By Richard Moore
Forget Your Old Shipmates
For those who have yet to see Russell Crowe's latest epic, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, it is a gripping sea-faring drama set during the Napoleonic Wars.
It is exciting, filled with humour and action and - best of all for fans of history - it looks and sounds real.
There are few perfect white teeth, no coiffured locks and even the officers look as if they haven't bathed in a week or two.
The captain and hero of the yarn is Lucky Jack Aubrey (Crowe) a skilled sailor always eager to cross blades with the French.
His ship is the HMS Surprise, a nice-running vessel that - like the captain - looks as if it has seen better days, and few naval dramas have shown life at sea in the age of fighting sail as realistically as Master and Commander.
The Surprise is cramped, men stoop while between decks and the food is awful, but even more life-like is the destruction that is wrought by 18 and 24-pound cannonballs as they smash through oaken walls sending giant deadly splinters into bodies.
Much of the film's realism is due to the Patrick O'Brian novels it is based on, and also to the excellent direction of Peter Weir and the performances of the cast.
Aubrey's doctor and best mate is Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) who you would have to say ends the movie on equal-hero status with his friend. Bettany is just terrific and the character wonderfully rounded.
The storyline, too, is excellent with the Surprise hunting down a French frigate that is thought to be heading towards a British whaling fleet in order to plunder its cargo and wealth.
But first our heroes find themselves in deep water as the French become the hunters and Aubrey's crew find themselves well and truly in harm's way.
The twists within the plot really give this movie a boost and will have you on the edge of your seat at times.
So will the terrible seas the Surprise is forced to battle rounding Cape Horn and the dramatic moments are taken to greater heights by some stunning computer-generated graphics.
Apart from fantastic action scenes there is a huge amount of humour - and tragedy too - that runs through Master and Commander. Much of this due to Bettany and his dreadful run of luck on the Galapagos Islands.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is possibly the best movie ever made about the Napoleonic Wars and one can only hope that Hollywood turns its attention to a period in history that is teeming with more adventures and characters than there are fish in the oceans.
The video transfer on the DVD is utterly superb being sharp and clear of any artefacts or aliasing. It has to be said that those with home theatres will enjoy this more than people watching on a small TV screen as Master and Commander begs for large imagery. The sound is awesome and will give your sound system a thorough 3-Dimensional workout.
The extras on the two-disc Master and Commander special edition are excellent and include The Hundred Days, a massive 70-minute behind the scenes feature, In the Wake of O'Brian 19-minutes with Peter Weir as he gets in-depth about putting the movie together, Cinematic Phasmids is half-an-hour on computer garphics, Sound Design, Deleted Scenes, and a Multi-Camera Shooting feature on filming battle scenes.
Excellent extras, brilliant movie.