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Russell Crowe Brings Maritime Novel to Life in New Film, <i>Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World</i> - 2003-11-29


Oscar winner Russell Crowe stars in a thrilling seagoing epic based on the naval history novels of Patrick O'Brian. Alan Silverman has a look at Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

It is 200 years ago and England is at war with Napoleon's France. "Lucky Jack" Aubrey, 'Master and Commander' of the British Navy frigate H.M.S. Surprise has orders to pursue and stop the 'Acheron,' a more powerful French vessel.

The film is based on the maritime adventure novels by the late Patrick O'Brian. Russell Crowe says the books some 20 volumes chronicling the career at sea of "Lucky Jack" Aubrey were a valuable guide to the character:

"It's a combination of things in terms of research," explains Crowe. "Obviously the character is very well drawn in the books, so you look to the books for who the character is in terms of how he talks and things like that; but when you have 20 books to draw on you find the Jack that exists in the world that O'Brian created."

Like the original novels, Master And Commander is peppered with the jargon of sailing ships that would have been second nature to "Lucky Jack," but, as Crowe acknowledges, may be like a foreign language to modern audiences.

"You can't have all the conversations completely riddled with the jargon. However, to replace the jargon with a more easily understood sentence is to then desecrate the period, the books of O'Brian and the whole reasons for doing it in the first place," he says. "So I just think there's a balance that has to be struck; if there is a particularly unusual order given then you show the visual aspect of that and it will be a lot less confusing."

Paul Bettany, who co-starred with Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, plays Stephen Maturin, the ship's doctor and the captain's close friend and confidante.

"We tried our best to recreate what life on one of those warships would be like and there is also a beautiful emotional relationship at the heart of it between two people who sort of complete each other: two men that play the violin and the cello. It has an enormous emotional heart, I think," says Bettany.

The screenplay for Master And Commander: Far Side Of The World is by the film's director, Peter Weir, who used an actual sailing ship and full-scale mockups to recreate the era with meticulous detail; and the Australian filmmaker believes his approach to the once-popular "men at sea" genre connects with modern audiences.

"Since this genre was being reawakened and therefore you couldn't be first to do it, you had to come up with something fresh," explains Weir. "So I thought a very limited palette was the solution: a group of people onboard a ship, one landfall. At the same time I thought that would remind the audience in some way of how space movies have appropriated the experience of these people who opened up exploration from the 15th century right through to the tail end of exploration in this period and that you would realize they set out into the unknown. The sea would become space; the vessel would be like a spacecraft. The chances of getting back: maybe 50-50. It was a dangerous thing to do and an adventure. "

Master And Commander: Far Side Of The World features stunning scenes of the men and their vessel at sea. The passage around Cape Horn may be the most realistic and remarkable storm ever put on film; and the sea battles between the Surprise and her French enemy are as dramatic as they are authentic. A brief landfall in the Galapagos marks the first time a feature film (n-o-t a documentary) has been allowed to film on those historic islands.

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