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March 3, 2008
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Blu-Ray Movie Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
4/12/20035/3/2008FoxPeter Weir
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1MRussell Crowe

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A penny for your thoughts!
Peter Weir is a master director that simply doesn't get the attention he deserves. But look at the list of movies he's directed over the years; Dead Poets Society, Witness, The Truman Show and Gallipoli (one of the greatest war movies of all time, and one which even those outside Australia should check out) to name a few. 2003 saw the release of Peter Weir's latest movie, Master and Commander and yet again the director is has pushed new boundaries with a brilliant depiction of life on the sea, a great storyline and brilliant cast including Russell Crowe.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World tells the story of Captain Jack Aubrey (Crowe) and the crew of the HMS Surprise. When a sudden attack by a French warship inflicts casualties and severe damage upon his vessel, Captain Aubrey of the British Royal Navy is torn between duty and friendship as he embarks on a thrilling, high-stakes chase across two oceans to intercept and capture the enemy at any cost.

Personally this movie continues to growing on me. The first time I saw it in the cinemas I felt it was a little dull, but the more I see this movie the more I admire the attention to detail, the acting and direction, and the way in which the movie captures sea life. While Russell Crowe tends to divide opinion in terms of liking or disliking him, there's no denying that he is a fine actor, and Master and Commander is one of his best performances to date. Fortunately Russell is surrounded by equally impressive actors including Paul Bettany as his friend Dr. Stephen Maturin, Billy Boyd as Barrett Bonden and James D'Arcy as First Lt. Thomas Pullings just to name a couple.

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Russell Crowe leads the charge...
Australian director Peter Weir picked up a Best Director nomination at the Academy awards for his efforts with Master and Commander, and deservedly so. In total the movie received ten Academy Award nominations, picking up two for Best Cinematography and Best Sound editing while missing out on Best Picture. It was a tough ask as the movie was up against the juggernaut known as Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In any other year Master and Commander almost certainly would have won Academy Awards in so many more categories, but it was always an impossible task to go up against the Peter Jackson juggernaut.

Master and Commander is a finely crafted sea-fearing movie. In fact few movies set on the wildest oceans around the world have ever looked or sounded this good. The movie is based on the books by Patrick O'Brian - by books we mean that this movie actually takes events from several books in his series. I've never read the books so I can't comment on how much is taken from each book (there are 21 books in total) but obviously there is plenty of source material to draw future films from. While that isn't on the cards at this stage I do hope that we return to this world sometime in future. If you haven't seen Master and Commander then this is a movie well worth your time. If you've seen this before then you'll know exactly what to expect, and probably already have this on your shopping list.

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Crew Officers could be quite young.
Encoded in AVC MPEG-4 in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and at 1080p Master and Commander is a stunning example of what the Blu-Ray format is capable of, and certainly matches it with the best releases on the format to date.

Despite the fact that many scenes taking place at night or in poorly lit areas, this transfer exhibits minimal amounts of grain or noise and only a few scenes look a little out of focus slightly - very slightly - but that's an issue with the source rather then the encoding. During the battle scenes thousands of pieces of debris and parts of the ships fly around as they get torn apart, however the image remains clear and sharp at all times. To say that this release is an improvement over the DVD release is an understatement to say the least. The (impressive) DVD release doesn't even come close to the sharpness and clarity provided on this Blu-Ray disc and fans of the movie with 1080p HDTV's will be in awe at the clarity with some of the scenes.

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Cheers to, well, more drinking!
Not only are you likely to be impressed with the video presentation on this disc, but the audio is likely to impress. Master and Commander on Blu-Ray includes a cracking DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which, until Sony updates the PS3 firmware, means we are limited to the 1.5Mbps DTS core track. Never fear though as this is one of the most impressive audio experiences we have ever hard with aggressive use of sub woofer and surround sound channels. The original DVD release had an impressive 768kbps DTS track, but the clarity of this release far exceeds that track. The howling winds, the blasts of cannons, the call of birds and the dialogue, even during intense battle scenes, are all crystal clear as one would expect. If you want to sample the stunning audio in this movie have a listen to the opening battle between 8:52 - 12:21. The use of deep bass, aggressive surrounds and clear dialogue remains evident throughout.

Besides the English track the disc also packs in a Spanish DTS track encoded at 768kbps. It's not quite as clear as the DTS-HD Master Audio for English, but isn't a track you'll be disappointed with. Subtitles are provided in seven different languages including English for the Hearing Impaired.

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Look, it's Peregrin 'Pippin' Took from LOTR.
Sadly, and as seems to be a common occurrence with Fox's Blu-Ray releases, many of the extensive features and documentaries found on the 2-disc DVD release have been omitted from this High Def release. Doing this certainly leads us to believe that Fox will be releasing Blu-Ray 'Special Editions' somewhere down the line. Having said that we are glad that Fox are concentrating on the best presentation for the feature movie rather then taking up space on extras. So anyway, let's look what we have here...

Deleted Scenes (24:20/HD): Quite extensive deleted scenes which add a bit more to the storyline, but with the movie having a runtime of 2 hours 18 minutes it's clear to see why some of these edits were made. The scenes, with some incomplete effects and rough footage are presented in High Definition using the AVC MPEG-4 Codec with 2 channel Dolby Digital Sound.

Pop-up Map: Thanks to Java technology it is possible to bring up a small map in the bottom left of the corner while the movie is running so you can see where the ships are located in various parts of the movie.

Historical and Geographic Trivia Track: A fascinating trivia track which points out plenty of details about the movie, inaccuracies with actual events of the time, and production. If there is one complaint it's that the boxes that pop-up often take over a large part of the screen, when they could be put into the Black boarders due to the wide aspect ratio.

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The filmmakers used real ships!
Trailers (7:26/HD): Three trailers are on offer including one for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, one for Live Free or Die Hard and one for Eragon. Each is presented in 1080p High Definition with AVC encoding.

Keyword Search: Thanks to the power of Java this disc provides hundreds of keywords from the movie - locations, actors - which will then jump you directly to the scene in which it, or they are involved. Very impressive.

Bookmarks: Thanks, again, to Java you can now add your own bookmarks for the movie so you can return to your favourite scenes easily.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a wonderful movie on all levels. The attention to detail is superb and the acting equal to the task. Throw in a super transfer both in terms of video and audio, and a few decent extras and this is a Blu-Ray release well worth picking up.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyrightę Fox. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.