Unfortunately, some of the more promising films for this year are yet to be available to us, so, in order to celebrate true quality, I'd like to review a relatively old favourite from 2003.Peter Weir's Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a masterpiece, even with its unwieldy and awkward title. Based on Patrick O'Brian's beloved 20-volume series on the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend, Stephen Maturin (the ship's erudite, cello playing doctor), the film chronicles the adventures of 'Lucky Jack' and his much cherished ship the 'Surprise' as they chase a French warship, the 'Acheron', up, down, and around Cape Horn during the Napoleonic Wars.
The story is almost episodic with its little vignettes, its biggest charm laying in the way Peter Weir depicts the bonds of friendship. Aubrey, played by the charming roguish Russell Crowe is hell-bent on catching the Acheron to the point of losing all perspective, and it is Paul Bettany's character Dr Maturin that gently balances the headstrong captain's willfulness. Over the course of the film, the friendship between these two is sorely tested, and not found wanting.
Equally charming are the large supporting cast of midshipman, officers, and crew, who are too many to mention here individually, yet it would be a crime to leave out the brave and very endearing performance by Max Pirkis as the barely teenage midshipman who also carries the title of Lord William Blakeney. Suffice to say that this little boy's courage is one of the main anchors of this layered and surprising film.
I say surprising because while this is indeed a film about war, the sea, cannons, and 'men' (there is not a single female character, by the way), it also has unexpected warmth, tenderness, and humour.
Working with an amazing script where each character always says just the right thing, with just the right words, there are, in addition to the main element of adventure, also elements of the natural world (Dr Maturin is an avid naturalist), medical science (of the time), and music, as Jack and Stephen end many of their evenings together in the captain's cabin playing together (Jack also plays the violin) to suit their moods. Most of the vignettes are punctuated by the unforgettable music played by these two characters as the Surprise lurches across the unfathomable waters.
As a viewer who has seen this film a number of times, I am always left yearning for more stories with these same, dear characters. Luckily, lately in Hollywood there have been rumours that some studios have expressed interest in a sequel. Meanwhile, in the words of one of the catchy little songs in the film, "Don't forget your old shipmates, Lucky Jack."