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Master and Commander: Far Side of the World

Starring: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, and Billy Boyd
Directed by: Peter Weir
Rated: PG-13
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Bluntly Speaking? Master and Commander: Far Side of the World is a big beautiful bore. A snorefest-o-rama.

Captain "Lucky" Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) has been instructed to find and destroy French ships - England is at war with Napoleon. But before he knows a grog fly from a dough weevil this huge phantom Frenchie ship comes up from behind and attacks. The ship out guns and out mans his "girl" the H.M.S. Surprise by something like four to one…

The battle and chase begins….

The problem with this visually stunning film, in my opinion, is none of the characters are developed. It's the feared and dreaded 1-2-3 battle, 1-2-3 battle. It's as if you're watching a multi-million dollar game of Risk come to life. The film does stop the cannon fire, briefly, only to serve up canned dialog 'tween shipmates and a quicky glimpse into the strong bond between the winking Capt. Jack and the brilliant Doctor Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) who begs his driven captain to take a respite (as do we by this point) and gather specimens in the exotic Galapagos isles... But before you can recite a bar of 'Ho Ho Ho and a Bottle of…' we are all back in battle.

Yep ye landlubbin' scrub it's gots itself all the pomp and stance of a real gritty sea epic…though to use the word "epic" - which conjures up delightful images of say Lawrence of Arabia or something truly epic - may be a damnable sin. For the first hour-something of the film we watch as endless battle scenes between two ships we know nothing about frolic (loudly) in the sea.

And of course we know from the get go exactly where the tale is to lead us. So, it really is just six, err, two and half hours of watching a bunch of boys play sailor on the high seas - granted some pretty cute boys. And for those history buffs among you lured by the dream of a sweeping period piece glorifying sea worthy vessels of the Napoleanic war? Yeah, you get to see great details spring to life (thanks to William Sandell's production design) and you can practically smell the body odor and rum. But, there's nadda for story loving types. The cat and mouse maneuvers between ships seem more like a good old-fashioned ego issue with Lucky Jack then for his love of Queen and country. And the story we are served up, is annoyingly incongruent; at one point a man is flogged near death for being insubordinate while another who shoots the ship's only doctor (in a great display of moronic sportsmanship) is given the hairy eyebrow - and nothing more!

M&C: FsotW is very authentic, in a take-some-vitamin-C-before-you-view-for-fear-of-scurvy-mate way. The cinematography by Russell Boyd is awe-inspiring; the costumes by Wendy Stites are odiously perfect and the music by Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon and Richard Tognetti gloriously spellbinding.

Alas fear not fans of the wonder from down under's edible physique of pure grade A mansteak…Mr. Crowe's not really Brando-ing after the nuptials, he simply added the VW Beetle-like poundage to play the role of Capt. Jack Aubrey.

See, Aubrey, in the infamous novels by Patrick O'Brian, is as fat as he is courageous (a slice of full-fat manlyberry pie) complete with that oh-so-unattractive stringy high seas hairdo of yesteryear. And alas lassies, even with about fifty-odd pounds upon him Crowe's able to raise an eyebrow in of sinfully erotic thoughts as you watch every grunting thrust and lunge in the name of swashbuckling victory…

Russell Crowe is as charismatic as usual; somewhat radiant really. But M&C has no show of his acting chops that's for rub-a-dub-dub sure. His character Capt. Hefty McHeffer flip flops around a point so much you'll beg for someone to pull a fire alarm or something just to be set free from the theatre. Okay, that's cruel but it does get a bit dull and Crowe is on the far side of his abilities here.

Meanwhile Paul Bettany - once again - shines like an eighty-four carat diamond floating in the Queen's porridge. He stood out in that atrocious crapitini A Knight's Tale, stole scenes in A Beautiful Mind, blew our minds in Gangster #1 and here he's the most enjoyable thing about this bountiful film that'll have you mutinous for its end.

Bluntly Speaking? Peter Weir created a big beautiful bore. From a director so steeped in character development I for one expected a hiddi ho more. You have to see it - if only for the sweeping battle scenes…but don't expect to know anyone aboard any better by the film's end.

Snack recommendation: Oxhead soup, a pitcher of grog and egg pudding.


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