Sunday, November 16
One of my cardinal rules of moviegoing is to never see a movie on its opening weekend, as I can't stand a crowded theater. We made an exception for Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World, and it was well worth it. That is one of the best movies I've ever seen. Having read Patrick O'Brian's entire twenty-book series through three times (and some of my favorites four times), I had some misgivings about the casting and whether the plot and myriad details would be faithful to the novel.
When I see movies based on books, I've usually read the book first and I'm usually interested in seeing certain scenes and characters to compare them to my impressions. It turns out the plot is only very loosely based on the tenth book in the series, for which it is named, but once things got started I didn't care a bit. Those scenes in the movie which were lifted from the books (like Jack and Stephen's argument in the Galapagos) I thought were nearly perfect, and the new dialogue (such as Jack's pep talk to the crew) was very faithful to the personalities involved.
On the whole, the casting was excellent. Russell Crowe makes a perfect Aubrey, and Pullings, Killick, Awkward Davies and all the midshipmen were pretty much as I imagined them. I was worried going in about the casting of Paul Bettany as Maturin, since he's supposed to be short, weigh about 125 pounds, be pretty odd-looking, and is usually unkempt. Bettany is six foot three and looks normal and fairly clean, but he does a great job with the role, and by the end of the movie I was comfortable thinking of him as Maturin. Joe Plaice, an elderly seaman, came across as needlessly grim. But the only part I was actually disappointed in was Billy Boyd as Barrett Bonden, who as Aubrey's coxswain and an accomplished prizefighter should have had a far more seasoned look.
The books make a big deal (and rightly so) about the rigors of seagoing life, and the filming did a good job of conveying them as well. The opening shot, for example, shows the seamen sleeping in their hammocks, all jammed in right next to each other (spaced 28" apart) and swinging in unison. Later, the shots of reefers clinging to the yards in heavy weather, with the ship rolling and the ocean heaving far below, were downright frightening. There were also lots of little details, obivously thrown in to appease those, like us, who have read the books: Padeen, "J.A." carved into the masthead, and the names painted on the gun carriages. Another great touch was the "spyglass" shots, which showed distortion around the edges (and in one case, a cracked lens).
At first I was astonished at the decision to make a movie based on the tenth book in the series, which isn't even one of the best stories. But since Jack and Stephen are in their early twenties in the beginning, and the producers wanted to make a big splash, and considering Russell Crowe is pushing forty, I guess it makes sense. What I'd like to see them do is make a couple more of the later books with Crowe and Bettany - a good next movie would be #13, The Thirteen-Gun Salute, which features Maturin's intelligence work far more prominently and has a wonderful denouement. That would solidify a fan base for the movies. Then they should recast the roles with some younger actors and start over with Master and Commander (#1), The Mauritius Command (#4), and The Fortune of War (#6). These are the best stories and all would make really great movies.
The horseshoe pitch is now playable! Four of us got the holes dug yesterday to bury the stake anchors to the correct depth and with a nice inward lean. Many thanks to PC, CS, KR, and RL for their help. We also made some toe lines by sinking a few bricks in the ground. The next step I think will be marking off the pit area. I plan to use some of that metal landscape edging and topping the ground with clay. It was also getting dark by the time we finished our digging, which illustrated a need for some lighting. I need to do some research on that part.