Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Peter Weir

Cast: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, James D’Arcy, Max Pirkis, Billy Boyd

Synopsis: The year is 1805, as we follow the adventures of Captain “Lucky Jack” Aubrey (Crowe) and his 28 gun vessel, the H.M.S. Surprise.   Over the course of tis particular mission, the Surprise is hunting the French frigate Acheron. Problem is, the Acheron proves a more able predator, with a new stronger hull which also grants it speed, in addition to having more guns.   This mission takes Aubrey and his crew through many of the conditions of see life, from gales to being becalmed, through battles of superstition with authority, and even battles between friends, as sacrifices are made in the name of the service.

A review by Film Nerd.

Having previously covered the entire Hornblower franchise in reviews, when I approached this film I feared covering similar ground in commentary.   Rewatching the film though, I was reminded of the many differences that existed in this film compared to the latter franchise, even where similarities are apparent.

I am personally unfamiliar with the Patrick O’Brien Master and Commander books, of which The Far Side of the World is one of many.   The tone is overall very different to Hornblower.   Where Hornblower is a brilliant tactician who works his way up through the ranks mainly on this attribute, Aubrey is very much your fighting man, just as successful despite his different approach.   Also unlike Hornblower, he grew up in the service from a young age, to the point where “there is enough of his own blood soaked into the hull of the Surprise for him to consider it a relation”.   As such, it leads to a much different, a much more visceral viewing experience.

It is a role that Crowe was meant to play.   He does have a very commanding on-screen presence, and he is at home making hard decisions at the helm as he is cracking low brow jokes with his crew when dining in his quarters.   His motivations are unequivocal, any promise he makes being subject to the requirements of the service.   This fact is further verified by the influences on him from serving with the venerable Lord Nelson on two occasions, including the Battle of the Nile.   Of course, this dog-headed approach to his command does bring him to lock horns with his best friend, the ship’s doctor Stephen Maturin (Bettany).   This is particularly apparent when naturalist Maturin’s desires to catalogue new species in the Galapagos is continually deferred as new information about the position of the Acheron comes to light.   I must note though, it is quite amusing that Bettany should move on from this to the other famous naturalist to visit the Galapagos at a later date (Charles Darwin in Creation).

So dramatically, there is a lot going on, and the lead cast are brilliant, more than able to the task.   The trouble is, however, that for those that are not already fans of the genre, there is very little of a way in , and as such the target audience is immediately limited.   Also, despite the fact I do consider myself part of that target audience, the amount going on at times overwhelmed me as a viewer, and I perhaps would have appreciated events to be stretched over more than a single film.   That said, Weir is a veritable cinema master for drama, and perhaps this boggling effect was his goal, trying to make the audience not only observe, but to feel the hardships of this lifestyle.   The entire lack of a female on-screen in this film however does not exactly make it a date film, so be warned.

3 stars out of 5


Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World on IMDB

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=]

Horatio Hornblower: The Even Chance – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Andrew Grieve

Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, Dorian Healy, Paul Copley, Sean Gilder, Jamie Bamber

Synopsis: This is the first in a series of television movies based around the character Horatio Hornblower, as created in the novels by C.S. Forester.   In this episode we meet Hornblower on his first tour of duty in His Majesty’s navy as midshipman.    After he comes aboard his ship, he learns the reality of service in the fleet prior to the commencement of war with France following the Revolution.

A review by Film Nerd.

For me, this film began an obsession.   I subsequently fell in love with this period of history, watched all the remaining films as they were released, devoured all of Forester’s novels on the character, watched the Gregory Peck movie, and it culminated in me not only visiting Nelson’s ship the H.M.S. Victory, but also to build a model of the same ship (interminably near completion!!)

At these early stages as midshipman, the lowest officer’s rank, we quickly learn the hardships of the service.   Things do not start well for young Hornblower (Gruffudd).   At 17, he is considered by some to be too old to be starting in the service, given many of his companions have been learning since the age of 12.   To compound issues, he distinguishes himself as the midshipman who was sick at Spithead.   In plain English, he was ill before the ship even set sail.   He is also cruelly victimised by the senior midshipman onboard, a Mr. Jack Simpson (Healy).   In short, Hornblower has signed up for a living hell.

He shows he does have some degree of intelligence and creativity, and upon outbreak of war with France, he is transferred to the H.M.S. Indefatigable, under the command of Captain Sir Edward Pellew (Lindsay).   A stern but fair captain, he with time recognises some talent in this fledgling officer and fosters it.   However Hornblower’s hardships continue.   He has a disrespectful unit to run, including characters who are to be series regulars, Matthews and Styles (Copley and Gilder respectively).   And even this victory with the men does not prevent a shadow from Hornblower’s past rising.

This is a taster of what becomes a fascinating series.   Given the nature of the period, it is a predominantly male cast, which may deter some female viewers.   Gruffudd’s portrayal of Hornblower has the potential to draw a female crowd however, in a way that Russel Crowe in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World proved unable too.   Gruffudd receives top billing with Lindsay, who performs an admirable Pellew.   He walks that fine line between gruff disciplinarian yet inspiring leader with great skill and confidence.   The film also features a young Jamie Bamber, as Hornblower’s fellow midshipman Archie Kennedy, another series regular, who went on to bigger things, later appearing as Lee “Apollo” Adama in the reimagined series of Battlestar Galactica.

If you are interested in the series, there is no better place to start then the beginning.   If you do so, yet do not enjoy it, feel free to ignore my reviews of future episodes in the series.   If you are a fan though, I look forward to having my faithful readers accompany me on a fantastic voyage.

4 stars (out of a possible 5)

Horatio Hornblower: The Even Chance on IMDB

Horatio Hornblower: The Even Chance on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=]