'Master and Commander' Is a Forgotten Masterpiece and Franchise

'Master and Commander'Credit: Fox
Remember this grand adventure on the high seas? Why don't we have 10 of them? 

Take yourself back to the movie theater in 2003. You're seeing a huge movie opening. The budget was $150 million and it has an all-star cast. The movie happens on the high seas. It's a swashbuckling adventure that features incredible direction, subtle and transformative performances, and some of the most realistic set pieces and CGI that holds up almost two decades later.

It's the first movie in an intended franchise and when it ends, you can't wait for more. 

No, you're not watching a Disney pirate movie, you're watching Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. This epic, Napoleonic-era war film was co-written, produced, and directed by Peter Weir. The movie’s plot and characters are adapted from three novels in author Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series. That series includes 20 completed novels of Jack Aubrey's naval career.

For the movie adaptation, Russell Crowe starred as Aubrey, a captain in the Royal Navy, alongside Paul Bettany as Dr. Stephen Maturin, the ship's surgeon. 

This epic masterpiece was supposed to be the start of a very serious franchise that took these characters around the world and pitted them against some of the fiercest armadas. But that never happened. 

Check out the video from Empire of the Mind and let's talk after the jump. 

Master and Commander Is a Forgotten Masterpiece and Franchise

Let's take a minute to appreciate a time in Hollywood when you could take such big swings on movies. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was filmed on the open sea, on replica ships. They even went to the real Galapagos Islands to get the shots of them visiting. The boats they used were modern replicas that actually sailed in the ocean.

For other scenes, they used the same water tanks in Mexico that Titanic did, filling them with water like big bathtubs and staging wars on replicas of the ships. 

This was a huge movie. It was co-produced by 20th Century Fox, Miramax Films, Universal Pictures, and Samuel Goldwyn Films. When you have a movie this expensive, it has to make a lot of money to justify sequels. Unfortunately, this movie didn't do enough to make people excited to try again. It grossed $212 million worldwide.

That sounds like a lot, but most movies need to make double their budget to actually be in the black, and this is not that. 

Even without the fiscal justification, you would think we would get more based on awards alone. At the 76th Academy Awards, the film was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. It won Best Cinematography and Best Sound Editing. 

With everything I said there, you would think this was a huge movie that everyone talked about, but it's not. That could be because it was eclipsed by movies like the Pirates of the Caribbean series, which had a different tone and could have scared off producers worried about a sequel that didn't have an audience. It also could be because it went up against Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King at the Academy Awards, which swept most categories that year and took all the headlines. 

No matter what, movies like this one are sort of lost today. In mid-2021, we heard there might be a prequel in the works. Reported via Deadline, 20th Century Studios is working with screenwriter Patrick Ness to tell the story about what came before this movie, but no word yet on whether or not Weir or Crowe will be involved. Weir has publicly said he isn't coming back, but Crowe has spoken about the film many times and even tried to get a sequel going in 2010. 

While I remain excited for what is to come, I do wish we saw more direct sequels after the original. That was a character-rich movie that had some of the coolest combat scenes and practical sets that just do not exist today. 

Were you a fan of this movie? Sound off in the comments.      

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