There's a good forty minute movie inside the two hour and three minute runtime of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Half of it is at the beginning of the movie, the other half is at the end. In between is mostly a frustrating political allegory with the rightwing represented by Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and the left represented by ship's doctor Maturin (Paul Bettany). Their ship, the HMS Surprise, acts as a sort of microcosm. The trouble is, the other plot, with the fantastically filmed action sequences and the effectively suspenseful pursuit of the French privateer Acheron, is so good that getting stuck in the broad political drama is just annoying. Yes, it's so sad Captain Aubrey's pursuit of battle comes at the cost of Doctor Maturin studying animals on the Galapagos Islands, I suppose ruining his chance of being Charles Darwin. Or something. It's like someone telling me to feel guilty about the Doctor on Doctor Who squandering his time on adventures when he could be in a lab somewhere curing cancer.
In real life, I'm a liberal. Not in my action movie fantasy life.
Maybe it would've felt more challenging and therefore interesting when George W. Bush was president. Now things are murkier with an imperfect liberal president so if a movie's going to play things broadly, it'd better be for escapism.
But as I said, the beginning and the ending were great. And despite the uninteresting main character relationship, the movie is quite good at creating a whole crew of characters you start to recognise so you feel it when cannonballs toss a bunch of guys and splinters into the air. I remembered, too, that I'd actually been aboard Aubrey's HMS Surprise--the replica is kept here in San Diego Bay, where I visited it last year.
I understand the French ship Acheron was an American ship in the book--in the movie, it's an American built ship under French control. Have we really not grown up enough yet to have American villains? At the time the story takes place, British ships would regularly take American vessels and impress American sailors into service, which would have been interesting to see. I suppose all that would've complicated our pretty little allegory of modern politics, though.