Master and Commander

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By Mark Ramsey | 2003/10/31

It’s 1805. Napoleon is master of Europe and Russell Crowe is master of the dessert tray.

Avast, ye super-sized Big Mac combo! He of A Beautiful Mind is now of a bountiful appetite! Success may have gone to Russell’s head but everything else has gone to his gut.

In the seafaring action yarn Master and Commander, Russell is Captain “Lucky Jack,” not to mention “Hungry Jack.” And woe unto any passing ships of war or passing plates of food! Somebody has been wrapping his yardarms around too much grog!

master_cruisemissiles.jpgOutfitted in full early 19th century British naval regalia, Russell is also wearing on his head a decorative napkin. Should I salute or expect them to bring my bread?

Out of uniform in his Peter Allen shirt and with his long hair unfurled, a quick glance at Russell suggests His Majesty’s Ship is piloted by none other than Ozzy Osbourne!

Hey, there’s a war on!

These are perilous times for the Brits, and Russell is called on to intercept a French warship and “sink, burn, or take her as a prize, but in His Majesty’s name please don’t eat her!”

So Captain Russell anxiously scans the horizon, holding his scope like he’s hoisting a bong.

Suddenly from out of the mist – BOOM! BOOM, BOOM!! Timbers shatter, bodies scatter, and cannons blaze. Time for Russell to batten down his napkin!

“Shiver me timbers,” shouts Russell, as he single-handedly chews through the Frenchie’s mizzenmast, knowing full well that so much roughage will mean bonus time on the poop deck later.

Whoops! Russell is outgunned, outmanned, outclassed, and out for a snack!

Russell’s vessel, the Surprise, is, as he puts it, “stiff and fast, very fast if well handled,” and very stiff if well handled, too.

The healing arts have come a long way since 1805. Medicine was pretty much limited to “if it hurts, cut it off.” And the tools have changed. Marvel as Paul Bettany performs brain surgery on one scurvy mate – with a tablespoon! How do you handle blood transfusions, Paul, with a salad spinner?

master_king.jpgBesides being a doctor, Paul is also a naturalist, and I don’t mean the kind who patronizes nude beaches unless you’re talking about nude beetles, turtles, and seals. The Surprise stops by the exotic Galapagos islands – the very locale that would later inspire Charles Darwin to formulate the notion that all life evolved from lower forms – a theory not disproved until the advent of Reality TV.

So Paul is crawling all over the Galapagos like Charlie Sheen over Denise Richards. And just when you’re wondering what this has to do with anything, Paul proves that the miracles of nature have lessons for us all. He shows Russell an insect that disguises itself as a stick to confuse its predators just as Pamela Anderson’s fake breasts would later fool her unwitting suitors!

Aha! Russell gets an idea! And not just to use this stick as a toothpick!

You’ll be surprised that there are so many kids aboard this vessel. Here and there, one even commands the ship. What kind of Disney channel tangent is this?! What are we fighting, the Battle of Hilary Duff?

In his off-time, Russell plays the violin. What? Russell Crowe on the violin is about as credible as Marilyn Manson on a glockenspiel. Unless, of course, Russell’s using it to bash some paparazzi over the head.

I’ll say this, Captain Jack has one cheesy sense of humor. “To our wives and sweethearts,” he toasts, “may they never meet.” The cast and audience laugh at a joke that was old even in 1805.

ILM’s visual effects, particularly the way they magnified Russell’s ego to gargantuan proportions, are tremendous and almost impossible to spot. One exception: The moment when a sailor is awash in heavy seas and his bobbing face looks like it was pasted on the water the way David Hedison’s face was pasted on a fly – “Help me!!! Helllp Meeee!!”

In a year when epic adventures have been witless, brainless, aimless – everything but painless, Master and Commander is fresh, tasty, and substantial enough that you should see it before Russell devours the final cut.

Act ye fast!


Photos Copyright ©2003 20th Centure Fox, Universal Studios, Miramax Pictures

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