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Movies Revisited: MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD

Hands down, Russell Crowe’s best films to date is Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Have you seen this movie!? I sure hope so because this movie is seriously awesome! If you haven’t seen it yet for one reason or another then you’re in for quite a treat my friends. 

I recently watched this film for the first time since I saw it in theaters back in 2003. Why haven’t I watched it between then and now? I have no idea! But, this is a movie I’ll be watching a lot more often for now on. This just seems like one of those films that I can watch over and over again and not get tired of it.

The film was directed by Peter Weir, and stars Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany as the two main characters in the story, but there is a great ensemble cast of lesser known actors that all do a brilliant job. It was adapted from three novels in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian. 

The movie takes place in 1805, during the Napoleonic Wars. The main character of the film is “Lucky Jack”, also known as Captain Jack Abrey, whose ship the HMS Surprise is on a seek-and destroy mission against a French privateer Acheron, that is out to sink as many British merchant and whaling ships as it can. The French ship is a far superior vessel with a captain just as badass as Lucky Jack. But Aubrey and his crew are battle-hardened, confident, and willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish their mission. And boy, do they go on an adventure of a lifetime.

Watching the story unfold of these two ships in the ultimate cat and mouse chase on the open sea is really something to behold. It’s possibly one of the best period films that Hollywood has developed to date. I wonder if we will ever see anything quite like this film again. I would love to see a sequel to this movie, but I know that will never happen. Instead we keep getting these Pirates of the Caribbean films that don't even come close to what Master and Commander was.

The movie has an incredibly gritty and hardcore feel that helps us experience this insane historical journey. It’s got some fantastic visually stimulating action sequences that show the devastation of what it was like like to be in a naval battle during that time period. Watching these cannon balls tear these ships apart is pretty incredible stuff. It shows you the grim conditions of what these men had to endure on these ships. The detail in the movie is amazing.

I love how much of this movie was filmed practically with limited CGI special effects. One of the greatest attributes of the film was it's cinematography, which was absolutely incredible, and actually won an Academy Award for it. 

This is a movie you have to watch if you haven't seen it yet, and if you have then please watch it again. I promise you'll appreciate more the next time you see it.

Here is some interesting triva from the film that you may have not known.

20th Century Fox bought The Rose, the ship which doubles up as HMS Surprise in the film, for $1.5 million. 

Two historical advisors were on set at all times. 

The miniatures of the Surprise and the Acheron were built by WETA workshops in New Zealand who then spent five weeks filming them in action. 

Ralph Fiennes was considered for the part of Dr. Maturin.

After filming, the HMS Surprise was purchased by the San Diego Maritime Museum for an undisclosed sum, and with the proviso that the ship be loaned back to 20th Century Fox for any future film productions.

The production used two ships. One was the replica Rose, dressed up to be the HMS Surprise, which could be put to sea within 45 minutes at any time. The other was a replica of the replica, built on a gimbal in the giant tank at the Baja Studios, Mexico. Construction of the replica took approximately three and a half months. 

About 27 miles of rope was used on the rigging of the replica Rose. Most of the rope had to be made especially, as modern day rope has a right hand lay (the direction the strands run in) whereas it would have had a left hand lay in Napoleonic times. 

To create an authentic sense of camaraderie among the cast, they were all housed in special quarters, away from the rest of the crew. Designed like a gentleman's club, there was no TV, and no crew member was allowed in without being invited. It was nicknamed "The Monkey Bar". 

The cast endured a two week boot camp where they literally learned the ropes, and what to do on board a frigate including the loading and firing of cannons. They also all learned basic sword skills. 

Coincidentally, during the film's pre-production, the replica of Captain James Cook's ship, HMS Endeavour, was circumnavigating the globe. The production was able to fly 2 cameramen to the ship as it was about to sail round the bottom of South America, a route the HMS Surprise takes in the film. Thus, the footage of the stormy seas from that part of the voyage is genuine. 

Shooting took up nearly 100 days at the Baja studios in Mexico, as well as 10 days at sea. 

Russell Crowe learned to play violin for the film and referred to it as the hardest thing he'd ever done for a film. 

Heath Ledger was in talks to join the film, presumably to play the part later taken by Paul Bettany.

In contrast to the competitive studio days of the Golden Age of Hollywood, this project had three major companies team up for production (Fox, Universal and Miramax, by then a creature of Disney) plus a leading indie (Goldwyn -sort of standing in for the MGM of old). 

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