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“Master and Commander”; Is It Naval History? “I was impressed with the depiction of the combat scenes: the crew moving to and fighting at their battle stations, the working of guns By Brian S. Chi, Naval Historical Center Public Affairs below decks, the damage to ship and personnel from shot and shell, the care of the wounded and the repair of the ship after battle,” said Early History Branch historian Charles Brodine. WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Historians, curators and museum “Master and Commander also did a fine job of illustrating how education experts from the Naval disguise and deception could be employed with effect in the age of Historical Center (NHC) and sail," said Brodine. "Warships could and would change their Naval Historical Foundation appearance in order to fool the enemy, whether to make captures or (NHF) recently had the elude battle. Numerous American captains used such „ruses de opportunity to view Fox's newest guerre‟ with great effect in the War of 1812.” movie, “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” All of this leads to the question of what, if anything was historically starring at a special 20th Century inaccurate about the film? Fox and Navy screening in Arlington, Va. Hughes felt, “that Aubrey (Crowe‟s character) took more risks than was realistic for someone with an inferior vessel. Attempting a battle Twentieth Century Fox is hopeful that the film, which stars Russell during a raging storm is a case in point.” Crowe, will be a blockbuster. “In general, the least accurate aspect is the concept that a French Many NHC and NHF members wondered if the movie would be privateer would be built in Boston along the lines of one of our 44- historically accurate or pure Hollywood, and have any lessons for gun frigates. Generally, privateers were not as well built as a U.S. modern Sailors. Navy 44,” said Dudley. “Master and Commander," based on British author Patrick O‟Brian‟s Though everyone enjoyed the battle scenes, “there would have been set of 19th-century naval novels, follows Royal Navy Capt. Jack much more screaming and moaning by wounded men during battle,” Aubrey (Crowe) and the crew of his ship HMS Surprize as they sail said Crawford. In addition, “the flogging scene was unconvincing. out to see the richness and strangeness of life on the far side of the The cat-o-nine-tails seemed to raise welts no bigger than a world, against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars. schoolmaster‟s switch would have caused, rather than tearing skin from the miscreant‟s back." The movie was well received by the NHC members of the audience who deemed it, in general, very historically accurate. "There was a good depiction of relations among officers; but the „foremast men are two-dimensional (a criticism made of Patrick “I was impressed by „Master and Commander.‟ I think it was the best O‟Brian‟s novels, as well)," Crawford continued. “The image of the portrayal of life in a warship during the Age of Sail that has been common seamen as childlike, simple and superstitious reflects the produced in Hollywood. The language, the uniforms, the rigging of way officers of the age may have viewed them, but is not a realistic the ship, the customs of the Royal Navy of that period, the portrayal portrayal.” of the captain by Russell Crowe, all seemed quite authentic to me,” said Dr. William S. Dudley, director of NHC. Watching a scene where Aubrey trains his men to fire the canons more quickly, Brodine pointed out that, “in far distant seas, away Dudley is a recognized authority on early 19th century naval warfare, from sure sources of supply, this would have been a needless and edited the first two volumes of the Centers “The Naval War of expenditure of a very precious commodity--powder and shot.” 1812: A Documentary History." Many of the experts thought that there were lessons in the movie “It colorfully evokes life aboard a warship in the age of sail,” said Dr. from the 19th century for modern Sailors. Michael Crawford. Head of the Center‟s Early History Branch, which studies this period, Crawford is the editor of the third volume of “The “The daily routine, watch standing, bells, boatswain's piping have not Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History." changed over the decades. The movie also affirmed that damage control, medical, and gunnery training and execution was as vital Another Early History Branch historian, Christine Hughes, said, “I back then as it is now,” said Dr. Dave Winkler, an NHC assigned liked the movie. I thought it gave a fairly accurate depiction of naval Naval Reservist and NHF historian. “Of course, leadership and good life of the period.” discipline is a constant over time. Finally, over the centuries the seas have not changed. Today's Navy ships operate in the same harsh Karen Hill, Navy Museum educator, has a unique insight on 19th- environments as Jack Aubrey's 'Surprize' did -- something every century sailing having recently spent two weeks on the U.S. Brig Sailor can attest too." Niagara on the Great Lakes, where the crew ran the ship as if during the War of 1812. “I think the most important lesson for modern Sailors is the importance of teamwork. The crew of the 19th century was very “The Niagara is a brig, so she is smaller and designed differently than dependent on their fellow Sailors,” stated Hughes. the ship used in 'Master and Commander', but all of the commands that I heard in the film with regard to her sailing and handling were "The movie reminded me that the Sailors of our Navy face the same the same that I heard, repeatedly,” Hill said. deadly perils at sea today as they did almost 200 years ago," said Marolda. It was so well done that NHC senior historian Dr. Edward J. Marolda said, "One can see, hear, and almost smell what it must have been The final NHC consensus was that "Master and Commander" is naval like for England's Jack Tars in the wooden sailing ships of the history, with a little "Hollywood" thrown in. Nelsonian Age." Master and Commander: Equally impressive is that Master and Commander can stay interesting without one female character. Okay, there is one, but she has no lines and is probably on screen for a few seconds. Nearly the entire movie takes place on the ocean (filmed in the same tank off The Far Side of the World Mexico as Titanic), yet it never becomes dull, even with its long running time. Master and Commander also has what is missing from Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World finally brings to many films today: a sense of adventure. It is an old-fashioned life the characters of Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin, swashbuckling tale with a sense of honor and duty that seems out of forever immortalized in the novels of Patrick O'Brian. There are place in today's world, but fits perfectly within the confines of this twenty Aubrey/Maturin novels, and a rabid, fanatical fan base that film. There are eighteen books left to film. Let's get started. loves O'Brian's detailed and intricate appreciation for historical accuracy. The film takes its name from the first novel (Master and 2 hours, 20 minutes, Rated PG-13 for intense battle Commander) and much of the plot from the tenth novel (The Far Side of the World), hence its overly long and undescriptive title. sequences, related images, and brief language. Nevertheless, the movie retains O'Brian's attention for detail, and creates a suspenseful voyage that begins off the coast of Brazil, travels around South America, and north to the Galapagos Islands. It is basically one long chase movie, with the crew of the HMS Surprise playing a cat and mouse game with the French ship (in the book she's American) Acheron, a stronger, more powerful ship with a larger crew. Aubrey (Russell Crowe, A Beautiful Mind, Proof of Life), known to his crew as "Lucky Jack," is a commanding figure. His crew trusts him with their lives. He is a more than able sailor, tough as nails and worthy of respect. This contrasts with Maturin (Paul Bettany, The Heart of Me, A Beautiful Mind), the ship's doctor. Maturin is gentle, compassionate, thoughtful, and above all, an intellectual. It is an unlikely friendship built on respect, as well as many nights playing the violin and cello. Above all, Aubrey can rely on Maturin for some honest and independent advice, which is in dire need here. At the beginning of Master and Commander, Aubrey receives orders to intercept the Acheron. The film takes place during the Napoleonic Wars, and dominance at sea is essential. The Archeron seemingly appears out of nowhere, and beats the pants off the Surprise. Source: Pride is a large element of Aubrey's character. Instead of turning back http://www.haro- for repairs, Aubrey decides to go after the Archeron. It looks like a online.com/movies/master_and_commander.html losing battle, and Maturin opposes the idea. Master and Commander is a whole lot of nothing bookended by two impressive naval battles. To some, the entire middle section may be boring, but in actuality, it is necessary in order to make the finale more climactic. Director Peter Weir (The Truman Show, Fearless) adapted the film with John Collee (Paper Mask) spend this time seeped in details and marching inevitably towards the showdown. It just feels real. There is little land, and nothing to do except repair the ship and prepare for battle. Weir films the Surprise so that it looks dingy, cramped, and dank. Men brush past each other going back and forth in the bowels of the ship, and the wood and ropes creak ominously. Crowe is always an imposing presence, and a good choice for a role like Aubrey. He seems to radiate strength, and it's easy to see why his crew believes so much in him. Unfortunately, the rest of the crew sinks into anonymity, like the red-shirted crewmembers on an old Star Trek episode. Oh, there is the really young kid with no arm, the old guy with white hair, the guy everybody hates, and some other people, but Crowe and Bettany feel like the only characters with any depth to them. In the end, what is important is that each man has his specific role to perform in order to make the Surprise seaworthy. But all this is okay once the battles begin. They are thrilling affairs told almost completely from the English perspective. For most of the film, the Archeron is a ship in the distance, and even as the film nears its conclusion, they are rarely on screen. He shoots the film intimately, so the action is right up against the screen. Earlier, one could hear every creak in the ship, now, every explosion and battle between the two is thunderous. The viewer feels like he/she is part of the battle.
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