A great book can transport you to another time and place, seamlessly dropping you into a strange new world. This power is among the advantages books have over movies. But there are movies, though rare, that transport you in such a way, too. Take even The Lord of the Rings: Yes, the books transport you, and that is part of their lasting appeal. But especially in the grand battle scenes of the film version of The Return of the King, it's hard not to think to yourself, "Wow, these are some cool special effects." And the moment you think that, you are no longer truly transported.
So the accomplishment of Master and Commander is in how it immerses you in the experience of an early 19th-century seafarer in the British Navy. It's earned through the details and the complexity of the storylines that meander in and out of the main plot about a grand game of cat and mouse between the H.M.S. Surprise and the French Acheron. The source novels by Patrick O'Brian deserve a lot of the credit, as he was a meticulous historian and a great novelist.
For example, when some of the ship's officers appear to be 14 years old, no character clumsily explains that this is the way it was in those days. It's just presented as it was. The superstition of the men, the sense of wonder at strange new lands and the use of music as a lifeline to civilization add up to create a rich portrait of the crazy things we humans used to do in the name of God and country.
And it never hurts when Russell Crowe is the anchor, so to speak, of your film. He slips inside the skin of Captain "Lucky" Jack Aubrey. He offers a laughing smile when the chips are down, he gives out the lashings when they're warranted and he always lets everyone know who's in charge. Somebody should write a management manual based on this guy. Think of it: "Run your company the way Lucky Jack runs the Surprise." The point is, unlike characters in so many historical dramas, he's fully human, real and believable.
They're offering two versions of this DVD: one with special features and one without. The screener they sent us was just the film, but for $6 more you can get a second disc filled with extras, including a feature on Patrick O'Brian and a few scenes in which you can manipulate the camera angles. But then, those features just remind you that you're watching a movie, and where's the fun in that?
Publication date: 04/29/04