The Far Side of the World
Raz and I had both wanted to see this movie since it came out, but circumstances precluded it time and again. A showing presented itself a few nights ago, and we finally caught up with it. I can honestly say that had I seen it when it came out, that may have been the third or fourth time I'd have gone to see it.
It has certainly forced me to re-assess some categories on my year-end list. The ensemble cast, action set-pieces, flawless special effects and totally enveloping sound mix need special mention.
To start with, this was one of the most fascinating films I have seen in some time. I have always been interested in old ships, and have been on many of them. This was the first film I have ever seen that felt like one of them.
Therein lies the power of the film. It totally immerses you in another place and time; the perfect-down-to-the-last-detail sets (by William Sandell) and costumes (by Wendy Stites and Kacy Treadway) and the 360° sound mix (by Art Rochester) put you on a ship in the middle of the ocean, alone but for the others in the crew.
The most harrowing sequence in the film is not a battle sequence, but a tumultuous storm; the sequence must have involved quite a lot of special effects, but none of them are identifiable as such.
And what a crew. Eschewing the Hollywood tradition of sidelining or eliminating altogether the presence of children aboard a ship, Master and Commander has no qualms about showing that aspect of sea life. The presence of boys in the film reveals much about the adult characters as well.
Peter Weir keeps from sugar-coating anything, but none of the more grisly moments ever seem forced or over-the-top. The entire cast, including the children, deliver phenomenal performances. Weir's assured direction has gotten great work from a very solid cast. Each character is clearly delineated, not only as their personality, but as a member of the crew. This is ensemble acting at its best.
That said, Russell Crowe is fantastic as Captain "Lucky Jack" Aubrey, using his copious star power to imbue his character with the charisma and confidence to inspire the loyalty of this crew. His authorit is not questioned... it can not be questioned. He knows his ship - he's been serving on her all his life - and he knows her crew, and he knows that a ship is her crew and that the crew is the captain.
To make a character that men will follow anywhere believable is no easy feat, but Crowe the acting talent and screen presence to pull it off so completely that the audience feels like they would follow him anywhere. It is in his portrayal that one can see why some men have the "it" that it takes to command and some do not.
There is an element of the film that is important to mention. It captures the truth of it without condoning it...
I am a big fan of plumbing. I think modern medicine is absolutely dishy. I also feel that the practice of taking at least one shower a day is one of the pinnacles of human achievement. And I believe very strongly in child labor laws.
The children in the film are accurately portrayed not only as being full members of the crew, but as being in harm's way time and again. This practice, a naval tradition that thankfully no longer exists, was one that was omnipresent on the world's oceans in the era depicted.
However, an uncomfortable truth is that the sea made men out of these boys the likes of which the world has not seen since.