Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense battle scenes, related images, and brief language

Reviewed by: Jay Levitz

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens and Adults
Action Adventure and Drama
2 hr. 18 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Nov 14, 2003
Copyright, 20th Century Fox
Copyright, 20th Century Fox
Copyright, 20th Century Fox
Copyright, 20th Century Fox
Copyright, 20th Century Fox
Copyright, 20th Century Fox
Copyright, 20th Century Fox
Copyright, 20th Century Fox
Relevant Issues
Copyright, 20th Century Fox

Fear, Anxiety and Worry… What does the Bible say? Answer

How could Jonah survive three days in the belly of a “whale”? Answer

Charles Darwin—Was he a Christian? Did he believe in God? Did he recant Evolutionism when he died? Answer

Can genetic mutations produce positive changes in living creatures? Answer

Does God really exist? How can we know? If God made everything, who made God? Answer

Where did life come from? Is Evolution really the best scientific answer? Answer

What does the fossil record teach us about Evolution? Answer

Starring: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Ian Mercer, James D'Arcy, John Desantis | Directed by: Peter Weir | Produced by: Samuel Goldwyn Jr., Peter Weir, Duncan Henderson | Written by: Peter Weir, John Collee | Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Five years ago, director Peter Weir pitted Jim Carrey against a god-like television producer named Christo in “The Truman Show”, which ended with Carrey facing his greatest fears by launching his boat on a studio-based “ocean.” For “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”, based on two historical novels by Patrick O'Brian, Weir begins his film on the ocean and doesn’t let his characters feel land under their feet until nearly two hours into this epic adventure.

Fear is a continual hazard for both Truman and the 197 souls living and working on an English naval ship off the Brazilian coast during the Napoleonic Wars in 1803, when England battled France for control of the seas. (Learn more about conquering fear.) However, the ship’s master and commander is Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe), who seems fearless as he pushes his crew beyond their duty, leading them past the treacherous waters around Cape Horn in order to capture a larger and stronger French warship.

Aubrey presses on while watching his crew suffer many deaths, including one suicide, and endure various bloody injuries. Even Aubrey is tempted to fear his own passion when his lone confidante, Dr. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), dares to ask: Will Aubrey’s zeal lead them all to their doom?

Actors Crowe and newcomer Bettany serve the story well in their roles as brilliant opposite-types, the former a predator and the latter a peace-loving naturalist with an additional scientific motive for visiting South America.

For one officer, hard circumstances and the crew’s superstitious gossip leads him to believe he has “cursed” his own ship and direct references to the biblical story of Jonah abound. (Learn more about Jonah.)

Disturbing images include one character’s suicide, a drowning, a brain surgery, the amputation of an arm, and one man performing his own painful surgery. In addition, there is some profanity used that is intended to mimic sailors’ speech. Battle scenes are realistic, and many people are shown being stabbed or shot. The gore content is not excessive, though it may seem so as you watch the faces and hear the heavy breathing of those who are suffering.

Above all, the filmmakers have strived to create a realistic picture of life aboard an English warship, and they have succeeded amazingly. The credits list the same special effects workshop, WETA, that is used for “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. All the elements, including some intricately-staged battle sequences, are so realistic that it’s difficult to tell whether special effects were used at all.

This film is an ideal experience for young men on their way to manhood, as they will see some role models with admirable qualities, particularly Crowe’s Captain Aubrey and Bettany’s, as well as a pre-teen midshipman who learns from each of them. Since there are no female characters, women may find less reasons to become engaged in this story.

In one scene, Evolution is alluded to, as Dr. Maturin and his protege discuss insects. The doctor explains that the insect they are studying has “disguised itself” (by changing its appearance to look like the tree where it rests) in order to protect itself from predators. The pupil asks, “Did God make them change?” The doctor responds, “Certainly yes—but do they also change themselves? That is the question.” (To learn more about Evolution, click here.) Charles Darwin traveled to the same area where this film is set and based his theory of Evolution on the animals found in “Master and Commander”.

Though this film is PG-13, parents should be very mindful of their own children’s temperaments before daring to show them “Master and Commander”. Particularly alarming is the way younger characters suffer, though, no doubt, the film is realistic. Squeamish adults may have a difficult time as well. This reviewer attended the film with a fortysomething man who, at one point, seemed to be hiding his eyes behind a jacket.

Peter Weir has co-written and directed one of the best adventure films of this or any other decade, and, if you can handle watching some intense warfare and surgery, there are many rewards to be found in “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—Very tastefully portrayed, cinematography is wonderful. Realistic brutalities of war on a seafaring ship almost to the effect of the opening scenes of “Saving Private Ryan.” Good story though and very well written.
My Ratings: [Good/5]
—Wendy G., age 31
Positive—I found the film to be very engaging (and I am a female!). This movie blends well the elements ofaction, suspense, and drama. Fine acting and spectacular cinematography round out the film to make it, I believe, the best film to be released so f ar this season. Interesting twists to the story occur with the inclusion of moral dilemma—the sacrifice of one crewman to save the ship and the rest of its crew, the struggle afterwards of those involved in carrying out that choice, the captain during a memorial service confessing the sin of the crew and of himself that led to the suicide of a young officer, the testing of a friendship as duty (or is it pride?) interferes with the fulfilling of a promise, and the captain having to decide which of these is more important to him.

Will he, like Captain Ahab, let his obsession get the best of him, or will he repent before it is too late? Despite the implication of Evolution and the misuse of the story of Jonah, I was encouraged at how the movie preserved the Christian theistic world view dominant in society during that time period, including the captain referencing specifically “our Lord Jesus Christ” in his last prayer.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/5]
—Deanna Marquart, age 33
Positive—“Master and Commander” is an all-around, fascinating and well-documented movie. While I would not recommend it for those younger than about 14, or to those who are particularly squeamish, it’s a wonderfully rendered story. My ears, which I’ve trained to detect offensive dialogue, were only offended once as a sailor used… well, he used a word that is normally limited to those who travel the seas. Despite that single case of vulgarity, I highly recommend this wonderful work!
My Ratings: [Good/5]
—G. E. Wood, age 45
Positive—Due to the placement of the movie, certain sailor behavior is expected. The rum and the rough affection for one another is what takes place in our own armed forces.The Evolution theory is tossed out when an arm that is lost does not mutate itself! I enjoyed “The Lord’s Prayer and prayed it out loud along with a back seat viewer.It is a step in the right direction when Hollywood is aware of its audience.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
—Dennis M., age 40
Positive—I thought this movie had many examples of the bible’s teaching of strength, commitment to promises and courage. Captain Jack was a strong yet humble leader who, as all humans do, struggled with pride. Captain Jack demonstrated many character traits as the ship’s captain. He showed perseverance, fearless leadership and unwavering command of his ship and crew. He also was an example of balance as he knew how to have fun and comradery with the crew but he also knew when get serious about fighting and his mission. He also showed great respect to the crew. He was a mentor to the young boys and I especially liked the way Captain Jack saw their leadership qualities and trusted them in it. It’s not surprising that the crew showed Captain Jack great respect and friendship.

This movie is a good lesson on Christ’s teaching of the master being an equal with his servants, though remaining the master and having complete authority. The acting was superb and it was a wonderfully made movie with no sex and practically no bad language. Some of the fight scenes were gory but not gratuitous. I would highly recommend this movie for teenagers and older.
My Ratings: [Good/5]
—Lisa Stradley, age 43
Positive—First, considering that Hollywierd can have some strange ideas about things, this movie comes out above that. Since there have already been discussions about the surgeries I would like to focus my comments elsewhere. The discussion about “Evolution”: it was not lost on me the fact that they were near the Galapagos Islands at one point, I half expected that one of the crew would be named Darwin, thankfully that point never came.

There was a discussion between the doctor and one of the young boys, if my memory serves me correctly (I saw it long ago when it was in theaters, and only saw it once). Considering that this is supposed to be an historic era film, such a discussion could have occurred. It should also be considered that this doctr, was talking to a young impressionable mind. Parents should be careful who they let teach or talk to, their children. I think this could be a point of discussion with younger folk on how attitudes began to change from a God fearing view to a godless view, which starts with compromise. more »
My Ratings: [Better than Average/5]
—Dave, age 28
Neutral—This film is what I would call a good, wait for the video, film. The movie is long and with the exception of some “good” battle scenes, was rather boring I thought. There are some good scenes of what are claimed to be the Galapagos Islands. At least Evolutionary teaching is not brought into the story since this story supposedly took place before Darwin’s time so I have to give the writer and director credit for that—not touting Evolution as fact when it is anything but proven.
My Ratings: [Average/2]
—Bob C., age 40
Comments from young people
Positive—This film may seem a little confusing at the beginning for there are no flash backs on how or what Captain Aubrey’s exact orders are. However, I was quite surprised with how good Russell Crowe and the whole cast and story actually were! It is a very good slice of history. The music was very fitting for the time period. The dialogue, even though there didn’t seem like that much, was full of wisdom, fight, weakness, and courage. There are some disturbing elements in “Master and Commander” to be sure. The battle scenes are not as long and bloody as “Lord of the Rings”, but still those who can’t stand the sight of blood may want to stay at home. Other scenes which might be hard for some include a few surgeries, a suicide, and a flogging. Go see it for the pure history of it!
My Ratings: [Better than Average/5]
—Carolyn, age 18
Positive—…the best historical adventure film of the decade!!! The acting is excellent, especially Russel Crowe’s, and the music is wonderful, especially since it is played by the characters in the movie. The story is one that shows the hardships of navy life, but also the camaraderie and friendships that are built while at sea. Character development is also superb. A+ film!
My Ratings: [Better than Average/5]
—Katie, age 17
Positive—This movie is a really well produced film. It has great dialogue, exceptional sets and scenery, and a fantastic cello and violin soundtrack. However, it has some questionable language, graphic battles and operations, and a suicide. That said, this movie would be good for mature teenagers.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/3]
—Jennie, age 16
Neutral—…this movie did not live up to all the hype the critics gave it. And second its PG-13? The battle scenes were bloody; they said the f-word twice, very intense surgery (amputation of an arm)… If you are thinking that you are going to see an action movie think again. This movie is dull from start until the last scene were they actually fight!! I went into this movie having very high expectations but this movie let me down a lot, except for the last fight scene…
My Ratings: [Average/3]
—John Kehr, age 15
Positive—I personally loved this movie. There was blood and gore, but for people who like movies with a great story and book to go behind it, then you will like this movie. I have read the book, and it is very good, the movie kept true to the book, as well as possible and the acting was great.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/5]
—Kristen, age 14
Positive—I went with my dad to see this movie and I thought that it was a great ship movie. My dad got a bit bored because it wasn’t an over the top action movie with great effects. I thought that this movie was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. It was a very solid story with just the right amout of action. The last few lines in the movie give you a bit of a thrill that ended the movie quite nicely.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/5]
—David Demeusy, age 15
Negative—…a very drawn out movie. The acting is lackluster and story is boring. Russel Crowe is lazy and un-charismatic, a step down from A Beautful Mind and Gladiator. Master in Commander has several really, really gross medical scenes. The ships doctor amputates a young boy’s arm, removes a bullet from his own body and performs brain surgery. All of which are very graphic. I would recommend this movie to anybody 15 or older who has a strong stomach
My Ratings: [Average/2]
—Michael, age 16
Movie Critics
…The opening 15 minutes of “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” are so well crafted that they restore your faith in commercial cinema.
—Ty Burr, Boston Globe
…an exuberant sea adventure told with uncommon intelligence; we’re reminded of well-crafted classics before the soulless age of computerized action…
—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
…probably the best movie of its kind ever made…
—Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune
…Masterful direction and commanding performances make this epic voyage highly see-worthy…
—Michael Rechtshaffen, Hollywood Reporter
…positive themes and favorable treatment of God. …Reverence is shown to God and for the Bible in this film.
—Brian Hughes, Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…Raging battle scenes and their bloody aftermaths are both intense and prolonged…
—Steven Isaac, Plugged In