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Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World(2003)
Captain "Lucky" Jack Aubrey, renowned as a fighting captain in the British Navy, and ship's doctor Stephen Maturin are on board their ship, the H.M.S. Surprise, when they're suddenly attacked by a superior enemy. With the Surprise badly damaged and much of his crew injured, Aubrey is torn between duty and friendship as he pursues a high-stakes chase across two oceans, to intercept and capture his foe. It's a mission that can make his reputation -- or destroy Lucky Jack and his crew. In the course of the characters' epic journey, the movie travels the world -- from the coast of Brazil to the storm-tossed waters of Cape Horn, south through ice and snow, to the far side of the world, to the remote shores of The Galapagos Islands. Based on author Patrick O'Brian's series of Aubrey/Maturin novels, the story is set during the Napoleonic Wars.
For more about Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and the Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Blu-ray release, see Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on May 9, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Billy Boyd, James D'Arcy, Lee Ingleby, Robert Pugh
Director: Peter Weir
» See full cast & crew
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Blu-ray Review
More than the stunning visuals, solid acting and rousing story, the audio resolution of Master and Commander proves reference quality.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, May 9, 2008
Since Errol Flynn graced the screen in Captain Blood, the genre of swashbuckling, seafaring films have enjoyed great notariety. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a period piece with modern execution. From the standpoint of the story and cast, Russell Crowe as Captain Jack Aubrey is the ultimate star of Master and Commander. He conveys an authenticity and charisma that few actors currently possess, which allows him to pull off the Aubrey role so authoritatively. But there is an even more impressive star of the film--a star you will not see. Richard King was brought on board by director Peter Weir as "sound designer". His passion and technical expertise in audio engineering make the film a powerhouse cinematic experience, transporting viewers from their seats to a place onboard the British Navy ship, Surprise, off the coast of South America almost 200 years ago. More than any other aspect of the film, the realism and immersive quality of the audio puts the audience in the middle of the action. King won the Academy Award of Merit for Best Sound Editing for his work on Master and Commander. It was very well deserved, and the DTS-HD MA encode on the BD fully pays off King's fantastic sonic achievement.
Based on Patrick O'Brian's novels about Aubrey's adventures, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World follows the Surprise, as it battles the Acheron, a superior U.S.-made ship in Napoleon's navy. After a surprise attack by the Acheron during the film's opening scene, in which the British ship takes nearly insurmountable damage and barely slips away in the cover of fog, Captain "Lucky" Jack decides to go after the faster, stronger ship instead of returning to England. At first, the decision seems foolhearty, as the Acheron again surprises Aubrey. This time, he escapes under cover of darkness. But the story is more than a series of chase and battle scenes, entertaining as those prove to be. Several aspects of naval and ship service are explored.
Part of the story touches on concepts like religion and science in the prism of 19th century thought. The latter part of the film takes place in the Galápagos Islands where the ship's Irish doctor and naturalist, Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) convinces Aubrey to let him explore and collect specimens in a pre-Darwinian subplot. Unfortunately for Maturin, he makes an unexpected discovery that leads him to cut short his tour of the Galápagos. One of his specimens, an insect that looks like a twig, gives Aubrey the idea to disguise the Surprise, leading to the film's climax, an intense battle, featuring an extended sequence of intense hand-to-hand combat.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Blu-ray, Video Quality
The picture quality of Master and Commander ranks alongside several other Fox BDs, such as The Day After Tomorrow with near-reference-quality depth, black level, contrast and detail. Because much of the film takes place in shadows and darkness, at night or in the ship's chambers, different viewers will have different impressions of the video. Those with screens allowing them to see definition in dark areas will be thrilled with the black level, while others may complain about a lack of definition. The quality of the brighter scenes, however, is beyond criticism, with extraordinary color vibrancy and resolution.
As in all the bright scenes, the shots of the Galápagos Islands show dramatic definition in land surfaces, water surfaces as well as skin tones. Watch the textures of volcanic rock as Maturin explores the terrain to collect specimens. It's impossible to miss the vibrancy and lifelike detail in the picture. But even more interesting are the dark scenes that manage to use low-level contrast to delineate characters and shapes. The night scenes and darkened ship's chambers are where I expect some viewers to have problems resolving all the definition. The black-level detail is there to be mined, free of pixellation and excess noise. But not everyone has a screen capable of resolving the gradients of black and shades of grey. The small film grain is unobtrusive and should not bother even the staunchest anti-grain videophile. It is also worth noting that the camerawork is extraordinary and Overall, the picture was practically reference quality, but Fox may have used some processing that held it back a smidgeon.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The audio is the real spark that ignites Master and Commander, bringing life to the action. This was apparent even in the DVD version, but the Blu-ray goes beyond the excellent sound quality of the earlier release. Now, for the first time, the Blu-ray's DTS HD MA track allows lossless access to sound designer Richard King's original mix. This is a big deal for several reasons. First, it shows off the superior dynamics of lossless audio. Second, the audio engineering of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a landmark achievement in film history. King's work was the subject of an NPR Arts and Culture focus on "All Things Considered", when the film was released in 2003. No stock audio or prepackaged noises were used for the sound effects, according to King. The attention to detail, recording and mixing are reference level.
Listen to the battle scene at the beginning of the film when cannons fire, the projectiles rip through the air and slam into the hull of the Surprise, splintering the wood, sending men and debris flying. Modern audio design involves a blend of sounds created in innovative ways. For example, the sound of a fist hitting someone's face is often created by recording a head of lettuce thrown onto a hard surface. The roar of dinosaurs in Jurassic Park was created by carefully blending the sounds of several animals, including birds and cats, and adjusting the speed of playback. King's work in Master and Commander goes beyond that in its pursuit of realism. What seems to be a straightforward recording of a cannon firing is actually a blend of recordings engineered to complement the action and assigned to the appropriate channel in the mix.
Another excellent scene for evaluating the audio is as the Surprise chases the Acheron around Cape Horn. Here, the audio conveys the howling winds, torrential rain, creaking planks of the ship and the crashing waves. Rarely if ever have Blu-ray fans been treated to an audio mix with this combination of resolution and immersion. Even during quieter scenes, the audio quality is uncanny in its realism. Sonic cues like the sounds of water and footsteps lend good presence to the DTS HD MA track. The rich midrange during the Bach viola and cello pieces, as well as voices and gunshots have a strength and palpability rarely heard in home theater mixes.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Fox really screwed the pooch on the extras and shortchanged Blu-ray adopters shelling out big bucks for this title. The two-disc DVD version had several excellent featurettes, including Cinematic Phasmids and Sound Design, weighing in at half and hour and over a quarter hour, respectively. Why weren't they included? Other highly informative DVD supplements, such as The Hundred Days and In the Wake of O'Brien are also nowhere to be found. Instead, we get a few deleted scenes in standard definition, a trivia featurette, and a ship locator map available at any point during the movie. If you care a great deal about extras, you'll want to keep your DVD version.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It is worth asking if Master and Commander would have received more attention if it arrived in theaters at a different time than the much more successful Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Both feature "Captain Jack" characters, swashbuckling adventures on the open seas, and impressive battle scenes. But where Pirates of the Caribbean achieved blockbuster status and Johnny Depp's eccentric Jack Sparrow character became a sort of cultural icon, Master and Commander barely broke even on Fox's budget to produce the film. At face value, that's understandable and not a problem. Both films were very well executed, and it makes sense that a movie appealing to younger audiences would gross significantly more at the box office. The reality, though, is that audiences chose the equivalent of a theme park ride over an excellent series of books that easily could have spawned even better sequels to Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The biggest disappointment of the film is that there would be no follow-up Master and Commander to follow Lucky Jack's exploits in the service of England's navy. Instead, we got two insipid sequels to the Pirates film, neither of which rose to the level of the first. Too bad. I would much prefer a trilogy of Master and Commander films, but it was not to be. At least we have excellent Blu-ray productions of both swashbuckling adventures from 2003.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World: Other Editions
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Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Fox Announces Date and Specs for Master and Commander - February 18, 2008
Fox Home Entertainment has announced a release date and specs for their upcoming Blu-ray release of 'Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World', as well as 'Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid' and 'Mrs. Doubtfire'. All three titles will be released on May 13th, ...
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