Master and CommanderMaster and Commander: The Far Side of the World on Blu-ray Disc

Pirate movies haven't been kind to Hollywood in recent years. Many came and went with most people not noticing; Renny Harlin's Cutthroat Island was considered one of the biggest flops in Hollywood history.

Then came 2004, when Pirates of the Caribbean surpassed everyone's expectations and grossed over $300 million at the domestic box office alone. Later that year, we were treated to Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which toned down the audience-friendliness of Pirates, but upped the authenticity.

Master and Commander follows the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and his crew, sailing the HMS Surprise across two oceans in pursuit of the French ship that attacked and crippled them. Aubrey is the best of the best, and uses his brains and experience to track the enemy ship on the vast ocean, and his battle savvy to tackle a bigger ship with a larger crew, and more firepower.

But there was a lot of travel time in those days, so a good portion of the movie is dedicated to the trials and tribulations of the crew of the Surprise in ordinary everyday sailing life. We watch as Dr. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) cares for the wounded, including amputating the broken arm of a young boy, who quickly bounces back and has a large role to play later on.

The authenticity of Master and Commander is jaw-dropping. The team actually purchased an old sailing ship and transformed it into an exact replica of the HMS Surprise, and the same giant tank that was used for Titanic was also used in this film. The costume design, production design, cinematography, and pretty much everything else are in top form. Most notable is the performance by Paul Bettany, who definitely deserved an Oscar nomination at the very least.

The only problem is that the movie can tend to be v-e-r-y slow at times. For most of the movie, it's a whole bunch of talking and not a lot else. You're still awed by the authenticity of it all, but it's hard to give it your full attention. Those not the least bit interested in the subject matter will probably have an even harder time.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a great-looking film that used every bit of its $135 million well (even if it's hard to understand what could possibly cost that much money). If your heart's not in it, it'll probably be stormy seas, but if you're up for it, it's a pretty good time.

And now it's available on Blu-ray with 1080p picture quality that's excellent, mostly, with great detail and color and good black levels, but during some scenes it's grainy and bland, and that detracts from the overall visual punch..

There's terrific audio punch, though, thanks for the disc's dts HD 5.1 Master Lossless track. It's reference quality, with excellent use of all five speakers and the subwoofer, whether the home theater is rumbling with sound effects such as cannons or merely whispering the creaks of a wooden ship at work. It all combines to make you feel a part of the action.

The extras aren't particularly compelling, though. You get some deleted scenes, a historical and geographical trivia track and pop up map. There's also a search feature, "personal scene selections" and the trailer in HD.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
138 minutes, 1080p (2.40:1), dts HD 5.1 Master Lossless audio
Starring Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn Jr., Peter Weir, Duncan Henderson
Screenplay by Peter Weir & John Collee, Directed by Peter Weir

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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