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Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World — Collectors Edition

Patrick O'Brian, author of the seafaring exploits of British Naval officer Jack Aubrey and his physician/naturalist friend Stephen Maturin, was known as a writer's writer, boasting an impressively literary fan-base ranging from Iris Murdoch to David Mamet. For those unfamiliar with his work, such pedigreed ardor might seem unusual, but O'Brian was no common genre hack. As anyone who has sampled 20-volume series of books will attest to, the appeal of his work lies not in the bustling, page-turning suspense of most serial yarns, but in the sparkling camaraderie of its characters and the dense, vividly described detail of its mostly ocean-bound milieu. In fact, his understanding of this world was so innate, many had him figured for a time traveler from the 19th century. Since their popular revival in 1990, the Aubrey-Maturin books have been hotly pursued by Hollywood. But the problem, outside of deciding which book to film, was always a question of finding the right director for the sure-to-be-costly gig. When the idiosyncratic, but highly respected Peter Weir was finally attached to the project, it sounded like a perfect match: At last, the writer's writer had found a director's director. The marriage could hardly have been more harmonious. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2004), a mouthful of a title that's actually a combination of the first and tenth books in the series respectively, is a brilliant transformation of the aesthetic exactness of O'Brian's prose into a visual and aural feast of captivating verisimilitude. It's a thrilling realization of cinema's immersive potential that energizes its slender narrative with the perpetual feeling that one is bearing witness to as close a representation of life as it was on the high seas without the use of that time machine that bore O'Brian a century forward. And, thanks to the massive budget of the thing (so big, it required three studios to share the cost, resulting in an amusing bit of pre-credit logo jockeying), it's also most probably the final big screen foray for these beloved characters. If so, fans should simply be content to count their blessings for the day when Peter met Patrick. Fox presents Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World in a superb anamorphic transfer (2.40:1) with flawless Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 audio. For a film so reliant on the vibrancy of its sound, Fox has come through with excellent, standard setting work here. Extras on this two-disc "Collector's Edition" include a behind-the-scenes documentary entitled "The Hundred Days" (68 min.), "In the Wake of O'Brian" (20 min.), which offers insights on Weir's creative process, HBO "First Look" On-Location documentary, a visual f/x featurette called "Cinematic Phasmids (20 min.), a sound design featurette (18 min.), an "Interactive Cannon Demonstration," six deleted scenes (24 min.), "Interactive Multi-Angle Battle Scene Studies," three art galleries, and theatrical teasers and trailers for this film and upcoming Fox features. Dual-DVD digipak with paperboard sleeve.
—Clarence Beaks

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