging getting a lesson in masts and sails and ropes. something to break the ship into components the way the crew deals with it. that line about crawling through the brazilian forest for a new mast was a good step. in the opposite direction we had 95% superstitious subjects of conversation, combined with some headbound talks about how the crew needs to be treated, obscuring the people and their work.

i had flashes of the crew climbing the rigging in this and breaking into song about their captain, i needed them to be really doing something, having somewhere really to go, personally, to dispel fifty years of technicolor pirates.

iguanas did not save the day. they will yet.
IronS
post #54  on November 17, 2003 - 12:16 PM PST  
> On November 16, 2003 - 10:45 PM PDT skybrian wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> I don't know from violins but I thought they sounded a bit too good. Aubrey and Matarin aren't so foolish as to bring their best instruments to sea.
>
> ---------------------------------

In the books, they didn't. One of them had an Amati that he left at home. Yeah, I kinda had an issue with that myself. Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin were supposed to be good but not great and one of the cello pieces in the film was performed by Yo Yo Ma.
IronS
post #55  on November 17, 2003 - 12:18 PM PST  
I'm waiting for Cinenaut's thoughts on this film before I start flinging spoilers everywhere (and I have quite a few gripes about it, too!).
Cinenaut
post #56  on November 17, 2003 - 5:19 PM PST  
I enjoyed the movie. As the Salon.com reviewer mentioned, some of the sea battle scenes were like Turner paintings. The cinematography in general had the feel of a 19th century painting. The dark, candlelit interiors gave a feeling of the claustrophobic quarters the men lived and worked in.

As a fan of the books, I had the feeling that Maturin was given short shrift. The books are good at showing things first from Jack's point of view, then Stephen's and it seemed a lot of the movie was from Jack's point of view. The books also alternate between making Jack look like an idiot (mostly on the land) and Stephen look like an idiot (mostly at sea). The flaws and vulnerabilities of both men were not very evident, but I suppose that's all part of the Hollywood hero machinery.

Hamano, I'm not sure what those various dishes were, I was hoping I'd catch a name or two, but I didn't. Hopefully the men below had adequate provisions and weren't down to millers yet.

"What are millers?" asked Stephen.
"Rats, saving your presence," said Jack. "Only we call 'em millers to make 'em eat better; and perhaps because they are dusty, too, from getting into the flour and peas."
--H.M.S. Surprise, 105-6

*** SPOILERS BELOW -- TWO FATHOMS, SAND AND SHELLS ***
I thought the scene where the "Jonah" drowned himself was good, because I found the image of poor Hollum disappearing into the depths to be quite haunting.

In regard to Jack's eye contact with the woman, in the books he's got a bit of a problem staying faithful to Sophie (his wife). Maybe there will be some deleted scenes on the DVD?
IronS
post #57  on November 18, 2003 - 12:42 AM PST  
******** SPOILERS GALORE **********

It was fun to see the crew putting the captain's rooms back together after practice. It was cool to see HMS Rose, a similar ship to the Surprise from that time period.

The gripes I have are pretty much all about the comparison of the film to the book. For example, what was the point of having Hollum sing in the movie at all? In the book, his singing was his way of wooing Mr. Horner's wife. Their affair was a major subplot of the book. In the film, the singing was perhaps to solidify Hollum's "Jonah" status in that when he was trying to fit in with the crew, he did something to annoy the captain. On the other hand, having Hollum commit suicide was better than having Horner kill his own wife, Hollum, Higgins and himself, I suppose.

The whipping of the member of the crew was used in the film to set up strong anti-Hollum sentiment on board as well as to add to the Aubrey/Maturin friction. Of course, it was not viewed that way in the book at all. Whereas Maturin did not like whipping, the crew thought it was a fair to light sentence (Aubrey was considered a very easy-going captain). Even the guy receiving the blows thought it was justified punishment.

My main complaint: the shouting match between Aubrey and Maturin. That is so unlike their characters in the book that it bothered me. In the series, Aubrey was depicted as kind of a puppy dog with a very sharp tactical mind. He really liked Maturin and would bend over backwards to accomodate him. Both Aubrey and Maturin understood the etiquette of being gentlemen. All that made me believe that the argument in the film would not happen in that way. I feel that the film potrayed Aubrey as a stubborn idiot and Maturin, a whining child.

The ending, which I alluded to in an earlier post, was odd to me. Why would the French captain lie about his identity when he had already given his sword to Jack? In the books, a captain who had been taken prisoner was treated very well. Jack himself was the prisoner of a French vessel and looked upon the captain of that vessel with respect and some fondness. I don't get it; it's historically inconsistent.

Those are the major points.

A few minor details: as much as I love Billy Boyd, his Bonden didn't look like he was a boxing champion. However, for this film, it didn't matter since Bonden didn't do much.

The glance between Aubrey and the South American woman - could this be a reference to the look passed between Aubrey and Mrs. Horner in the book? Or is this the setup for a future sequel (in the series Jack had an illegitimate son by a native woman)?

I really enjoyed the Macbeth/Mcduff passage in the book and was bummed that it was omitted from the movie. However, the movie did retain some of the amusement that was present in the series. I know this isn't Wodehouse, but as the book wasn't serious all the time, I didn't expect the movie to be so either and I was glad to see that it was the case.
hamano
post #58  on November 18, 2003 - 2:55 AM PST  
******** SPOILERS GALORE **********

Which guy was Horner?

>I thought the scene where the "Jonah" drowned himself was good, because I found the image of poor Hollum disappearing into the depths to be quite haunting.

It WAS haunting, but I didn't like it because it was more of a Jane Campion shot (do you remember that scene from The Piano?) than a Peter Weir shot... Weir used to get a lot of mileage out of NOT showing things.

>In regard to Jack's eye contact with the woman, in the books he's got a bit of a problem staying faithful to Sophie (his wife). Maybe there will be some deleted scenes on the DVD?
> The glance between Aubrey and the South American woman - could this be a reference to the look passed between Aubrey and Mrs. Horner in the book? Or is this the setup for a future sequel (in the series Jack had an illegitimate son by a native woman)?

So, as I suspected, that glance was meaningful (maybe) to book fans, while in the film it really didn't do anything except maybe hint at Aubrey's roving eye. I guess Weir could have added a shot of Maturin noticing the woman leaving the ship next morning, but I think what he was trying to do was establish that Aubrey wouldn't let ANYTHING delay his pursuit of the Acheron, not even a winsome lass. But since the script hadn't really established Aubrey's randiness before that, the shot didn't work as intended...

> The gripes I have are pretty much all about the comparison of the film to the book. For example, what was the point of having Hollum sing in the movie at all? In the book, his singing was his way of wooing Mr. Horner's wife.

Hollum was wooing someone else's wife? In the film he was used as the pimply faced nerd who couldn't hang out with the popular boys and wouldn't have a chance in hell with the cheerleaders...

I think the whole purpose of Hollum in the film (besides providing a haunting shot) was to further establish Aubrey's character, as a leader to the young officers and to the sailors. Weir wanted to show that DESPITE knowing that he had to be a good teacher to the middies (Aubrey was a natural in that respect with the blond kid who lost his arm) and DESPITE knowing that his rational friend Maturin would disapprove, Aubrey's sentiments about the "Jonah" was really with the sailors (and maybe that's what made the men so loyal to him).

And then the wind mysteriously DID pick up after Hollum died... But that bit of supernatural-at-work-in-the-sea felt out of place in an otherwise realistic drama. Weir used to be better at juggling the real and supernatural and keeping all the balls in the air.

> The whipping of the member of the crew was used in the film to set up strong anti-Hollum sentiment on board as well as to add to the Aubrey/Maturin friction. Of course, it was not viewed that way in the book at all.

This is a cultural artifact, maybe. The whipping is no problem with O'Brian readers and people with a knowledge of the history of the times, and it's no problem to Asians, who have seen coporal punishment at school even fairly recently. I remember a Japanese TV show was broadcast in New York with a strong disclaimer at the beginning about the depiction of violence. The samurai sword fights in the show was extremely stylized and no blood was shown, much less violence compared to a prime time American cop show with all the gunplay and bloody fist fights. However, a woman was shown tied up in a kneeling position and she was whipped about the neck and shoulders with a thin bamboo rod by the villain. This was the "violence" that the station thought American viewers would object to.

> My main complaint: the shouting match between Aubrey and Maturin. That is so unlike their characters in the book that it bothered me. In the series, Aubrey was depicted as kind of a puppy dog with a very sharp tactical mind. He really liked Maturin and would bend over backwards to accomodate him.

Well, as long as he didn't bend over forwards to please Maturin!

They seemed to emphasize Aubrey's "luck" over his "sharp tactical mind" in the movie. I really didn't get a sense of why Aubrey and Maturin loved each other, despite Weir showing that they made beautiful music together... Is their relationship better explained in the books? It seemed Aubrey had some duality to his personality, like a football quarterback who also wrote poetry and liked to read James Joyce. But I kept wishing that Weir would show why Aubrey and Maturin were friends rather than just presenting it as fact and relying on the chemistry between Crowe and Bettany.

I guess the studio wanted the film to be a Russell Crowe vehicle with Aubrey as the single strong protagonist. Are the books more of an ensemble cast, like Star Trek?

> The ending, which I alluded to in an earlier post, was odd to me. Why would the French captain lie about his identity when he had already given his sword to Jack?

The sole purpose of having the French captain trick Aubrey at the end was to DEPRIVE Maturin of his last chance to collect live specimens on Galapagos! Ha ha! The chase is on again and the swashbuckling adventures continue....

Next topic: Who's a better captain, Jack Aubrey or Yurika Misumaru?
hamano
post #59  on November 18, 2003 - 3:44 AM PST  
> On November 17, 2003 - 11:06 AM PST dpowers wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> i had flashes of the crew climbing the rigging in this and breaking into song about their captain, i needed them to be really doing something, having somewhere really to go, personally, to dispel fifty years of technicolor pirates.
> ---------------------------------

Here's what I really thought (and some critics, too, I believe). Maybe it's more than 30 years of Star Trek that's impossible to dispel! I don't know if O'Brian ever saw an episode of Star Trek but the SF franchise certainly colors MY preconceptions of crew behavior on big war ships. Crowe's Aubrey was arguably a cross of Kirk and Picard, just as surely as Captain Harlock is the heir to Captain Nemo...
dpowers
post #60  on November 18, 2003 - 10:22 AM PST  
of course i thought about star trek, it's hard not to when billy boyd so resembles colm meany and gets so many reaction shots. particulary movie #6, which tried the hardest to be in space (detective stories require location detail). i thought about titanic too, which might have been the similarly careful shooting in that big pool ("watch that horizon line, boy-o!").

o'brian's aubrey is more self-possessed than any of the star trek captains and the thought process is more private. almost totally private but for the time with maturin. not surprisingly aubrey has a lot more in common with ahab than with star fleet people whose lives are fairly secure in their contraptions. none of the famous star trek captains, including the new one, would be dead without their crew's hard work and good faith. i think even crowe's interpretation of aubrey acknowledges the dependence on the crew's ability. this is without saying a word, i'm talking about body language, manners, etc.

the meetings and meals were a danger, of course. that's a hallmark of the euro-captain star trek (the place of greatest intersection): sitting around, getting input, processing. that the people at the table, speaking, were slightly different than the people who were doing things on deck, put that aside for me. also the dirty jokes and public nature. aubrey at table was not the same as aubrey in cabin or aubrey on deck.

anyhow i could have done with a few more composited shots of the ship and the people on it and the horizon. my sense of those times, on those waters, was that the people on board were intimately aware of the depths and distances of water surrounding them, and acted accordingly. when they cut loose the rigging, releasing the one crewmember into the ocean, it felt, not quite frightening enough. he hadn't really disappeared into the mouth of the beast.
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