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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

Captain Jack Aubrey: This is a ship of war, and I will grind whatever grist the mill requires in order to fulfill my duty.
Dr. Stephen Maturin: Whatever the cost?
Captain Jack Aubrey: Whatever the cost.

- Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany

Review By: Brian Calhoun  
Published: April 18, 2004

Stars: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany
Other Stars: Billy Boyd, James D'Arcy, Edward Woodall, Chris Larkin, Max Perkis
Director: Peter Weir

Manufacturer: Digital Video Compression Center
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense battle sequences, related images, and brief language
Run Time: 02h:18m:13s
Release Date: April 20, 2004
UPC: 024543117575
Genre: adventure

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

With the recent swell of novel to film adaptations in Hollywood, it seemed only logical that one of author Patrick O'Brian's twenty Jack Aubrey novels would eventually grace the silver screen. However, while director Peter Weir felt that O'Brian's first Aubrey tale, Master and Commander, may have been a logical place to start, he also believed it would not make a terribly exciting motion picture. Hence, the decision was made to adapt O'Brian's tenth novel, The Far Side of the World, into the thrilling Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World .

Set during the Napoleonic wars, the story focuses on "Lucky" Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe), British Naval Officer and Captain of the H.M.S. Surprise. Aubrey's pursuit of a French frigate named the Acheron ultimately proves obsessive after an initial attack catches him and his crew off guard. He sets out to defeat the enemy at all costs, at times disobeying orders and risking the lives of his crew in order to fulfill his quest. Through the course of his travels, we come to discover Aubrey's skilled war tactics and relentless passion for the art of battle as the hunt leads him and his crew sailing over thousands of miles in search of their foe.

I cherished every moment of Master and Commander. It possesses all of the charm of a classic adventure epic while also dazzling us with current filmmaking technology. Though the film is often quiet for an action picture, it proves endlessly exciting. Much of its allure comes from the brooding anticipation of the chase; I found myself as inspired by the thrill of the hunt as the crew might have been. Though I am not well versed in the art of seamanship, I was thoroughly impressed by how factually accurate the film seemed to be. The depiction of life at sea is admirably recreated by the cramped quarters, dimly lit sets, and convincing sound design. As was common in the 1800s, children as young as 12 years old were included amongst the navy crew members, equally risking their lives alongside the more experienced adults. Cringe-inducing medical methods are revealed through the duties of Aubrey's best friend and ship surgeon Dr. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), whose only available resources were a far cry from the comforts of modern medicine. Something as simple as a flesh wound would often result in an infection so severe, that the only possible cure was a barbaric amputation of the infected limb.

No matter what subject he may be tackling, director Peter Weir has proven himself a master at creating wholly engaging scenarios. Master and Commander not only benefits from his keen attention to detail, but also from the allure of O'Brian's characters and the way in which they have been portrayed. Russell Crowe is particularly fantastic as Captain Aubrey, as he brilliantly conveys the essence of both a loyal companion and an honorable military officer. Crowe's performance, in addition to the tightly adapted screenplay, helped to create a character who is easy to identify with; I found myself respecting Aubrey's decisions, even though I did not always agree with them.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is an intelligent and exhilarating film. While the subject matter is taken quite seriously, the film never ceases to provide rousing escapist entertainment. It is films like these that I truly find most enjoyable.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen image transfer is excellent, though far from perfect. Peter Weir's visual style presents quite a few difficulties for a video-based transfer to overcome, including thick fog and dimly lit interiors. The transfer handles these obstacles admirably, though the picture looks compressed on occasion, and shadow delineation suffers at times. Colors are intentionally muted throughout, providing an accurate representation of the appropriately drab cinematography. While certain deficiencies are apparent, they are not enough to distract from what is overall an outstanding effort.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The new demo disc has arrived. Both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 options are offered, and both are phenomenal. While the difference is slight, I would have to give the slight edge to the DTS for tighter bass response and more refined spatiality. Throughout the duration of the film the viewer is completely engulfed by this thrilling sound design. Even during serene moments, the lapping waves, creaking boards, and howling winds emanate from all directions, providing a convincing representation of what it might have been like to actually be aboard the H.M.S. Surprise. The battle scenes will give your system the greatest workout it has possibly ever endured. Surround use is impeccable, filling the room with the aggressive sounds of warfare. Deep bass is more earth shattering than I have ever experienced from my modest subwoofer, which assaulted me with subsonic tones that always proved tight and clean while never bloated or boomy. While I missed Master and Commander in theaters, this DVD unquestionably proves the validity of the film's well-deserved sound editing Oscar.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Day After Tomorrow; Man on Fire
25 Multiple Angles with remote access
6 Deleted Scenes
5 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Interactive Cannon Demonstration
  2. Stills Gallery
Extras Review: Aside from the feature, the only offerings on Disc 1 are two trailers for upcoming films, and an interesting behind-the-scenes featurette for the next Will Smith project, I, Robot.

The bulk of the special features are found on Disc 2, which begins with the fascinating documentary, The Hundred Days. Running just under 70 minutes, this is an encompassing look at the making of Master and Commander. Peter Weir discusses the many elements of production, including casting, cinematography, and choreography. This is an excellent documentary that helps to enhance the impact of the film.

In The Wake of O'Brian is a documentary that focuses on the process of translating the author's novels into a screenplay. Peter Weir offers tremendous insight as to how he approached the adaptation, providing viewers with another compelling complement to the film.

The section called Featurettes is somewhat of a misnomer, as it contains three somewhat lengthy documentaries. While the 25-minute HBO First Look feature is little more than a typical promotional piece, the 30-minute Cinematic Phasmids is a fantastic exploration into the creation of the film's many special effects. Saving the best for last, On Sound Design is an in-depth examination of the tedious efforts that went into both the recording and post-production processes of creating the thrilling cannon blasts. Following this documentary is an interactive feature titled Interactive Cannon Demonstration, which allows the viewer to isolate individual sounds from meticulously placed microphones that were used to record a cannon blast. Also offered is the chance to hear a combination of all of the microphones, which reveals just how important each one is to the finished product.

Next, is a section of six deleted scenes, presented in 2.40:1 nonanamorphic widescreen. This is quite a lengthy collection of excised footage, clocking in at approximately 24 minutes. While I enjoyed watching these scenes, I found their omission from the final film to be justified.

Three compelling multi-angle featurettes provide the viewer with a candid look at exactly how the filmmakers achieved the awe-inspiring shots and how they were edited into the final product. The viewer has the option to view an individual camera angle, flip through all of the cameras by using the angle button, or watch a composite of all cameras presented in window-box format.

The stills gallery is fantastic, featuring conceptual art by George Jensen and Daren Dochterman, as well as naval art and technical drawings. Particularly fascinating is the naval art, which shows the various paintings from which Weir drew much of his inspiration. This is far superior to the typically boring photo gallery.

Rounding out the exceptional special features is a trailer gallery, which includes the theatrical teaser, theatrical trailer, and an international trailer.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

All too often, I find that my favorite films end up in a bare bones release with less than admirable transfers. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a glorious exception to that rule. It is a thrilling film with exceptional special features and a 5.1 audio track that is guaranteed to knock the socks off even the most seasoned home theater aficionados.

Highly Recommended.


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