Monday, January 4, 2016

Weir Watch: Master and Commander The Far Side of the World

Happy 2016, my internet friend! The future is officially now! With Back to the Future Day behind us, we can still look forward to The Running Man's violent game show future in 2019 though. As for me, I kept it low key, seeing movies and friends, drinking eggnog, cider, ginger beer, Jameson, Fireball and the like. Consuming bagels, Chinese food, McDonald's and pizza. My Christmas weekend turned into a bit of a Peter Weir-a-thon as I watched Dead Poets Society while assembling a shelf then couched out with Witness and finished things off with an early morning viewing of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. I remember seeing the nautical slice of life adventure in theaters back in the fall of 2003 but forgot how Damme good it is. Of course Weir is a master of dramatic character stories that never bore and always coaxes standout performances from his leads that include Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey and Commander's Russell Crowe. Set in the Napoleonic Wars, Master and Commander follows Captain Jack Aubrey, a strong and smart British sailor who navigates the HMS Surprise and is tasked with pursuing the lighter, faster but more fortified French vessel the Acheron. He's accompanied and consoled by surgeon Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) as they tackle surprise attacks, weak shipmates, bad jokes, unexplored islands and violin/chello duets.

Based on the 20 novel series by Patrick O'Brian and adapted by Weir with John Collee, Master and Commander is big budget Hollywood filmmaking at it's best. The characters have depth and played by strong actors, the action is visceral, exciting and harrowing while the story keeps things moving, interesting and educational as we view day to day life on board the Surprise. Production values are immense from the ornate and dingy costumes to the reach out and touch it authenticity of the ship. Shot partially in open water, the film looks and feels very real with nary a fake looking CGI wave in sight. Crowe gets to play a brawny leader made of equal parts brains and ego with a blonde ponytail and is absolutely terrific in the role.  

Commander was supposed to be the start of a franchise for Twentieth Century Fox who poured in $150 million to produce the film plus marketing costs. Master and Commander would gross a decent if unspectacular $94 million in the US behind films like Daredevil, The Last Samurai, Seabiscuit, X-Men 2, Finding Nemo and The Lord of the Rings III on it's way to a $210 million gross worldwide. Video revenue for the U.S. alone is listed at $135 million. Reviews were strong and included 10 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Director. While a packed special edition DVD was released in 2004, the film seems to be a bit of a forgotten title and a sequel was never produced. Peter Weir figured the OK but not great financial performance was the culprit while in 2010, Crowe urged fans to e-mail Fox head Tom Rothman to get things going. Sadly, that Tweet only garnered 271 Retweets...

On the plus side, you can visit the screen used replica of the HMS Surprise at the Maritime Museum in San Diego. I just lined up a training session with local legend Frank Zane and will be sure to check out the recreated 24 gun British Frigate during Comic-Con!

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