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Movie Review:

"Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World"

That's about the longest movie title I can remember, even longer than some of the "Lord of the Rings" movies, and while you digest that, I want to pat myself on the back, and my dad too.

I should be a movie reviewer. I mean a paid one. Consider that Brenda Sexton, new head of the Illinois Film Office, basically got a job as a film reviewer just for the asking.

And read this review of "Master and Commander". In addition to having fractured syntax and not really making any point, the writer misspelled the name of Russell Crowe, perhaps at present the most famous actor in the world.

Anyway, I like to think that these reviews can be a little more personal than the Ebert & Roeper variety.

My dad has read all 20 of the Patrick O'Brian historical naval novels, so I thought he'd be a perfect source to go to for a quick preview of this film. Of course, he's seen it and liked it, though he was somewhat critical of the choice of Paul Bettany as Dr. Stephen Maturin, ship's surgeon and friend to Crowe's Captain Jack Aubrey. He said Bettany was too young to play the character the way he was in the book. Not having read any of the novels, I will defer to him, though I thought Bettany made a fine portrayal, as did Crowe, and you can easily see how the characters in quite a different type of ship -- the starship Enterprise, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, have their antecedents in these kind of men, one being a man of action, the other a man of thought.

The action of the film itself captures the charmingly named British HMS Surprise in several battles with a much larger French frigate in 1805, which it was their mission to either capture or sink, during the early 19th Century battles for sea supremacy between Britain and France.

And battles they are, and fairly realistic. If you are squeamish, you will wind up averting your eyes several times, and I'll tell you that if I had a desire to see blood, I no longer have to see "Kill Bill"; there was plenty of it here.

What I liked most was the realism, the fact that there are both winners and losers and it's not all that clear-cut, and further, characters that you find yourself liking in the film don't necessarily win; several very important and well-beloved (among the crew) people die during the final climactic battle. There's even a small boy on the ship who has a very important role, and is respected among the sailors for what he does.

I had read an earlier review that said that some of the dialogue was difficult to understand, as much of it is indeed spoken in the language of the 19th Century (another nice touch -- too many historical films have people speaking present-day dialects), but I found no such problem, and Crowe, who is Australian (as is the director, Peter Weir, who has directed such diverse films as "The Truman Show" and "Green Card"), did a British accent well enough that you'd never know he wasn't British.

Normally, I'm not much for adventure films, but the story and the action pulled me right in, and there's a nice side story about the doctor, who is also a naturalist, wanting to stop on some islands to see the wildlife, and you realize that at the time, there was still so much unknown about our world, and Weir really is effective at making you see the wonder that people exploring thousands of miles from home must have felt, nearly 200 years ago. Crowe, the only really well-known actor in this film (and it's all actors -- men -- except for one scene where they come across a boat filled with Brazilian women. Don't get excited, they're all dressed in 1805-era clothes), might get himself another Best Actor nomination for "Master and Commander".

There's one scene where the sailors are briefly on "shore leave" and at first it appears they are playing baseball, but of course it's 1805 and they're British, and then you realize it's cricket. Hope the match didn't last four days like the matches do these days.

My dad didn't give me a star rating but based on his comments to me I'll say he'd have given it *** 1/2.

The AYRating is **** -- this is a terrific and well-crafted film and even if you think you don't like this kind of movie, don't miss it.