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“Master and Commander”; Is It Naval History


									“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
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

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
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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