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.