Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (5/10)
2003 by Tony Medley
just as easily been entitled Moby Ship. It’s about the same
story as Melville’s ponderous work, except the obsessed Captain,
“Lucky” Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe), in Master and Commander
is chasing a bigger and more powerful ship that attacked his ship (HMS
Sunrise) instead of the whale that attacked Captain Ahab.
The good parts
of this film are the realistic ambience and special effects, which are
spectacular. The ship and the storms and the action sequences are
compelling and seem true to life.
But there are
a lot of things in this film that could happen Only In Hollywood. It
opens with HMS Sunrise navigating through a fog bank. From out of
nowhere it’s attacked by a ship it can’t see. Making it ludicrous
beyond belief is that the ship fires and scores direct hit after direct
hit on HMS Sunrise. As late as World War II, one of the ways artillery
zeroed in on a target was to “bracket”
it. That is, if their first shots fell short, they’d then recalibrate
their guns and shoot long. Then with those coordinates they’d get
their target bracketed and would try to hit it.
In Master and Commander, which takes place more than 125
years before WWII, HMS Sunrise is instantly zeroed by its opponent, even
though it’s virtually unseen! I’m assuming here that if HMS Sunrise
can’t see its opponent through the fog, its opponent is equally unable
to see HMS Sunrise. Regardless, the first shot strikes home, as do all
subsequent shots. Lucky Jack makes a comment about “remarkable
marksmanship.” He’s not kidding about that. In fact, it’s
marksmanship that could only occur in a Hollywood backlot, not in the
Atlantic Ocean, which is where HMS Sunrise was when it found itself
out of nowhere irritates Lucky Jack, so he vows to go after the attacker
(the French ship Acheron), even though The Acheron is bigger, faster,
and more powerful. The result is that the mouse is chasing the elephant.
The film shows
how wonderful it is to be a Hollywood Captain instead of a real captain.
Poor Captain Bligh was born too soon and in the wrong place. Bligh, as I’m sure you recall, was the captain of the
ill-fated HMS Bounty. When
he set sail for Tahiti, circa 1787 (18 years before the events in Master
and Commander, which take place in 1805 in the middle of the
Napoleonic Wars between England and France), his course took him around
Cape Horn on the southern tip of South America, the shortest route to
Tahiti from England. Alas, The Bounty couldn’t get through the prevailing winds.
After fighting them unsuccessfully for a month, Bligh turned
around and sailed east to Tahiti, or all the way around the world.
If only Bligh
had been a Hollywood Captain he could have saved himself all that
trouble! Captain Jack is
chasing the Acheron. Somehow, undoubtedly through his Hollywood
Knowledge, he knows that it’s going to the Pacific Ocean, so he finds
himself fighting the winds Rounding the Horn.
After battling them unsuccessfully, he gives up and says, “Go
south!” implying that all they had to do was sail a few miles south to
avoid the winds. If only
Bligh had this wisdom! But,
then, Bligh was just a guy who could be set adrift in the middle of a
desolate ocean in an overcrowded life raft with a few days’ food and
water and navigate 3,600 miles to safety without losing one life.
What would a bloke like that know about “going south” to
avoid the winds Rounding the Horn?
south” is the silliest line in the movie, there is more silliness
elsewhere. Lucky Jack is a captain “popular” with the crew. I submit
there was never a captain in the British Fleet at the time who was
“popular” with the crew. Why? In those times crews were
“recruited” by press gangs, which is a congenial way of saying they
were kidnapped (with the exception of the crew of HMS Bounty, all of
whom were volunteers). This is why harsh discipline, like whipping, was
a way of life in the British fleet. You think a man who was forcibly
kidnapped from a pub and put on a ship in enforced servitude for several
years would like anybody connected with his kidnapping? I don’t.
there’s more. A guy gets shot in the gut. Surgery is necessary and
it’s grisly. But with
little more than a couple of days’ recuperation he’s gallivanting
all over the Galapagos Islands (30 years before Charles Darwin visited
them on The Beagle), hiking more than 20 miles in one day. Either men
were really men in those days, or this is as absurd as it can get.
Lucky Jack is
shown as kind and caring about his crew. But when one of his officers is
bumped by a crewman and doesn’t do anything about it, Lucky Jack
orders 12 lashes for the offender and severely criticizes the officer
for not demanding respect. Throughout the movie Lucky Jack doesn’t do
anything else to display that he imposes even a modicum of discipline on
the crew or his officers except for this incident.
effects are very well done. The
storms and the battles are graphic and realistic, although it’s
difficult to understand how anyone could come out of the hand-to-hand
combat we see unscathed. In fact Lucky Jack gets wounded twice in the
movie with absolutely no ill effects. Superman has nothing on Lucky
awful lot of talk. Like Moby Dick (1956), this movie is far too long, at
approximately 2-1/2 hours. The film is probably worth seeing because of
the special effects, but certainly not for the story. It’s hard to
imagine why Russell Crowe, one of the truly great actors of his
generation, would waste his time on a script like this unless the money
was just too much to turn down.