2007-12-01 02:35:21 UTC
for me there are several strikes against a movie like Master and
naval movies featuring wooden ship with sails recycle the same stuff
over and over. you have the storm scene with water splashing about
and someone falling into the sea. you have class tensions between
aristocratic and plebian types and everyone in between. you have the
usual clash of personalities--the enlightened, the brutish, the nasty,
the gentle, the wimpy, etc. you have moments of authoritarian
ruthlessness and near mutinous rage. you have old farts and young
ones. you have the thug, the saint, the intellectual, the man of
action, and so on. of course, this could be said of any military
themed movie but why do naval movies with wooden ships and sails
bother me extra?
it has a lot to do with aesthetics. maybe these ships were wonders of
their age but i hate the look of them. the sails are like giant
diapers hung out to dry, and main body of the ship looks ungainly and
squat with a big fat ass. i hate those pecker shaped cannons and
bowling balls as fodder. worse, i don't like to see pony tails on men
tied with gay looking ribbons. and, the uniforms are pretty gay too,
with those funny vests and stockings. i love the aesthetics of viking
ships, ancient greek and roman ships, and the like. and modern naval
vessels are pretty badass too. but, i never cared for the military
aesthetics of european nations in the 18th and 19th centuries. the
sight of all those gay uniformed, pony-tailed toy soldiers marching in
unison.... sorry, not me cupotea.
gimme me excalibur with its iron-clad knights. gimme the vikings of
13th warrior with long flowing hair, leather and fur, and mighty
swords. gimme ancient greek and roman warriors with elemental grace
and toughness. or, gimme the cowboy with horse, saddle, and rifle. i
can even tolerate the pared down US cavalry in the latter part of the
19th century. the main reason i rooted for al pacino and gang in
Revolution is because they looked less gay than the red coated
this is what happens when gayness takes over a culture; it's bad
shit. the european aristocracy was supposed to be a class of
warriors but somehow grew decadent with excess privilege, wealth, and
leisure; they hired too many gay boys to design all them fancy suits,
wigs, and other tutti-frutti stuff. indeed, the most offensive thing
about the tim roth character in Rob Roy was his getup. we can forgive
him raping roy's wife.. but that wig and makeup!!
and, Master and Commander is no different. it has solid characters, a
compelling story, and many excellent moments. but, the look of the
whole thing puts me off; look at russell with a pony tail tied with
gay ribbon. and i don't think i'm alone in this as it sunk at the box
but lemme try to be fair. this is a very fine, well proportioned
mooie. it's not a deep work of art nor reveals anything original about
the meaning of life, but who can ask for better hollywood
entertainment? it's just that, very good entertainment. it's
comparable to lawrence of arabia which also shouldn't be mistaken as
serious history or deep art. both films are hollywood action
spectacles at their best.
i never liked peter weir except for Year of Living Dangerously. weir
is rather like an australian steven spielberg. he knows all the tricks
and knows how to manipulate. at his box office best-- and artistic
worst--, he's a shameless manipulator, as with Witness. weir was
never a bad craftsman but, like ridley scott and spielberg, rarely
above dumbing things down for mass tastes. at times he tried to
balance populism with seriousness as with the semi-satirical Truman
Show, semi-psychological Fearless, and semi-sociological Mosquito
Coast. but, nearly all of his Hollywood films tilted toward shameless
populism. truman show, which needed to be harder edged, is essentially
forrest gump with a pinch of cynicism.
but, master and commander may be an exception. if the movie has no
higher or deeper meaning, it is at least true to itself--an
intelligent hollywood historical action movie. it works on its own
terms and sticks to the rules.
it's a solid piece of construction. weir is especially deft at
knitting together close ups with long shots. the movie switches back
and forth from sweaty furor to birdeyed views of ships lunging at one
another. rarely have the micro and the macro been interwoven with such
though most of the movie is about naval strategy and non-stop action--
as in most such movies--, there are other welcome elements. though
the captain of the ship--russell crowe--is a man of action, he also
plays violin with his doctor friend and has myriad non-naval
interests. this is a richer and subtler portrayal of life on the ship
than most such movies. the doctor's interest in natural phenomenon
adds another layer of surprise and meaning to the story. perhaps,
things were not so specialized back then as they are today. though
the main mission is hunting and destroying french ships, the captain
is not above indulging in extra-naval affairs, time permitting.
imagine today's naval ship docking on an island to gather animal and
there are obvious tensions between priorities and interests as when
the doctor fumes over crowe's reversal of the decision to explore the
galapagos island. and, it's a good thing that despite all these
conflicts, weir doesn't reduce them to good guy vs bad guy.
in this crowded and nerve-rattling environment, people see-saw between
hating one another and depending on one another. we see love/hate
dynamics at their most intense.
when they finally encounter the french ship and kick ass, it's as
though all the pent-up anger at one another are hauled at the french.
the scene is pretty jingoistic with anglos gloriously whupping frog
ass, but the coda to the scene is just right. as the smoke settles
and the surviving french surrender there is the unmistakable and sad
realization that the french are 'honorable' sailors too; they too are
patriots serving their country and trying to survive under hardship.
i don't see this as weir having it both ways; rather, he's seeing it
both ways. it reminded me of 'enemy below' which presented both sides
as the movie takes place during the napoleonic era the darwinian
theory of evolution had yet to develop. still, the movie indicates
that the leading scholars of natural phenomena were inching toward
such idea. and, the movie finds parallels between animal struggle for
survival with human behavior which aint all that much different.
but, there's a bit of an irony here. humans, unlike animals, have
developed cultures, values, machines, and symbols allowing them to
transcend the brute laws of nature; yet those higher achievments have
also elevated the level of mayhem and brutality. when the anglos and
the french fight it out, they are more crazed than a pack of wolves or
hyenas--worse, armed with swords, guns, and cannons.
i like the fact that the movie has no high moral conclusion or
thematic resolution. instead, we know that the crew will go on, fight
more battles, lose and recruit more men, and so on. but, just as
nature is the sum total of every animal and plant, these men will have
played their role in the slow and mostly imperceptible evolution of
human culture and nations. they watch iguanas thru a telescope, and
we watch them thru this movie. what is the role or place of any
creature or human in the whole equation? so the ironic meaning of
'master and commander', i guess.