Ten Academy Award nominations is alot for any movie. Whether or not it deserved that many could certainly be debated, but Master and Commander is still decent entertainment. Plus, as far as a home theater film, they don't come much better. Oh, and it has cannons too....lots of cannons.
Master and Commander tells the story of the HMS Surprise and it's humungous crew. Their mission on the waters sends them out to capture the Acheron, a French boat headed off to potentially start a war. As expected as a viewer, things don't quite go as planned and the more advanced French boat hands them a beating. Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) is determined to complete his given task and pursues the boat against the will of his crew.
This is the furthest thing from an all out action movie I've seen in some time. Don't be taken by the trailers. It's still a great movie, but there is far too much padding and unneccesary development. Take about a half hour off the running time and you've got a near perfect movie. Granted, I know nothing of the acuracy of the film (I've never even ridden a paddle boat at a theme park), but it looks real to these eyes. The final action sequence is also confusing as it's nearly impossible to tell who is actually killing whom, but hey, it's got cannons......lots of cannons.
M & C is available in 3 DVD seperate editons. There is a standard single disc edition in both full screen (ack!) and widescreen. Also available for a ludicrous price of $29.99 or $34.99 depending on where you shop (more on that later) is a 2-disc "Collectors Edition," packed with features. The movie, print, and sound is presumed to be the same quality on all 3. Reviewed here is the 2-disc.
Presented in a very wide 2.40:1 aspect ratio, this movie is gorgeous. The print starts off very dark to set a claustrophobic mood and the contrast with the bright skin tones is awe-inspiring. A few of the foggier sequences have noticeable grain, but this could also be the effect of the fog. It's very hard to tell. The sequences shot on the Galapogos islands are spectacular in their beauty and the DVD captures everything with fine detail.
Now, I think I may have mention cannons a few times. Simply put, their a home theater fanatics dream weapon. This movie proves it with the best sound field I've heard all year in either DTS or DD 5.1. The LFE channel literally sounds like it's exploding right along with the cannons and oh, those glorious water effects. Even duruning non-action sequences, rest assured you'll hear water hitting the boat, people walking on the floors above, and thunder roaring in the background from every angle. You can even track the movement of those wonderful cannonballs by just listening. Simply put, if your hearing to this movie through a set of TV speakers, your not really hearing this movie.
Now....about that price point: I have no idea how Fox can logically get away selling a measly 2-disc set for an outrageous $34.99. The Lord of the Ring 4-disc sets hardly sell for that price. Hell, I bought the plexi-glass encased Schindlers List gift set this weekend for only $27.99. That comes with a senitype, 40+ hardbound page book, soundtrack, and more things that have slipped my mind. There's not even a cool case to go along with M&C. The only notable inclusion is a 28-page book full of purty pictures.
Granted, this set is packed with special features. Sadly, I'm going to do something that I don't normally do because I'm not feeling all that well. The following is IGN's overview of the features
. I'm just not up to typing this much right now:
"The only thing that keeps this from scoring a ten for extras is the lack of a commentary track. I must admit I'm surprised, because we get so much insight in the extras, you'd think director Peter Weir would lend his voice for the commentary track.
Starting on disc two is a 70 minute documentary The Hundred Days, which details many aspects of the shoot, from pre-production to post-production. It's a genuine, in-depth documentary, not EPK fluff. Shot in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen video with two-channel audio, it's a great guide through the work done on this film, from building the mock up to training the crew to live like sailors.
In The Wake Of O'Brian is a 21-minute featurettes hosted by Weir, since O'Brian died in 2000, discussing the adaptation work of the novels. Cinematic Phasmids is a 30 minute featurettes, the first of three, on the effects of the film. This was quite insightful, as they showed how many scenes were shot without using CG. All of these segments are in 1.85:1 video as well.
Sound Design is a 20-minute featurette on capturing the sounds of the movie, and proves rather comical as we watch these Hollywood sound men out in an open field in snowy Michigan firing off Civil War-era cannons to record the sound. There's also an Interactive Cannon Demonstration, which lets the viewer listen to the cannon firing recordings from different locations. The last featurettes is the HBO First Look, which is the most redundant and fluffy of the featurettes.
There are a total of six scenes running a whopping 24 minutes, presented in widescreen but boxed in on all four sides on my TV. All of these were slower scenes that would have really dragged the movie down, so they were wisely jettisoned.
There are three Multi-Angle Studies showing the filming of three scenes from a variety of angles, including one from the director's perspective. The Split-Screen Vignette lets the viewer access all the cameras at once via split screen.
Finally, there are four Still Galleries, including concept art, Naval art and technical drawings, and a selection of trailers for the film."
There you have it. You decide if it's worth $30+ or not. The single disc should please enough people with it's incredible display of video and sound. The movie itself is strong enough as well. Oh, and if you love this movie and don't have a home theater yet, you now have a reason.
Note: Best Buy includes an exclusive 3rd disc that features a nearly 30 minute documentary on the movie. Not great, but it's a nice touch and a better documentary than the HBO First Look.