alan little’s weblog

aubrey - armed and dangerous

29th December 2003 permanent link

Eric Raymond’s opinion of Master & Commander is similar to mine, but he isn’t as long-winded about it:

Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World was also a surprising treat. I've read all 20 of the Aubrey/Maturin novels. The movie doesn't capture their texture and depth — that would be impossible, they are deeply literary works — but as an adventure movie that refers to the books without insulting the reader's intelligence it works quite well.

(Eric’s comment is a small part of a long – but not long-winded – review of The Last Samurai. My automatic reaction to anything involving Tom Cruise is not to bother going to see it, but Eric makes it sound like this one could be worth making an exception.)

Michael Jennings confirms that if you’re not a fan of the books, Master & Commander is a good-but-not-great film:

I have not read the books but that summarises my reaction too. I enjoyed the film a lot, and the detail of the visual recreation of the Napoleonic Royal Navy struck me as stunning, but it was still somewhat short of being a great film. That said, given how many bad films I have seen this year, I thought it was well worth the five quid.

You should read the books, Michael.

Meanwhile, much correspondence back and forth with my friend Peter in London who may be an even bigger fan of the books than I am. (There’s probably no point reading any further unless you have both read the books and seen the film)

Peter: Good news on its popularity over here. In this morning's Metro I noticed that it is second in Box Office figures for London. Only Love Actually ahead of it. … An older audience than for the average Hollywood “movie” … and I suspect it's attracting people who can't be bothered with most Tinseltown offerings. It is making enough impact for Blair to be featured as “Master and Commander” in a Sunday Torygraph cartoon at the weekend.

In your references to Peter Weir you left out Gallipoli which should have given an indication that he was the right director [I haven’t seen it]

Me: Don't worry, I noticed all the references. Well, lots anyway - I can't have been 100% paying attention the whole time, it's a long film. Will buy the DVD when it's discounted, then I can check all of them. But that's actually my big misgiving about it as a film – it's far too much of a strung-together series of references for fans, doesn't really stand as a coherent work on its own.

There was also a bit too much Moby Dick in the section leading up to Cape Horn. Aubrey is not Ahab.

Peter: I don't agree about lack of coherence. I think you are looking at it too much through the eyes of a fan of the books. No doubt we are a fairly high proportion of the audience but for non-readers I would say it is just as coherent as most action films and more so than many and with relevant sub-plots which dovetail in nicely … there are incidents and dialogue from other books but they aren't random and do forward the plot for a non-reader.

Me: I didn't mean incoherent in the sense of completely incoherent – more in the sense of does it stand on its own merits as a great (clearly not) or even an outstandingly good (I still think not) film, as opposed to an enjoyable couple of hours action entertainment? I think not - which doesn't mean I have anything against people being entertained for a couple of hours.

But the Gregory Peck Hornblower is a better *film*

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