January 12, 2023


Holy Hell! Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World Turns 20 (Derek Smith, 1/12/23, Spectrum Culture)

For all its heightened specificity in presenting the minutiae of the tasks and knowledge needed to properly run a military ship at this time, Master and Commander never gets bogged down by the details. Thanks in large part to Russell Boyd's nimble cinematography and Lee Smith's taut editing, the film moves along briskly while Crowe's masterful blend of arrogant professionalism, brash humor and a persistent sense of fun and adventure keeps the film fleet of foot even in the most dire of circumstances. Meanwhile, Paul Bettany's Dr. Stephen Maturin, a scientist and Jack's longtime friend, highlights the film's themes of male camaraderie (the two jam sessions he and Jack have in the Captain's quarters are quite moving in their sheer simplicity and emotional directness) and serves as a lone voice of reason when it appears Jack's pride may be extending further than his national duty.

The film's harmonizing of the epic and the intimate reaches its peak in the third act during a stopover in the Galapagos Islands, during which Maturin is finally allowed to indulge his fascination with entomology and zoology and studies the extremely unique forms of life that inhabit the remote area. It's a compelling detour primarily because it captures the rapturous experience of making massive discoveries (in a way that feels both historically accurate and otherworldly) better than any film since aside from Terrence Malick's The New World. But the filmmakers also beautifully dovetail this sequence into the final battle as Maturin's discussion of a bug he discovered that can naturally camouflage itself (it appears to be something akin to a Walking Stick) sparks a new tactic that Jack uses in the impending battle with the Acheron.

It's this type of intensely careful attention to detail and the ability to meld such small moments into a cohesive and quietly thrilling whole that makes Master and Commander such a singular film.

Posted by at January 12, 2023 12:00 AM


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