Capsule movie review: Master and Commander

I saw Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World over the holiday weekend. I liked it better than I thought I would. I hasten to add that I’m not the kind of person who always insists that the book was better than the movie; such people are, on the whole, irritating. But I’m a fan of O’Brian’s novels, and I wasn’t sure how I’d react to seeing the books filtered through someone else’s imagination. Plus I’m not that fond of Russell Crowe (L.A. Confidential, yes; Gladiator, not so much). Master and Commander worked as an action movie and as a period piece; one got a vivid sense of the constant activity on board ship, and of just how terrifying it must have been to be in a naval battle with cannonballs smashing holes in the sides of the ship. Also of the horrors of weevils in the hardtack, emergency surgery belowdecks, and the threat of imminent drowning. And there was a nice use of late-18th-century music for the scenes in which Aubrey and Maturin play their duets for violin and cello. Joseph Duemer liked it for a lot of the same reasons that I did. It was a bit jarring to see Jack Aubrey talking to his crew about "leadership," but for the most part, I thought it worked.

But where was Stephen Maturin? The film’s Dr. Maturin is a brilliant surgeon, a scientist, and Jack’s best friend, all of which is there in the novels. But — and here I differ with Dale — I missed the Dr. Maturin who spies for the British (despite his conflicting loyalties), falls desperately in love with a woman who keeps rejecting him, gets hooked on laudanum and cocaine, and turns out to be a a deadly opponent in a duel as well as learned enough to recite the Aeneid in Latin while delirious with fever in book 3 of the series. Oh, just go read Terry Teachout’s take on Christopher Hitchens’ take on the question. Me, I’m going to go reread The Mauritius Command and Desolation Island.

4 Responses to “Capsule movie review: Master and Commander”

  1. cindy says:

    I saw it over the weekend, too. S. dragged me, kicking and screaming. I was turned off by the endless trailers I’d been seeing, but he wanted to go. It turns out I liked it much more than he did. This is going to sound really hokey, but I found myself getting very caught up in the whole honor/courage/friendship theme. Stirring stuff!
    Now, I’ve never read O’Brian, so I didn’t know any of those juicy details about Maturin. Maybe I’ll have to read them.

  2. Julie says:

    This is my reaction from what you have both written. I want to have a read of a couple of the books before I go see the movie.
    Being an Australian I have had a gutful of Mr Crowe (offscreen) and only enjoyed “The Sum of Us” and “A Beautiful Mind” (onscreen).

  3. Dale says:

    O yes, the books are wonderful. I’m probably on my fourth reading of the whole series, which works out to — my God — I don’t think I want to do the math. Upwards of 20,000 pages of O’Brian.

  4. language hat says:

    I love the books too, and was very impressed by the movie. I agree that there’s a lot more to Maturin, but you can only cram so much into a screenplay — let’s hope for a sequel!