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Currentfilm.com Review:

"This is the second time he's done this to me, there won't be a third."

Issues with the film aside, I must commend the studios involved with "Master and Commander" for even getting the picture made in the first place. Remarkably expensive at a reported $125 million (some put the figure higher), the picture doesn't offer an epic romance, portrays only a couple of massive battles throughout the 138-minute running time and focuses the majority of its energy on developing characters and story. It's more concerned with what it was like to call one of these ships home.

Based on the novels of Patrick O'Brian, "Master and Commander" takes place in 1805 on the HMS Surprise, captained by Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe). The ship's doctor, Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) is the ship's doctor and, despite their differences, Aubrey's long-time friend. Their mission is to stop the French ship Acheron, which engages them first in a dense Fog off the coast of South America. The first meeting is a disaster: the Surprise is outguned and overpowered by the French ship, only escaping due to a clever plan by Aubrey to slip away.

The remainder of the film is a cat-and-mouse game between the two ships, with the chase going through the Atlantic and Pacific. Between the film's three enormous battles, we get to hear more from the characters, learn a bit about naval planning, experience life at sea and other subplots, such as Maturin's desire to find new forms of life, leading to conflict and exploration once the ship reaches the Galapagos Islands.

The issues that I had with the film upon the first viewing seem lessened on the second. When I saw the film theatrically, I felt that some of the stretches between attacks could have been tightened by a few minutes, as the pacing of the film sometimes could be a little less deliberate. On the other hand, a little more time might have allowed the film to offer a longer introduction to some of the supporting characters that are not presented with much detail.

Aside from a few moments that could have used a little bit of tightening, it's difficult to find fault with director Peter Weir's epic feature. The attention to detail is astonishing, Weir's reunion with cinematographer Russell Boyd results in some utterly stunning images, the performances are terrific, the sound design remarkable and the visual effects seamless. Supporting performances are excellent, but Bettany and Crowe (who worked together on "Beautiful Mind") are terrific in the leads, with each working with and against each other wonderfully, each offering their side of the bigger picture.

Overall, while I appreciated "Master and Commander" upon theatrical viewing, the film actually seemed to flow even a little better the second time around, and I was also able to further appreciate the film's attention to detail. The film really does remain one of the most amazing productions to hit the screen in a while, and one of the finest films of 2003.


VIDEO: The film is presented in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) on Blu-Ray by 20th Century Fox. The Blu-Ray edition isn't a substantial upgrade over the DVD edition, but the DVD edition was very good and this is still better. "Master and Commander" does boast gorgeous cinematography, but it must be kept in mind that the picture's appearance does vary, as the film can go from crisp and detailed in some scenes to having a soft appearance in others (such as some scenes below deck.) Mild-to-moderate grain is also seen at times, and is also an intentional element of the film's cinematography.

The Blu-Ray edition does obviously retain the film's varying sharpness, but the overall impression is that the Blu-Ray does look noticably crisper and well-defined. While depth to the image doesn't have that "three-dimensional" appearance, the Blu-Ray presentation does often sport improved depth to the image versus the DVD. No edge enhancement was seen, nor were any instances of pixelation. However, I did spot a couple of minor specks and marks on the print used. The film's naturalistic, rather dark color palette looked beautifully presented, with no smearing or other issues. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones appeared accurate.

SOUND: The film is presented on Blu-Ray in DTS-HD Master Lossless Audio. The film didn't win an Oscar for sound and get nominated for another for nothing. Richard King ("Twister") and the film's sound design team have created a remarkable experience for the audience that rarely lets up, even in the film's more dialogue-driven stretches. Surrounds are almost constantly alive with the sounds of waves splashing, crew walking or chattering, wind, the ship creaking, cannon fire (and the resulting chaos as wood and debris seem to fly everywhere around the room), rain and other sound effects. Whether subtle or fierce, there always seemed to be some background details present in the film's sound mix.

Audio quality is once again simply jaw-dropping on the Blu-Ray edition. Scenes of battle shake the foundations with ultra-low bass and effects seem crisp and well-recorded. Dialogue, even in some of the more hectic sequences, is crisp and natural. The audio quite capably presents everything from a delicate, minor bit of ambient sound to the roar of cannon fire.

EXTRAS: About 24 minutes of deleted footage is included, as well as the trailer.

New to the Blu-Ray edition is an informative historical trivia track, as well as a pop-up map that shows viewers the location of the characters at any point in the movie. We also get trailers for other Fox titles and D-Box functionality for those who have D-Box installed.

Unfortunately, the Blu-Ray edition drops the nearly all of the Collector's Edition DVD set extras.

Final Thoughts: "Master and Commander" is a grand epic, with stellar performances and incredible visuals. Despite being a massive and risky production, Peter Weir has succeeded in delivering a very satisfying, entertaining drama. The Blu-Ray provides somewhat improved image quality over the already good DVD, as well as demonstration quality audio. The disappointment is the extras section, as it's upsetting that next-to-none of the extras from the Collector's Edition DVD set were carried over.

Film Grade
The Film A
DVD Grades
Video 95/A
Audio: 99/A
Extras: 70/C-

DVD Information

Master and Commander: Far Side of the World (Blu-Ray)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DTS-HD 5.1 (English)
Dolby Digital 5.1 (French/Spanish)
138 minutes
Subtitles: English/Spanish
Rated PG-13
Available At Amazon.com: Master and Commander: Far Side of the World (Blu-Ray)