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Film / Master and Commander

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"For England! For home! And for the prize!"
Captain Jack Aubrey

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a 2003 Age of Sail naval warfare drama, based on the Aubrey-Maturin series of historical novels by Patrick O'Brian set during The Napoleonic Wars. It is directed by Peter Weir and stars Russell Crowe as Captain "Lucky Jack" Aubrey of His Majesty's Ship Surprise, and Paul Bettany as ship's surgeon, naturalist, and Jack's dear friend Stephen Maturin. It is known for being one of the more accurate depictions of Wooden Ships and Iron Men on film, true to its source.

The plot of the film references several books in the series, including Master and Commander (1969) and The Far Side of the World (1984). Captain Aubrey is sent to the coast of Brazil to engage a private man-of-war employed by Napoleonic France, only to find the enemy considerably more powerful than his beloved but nearly obsolete frigate, the Surprise. Worse, the enemy commander is Aubrey's equal or even superior as a tactician and seaman. Going beyond his orders, Aubrey pursues the enemy into the Pacific where she is raiding British whalers, and attempts a final stratagem that will either doom the Surprise or give her victory.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Dr Maturin is short, scrawny and ugly in the books, but played by the tall and handsome Paul Bettany.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Snippets from several of the books on which the movie is based are thrown in (the title alone comes from two of them.) There is only a brief mention of Stephen being a spy, and the enemy ship is American-made (and thus advanced and well-built) but French-aligned.note 
  • Adventurous Irish Violins: Throughout the optimistic and adventurous sequences, as befitting a work set in the Age of Sail.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Nagle is drunk on grog when he bumps into Hollom on purpose. This earns him a flogging.
  • Almighty Janitor: Dr. Maturin is the ships doctor, but it is clear he is not a standard surgeon you would see on other vessels but a fully developed physician and naturalist. The crew is astonished seeing him performing mild brain surgery in an early scene.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Blakeney loses his right arm as a result of the Acheron's ambush at the beginning of the film.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Jack realises he's been hoodwinked, and the Surprise must once again pursues the Acheron, much to Stephen's disappointment.
  • Artifact Title: "Master and commander" (later shortened to "commander") is an official naval rank between "lieutenant" and "post captain", and it is Jack's rank during the so-titled book. However, the film takes place later during his career, after he has already made post.
  • Badass Adorable: Several midshipmen, but cute little Will Blakeney takes the cake. He's a blond teen-aged Pretty Boy who gets interested in science and natural world. And he's a great sailor and officer who can kick some serious ass (with one arm, no less).
  • Badass Bookworm: Maturin can't just hold his own in battle; he can do it while nursing a fresh gunshot wound he treated himself without so much as alcohol to numb the pain. Digging a bullet out of your own gut? Pretty damn badass.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment:
    • The punchline of Jack's story about dining with Admiral Lord Nelson.
    Jack: The first time that he spoke to me... I shall never forget his words. I remember it like it was yesterday. He leaned across the table, he looked me straight in the eye, and he said "Aubrey... may I trouble you for the salt?" [everybody howls with laughter] I've always tried to say it exactly as he did ever since!
    • And Jack's toast "to wives and sweethearts...may they never meet." note 
  • Black Comedy: The morning after Hollom commits suicide, there's a service for him. Killick hands Jack a copy of the Bible... which is open to the book of Jonah. Jack gives him an extremely not-amused look and hands the book back before carrying on.
  • Boarding Party: They manage to trick and successfully board Acheron, but the battle is hard.
  • Burial at Sea: After the exhilaration of victory, there is a deliberate Mood Whiplash as the regrettable price is shown: burial at sea for the men — and boys — who died taking the enemy.
  • Butt-Monkey: Midshipman Hollom, played for drama. Where most midshipmen have made lieutenant by the time they're out of their teens, Hollom is almost 30 and has been passed over for promotion twice. He fails to effectively command or obtain the respect of the men under him, and is eventually Driven to Suicide over it.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Captain Aubrey orders the flogging of Nagle, a sailor he respects, to maintain the authority of Hollum, an officer he doesn't.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Aubrey is told that a mast has been damaged, but refuses to make landfall and spend weeks looking for the right timber to fashion a new one, because the Acheron will escape. Later while pursuing the Acheron around Cape Horn in a raging storm the mast breaks, ending the pursuit and sending a man overboard. Even though there's a chance of saving the man, Aubrey has to cut the mast loose or risk sinking the ship.
    • Aubrey has Nagle and Warley rewarded with an extra tot of rum for providing information on their opponent. This backfires when Nagle has the means to get drunk after Warley is killed.
    • There's a closeup of the cannon striker in action during the gunnery practise, to set up the scene where a man blocks the striker from firing during the final battle.
  • Cool Boat: The Acheron is newer, faster, stronger, and better-armed than the Surprise, by some accounts an "aged man of war." Aubrey takes issue with that characterization.
    Aubrey: The Surprise has a bluff bow, lovely lines. She's a fine seabird: weatherly, stiff and fast... very fast, if she's well handled. No, she's not old. She's in her prime.
  • Child Soldiers: Middies are both "Precociously Talented" and "Tragic" types. Blakeney for instance is the latter because he gets maimed, and the former because even after that fact he can still lead a war party of men twice his age and personally kick ass himself. Truth in Television: most Royal Navy officers started in their teens.
  • Chromosome Casting: Justified. Neither the French nor the Royal Navy allowed female sailors, and privately owned ships generally considered it bad luck to have women aboard ship. The solitary woman in the movie is a Brazilian lady who's on screen for all of five seconds doing nothing but twirling a Parasol of Prettiness.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Members of the crew fight with whatever weapons they have — daggers, dirks, cutlasses, sabres, pistol butts, axes, even a large carpentry hammer. They also used different ways of stopping cannon fire, from dousing the vent to blocking the striker with their bare hand.
  • Corner of Woe: After Aubrey denies him permission to explore the Galapagos Islands, Maturin is shown reading a book by himself in the stern, ignoring the land he was eagerly peering at through a glass before. After Blakeney brings him a beetle he's caught, Maturin pulls himself together and is shown making the best of things by dipping a net over the side and examining the marine creatures he's caught.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: At the end of the film, the French captain dresses up a corpse in his captain attire and impersonates their dead doctor himself, presumably to try to re-take the ship when the English have their guard down. He did so even although there were many English prisoners of war aboard the Acheron who might have perfectly noticed the captain that captured them was disguised as a crewmember.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Aubrey's steward, the irascible Preserved Killick.
    Aubrey: [sozzled from too many glasses of claret and impatient for the pièce de résistance] Killick? Killick! ... There.
    Killick: [who is standing right behind him] Which I'm here already, ain't I?
    • And when Will Warley and his friend are rewarded with extra rum for delivering their Acheron model.
    Killick: We was saving it for salutin' day.
    Aubrey: We'll drink wine.
    Killick: [Grumbling under his breath] Oh, we'll drink wine, that's great...
  • Deathbed Promotion: Jack gives Midshipman Peter Calamy an acting commission as Third Lieutenant just before laying the ambush for the Acheron. Calamy is Killed Offscreen during the boarding action, and Jack gives his final rank as "Lieutenant", no "acting", when reading off the casualty list at the post-battle funeral service.
  • Death by Adaptation/Spared by the Adaptation: The changing of the plot alters the fate of four of the tenth book's minor characters: one spared, three killed off.
  • David vs. Goliath: The Surprise is a Unity class corvette of about 650 tons, with a nominal armament of 28 guns and an actual armament in RN service closer to 36 guns. The Acheron is based on the real USS Constitution, a 1,600 ton United States class frigate with a nominal armament of 44 guns and an actual armament of 50. But counting guns makes the fight seem fairer than it is. Acheron's guns are much larger, longer-ranged, and fire heavier shot. Surprise's broadside throws 328 pounds of metal to the Acheron's 1,408 lb broadside. Furthermore, American ships of that era were often built of live oak, an unusually dense and strong wood that gave Constitution its famous nickname. The two ships are barely in the same class, as the sailing master points out after the first engagement.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: The captain of the Acheron disguises himself as the ship's long-deceased doctor, De Vigny, and dresses up another body as the captain in order to fool Jack, even giving him his own personal sword while stating the "captain" wanted him to have it (and perhaps secretly as a token of respect for a Worthy Opponent).
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • The brutality of life at sea, especially for young children like the midshipmen (Calamy, Blakeney, Williamson, and Boyle) and cabin boys (Lofty, who appears to be about six). Blakeney has his arm amputated and Calamy killed in action taking the Acheron. All of them are in action and kill French sailors during battle.
    • In a lesser way, the midshipmen drinking wine with the officers. Blakeney, age 13, is rather plastered by the time the shanty begins.
    • At the end, Captain Aubrey declares an intent to get back to Europe before "God forbid, peace breaks out". To the modern ear, this sounds so callous it can only be interpreted as a sarcastic joke. However, for a young captain without seniority or significant political connections, peace would mean being stuck on shore on half-pay and with no prospects of prize money, promotion or a command to gain experience and seniority with, and with poverty a very real risk.
    • Doctor Maturin makes a passing reference to impressment (the practice of forcing men into service without notice). One presumes that many of the crew of the Surprise were not there by choice.
  • Determinator:
    • Aubrey is implacably determined to capture the formidable Acheron.
      Aubrey: My orders were to pursue the Acheron as far as Brazil. I exceeded my orders some time ago.
    • Unfortunately the French captain is equally determined to turn the tables on his pursuer.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: In the book, Hollum is in involved in a Love Triangle and is murdered by the jealous husband. Because the gunner and his wife are Adapted Out, he is instead Driven to Suicide.
  • Dies Wide Open: Calamy, and it's an extra gut punch in that it isn't revealed until after the battle at the film's climax has concluded.
  • Doom Magnet: Hollom is believed to be this by the crew. He's the Sole Survivor of his gun crew in the first attack, and he's on watch when the ship's mast breaks (causing the death of a crewman) and when they end up In the Doldrums.
  • Driven to Suicide: The aging midshipman Hollom, who has no prospects of promotion, is completely lacking in leadership ability, and to top it off gets labeled as a curse on the ship's luck. He ends up jumping overboard while holding a cannonball.
  • Drums of War:
    • The track "The Battle" from the soundtrack is very heavy on drums.
    • In-Universe with the "beat to quarters"; the beating of drums rouses the crew from their hammocks and sends them rushing to their action stations.
  • The Drunken Sailor: They drink huge amounts of wine and rum, especially during dinners. True to life in the Navy.
  • Duet Bonding: Aubrey and Doctor Maturin deepen their friendship by playing duets on violin and cello, respectively (much to the frustration of Killick, who can't stand the music).
  • Easy Logistics: "The French have their spies in England and elsewhere... as do we." This seems to imply a French spy all the way back in Portsmouth, where he saw Surprise put to sea, somehow ran out across the ocean to warn the French Captain so he could lay an ambush at just the right time and place. Relatively possible, though, as there could have been agents located in South America or other ports where the Acheron could have stopped by, and these agents would have been aware of English man-of-war movements in the area even if they did not necessarily see the Surprise put out to sea. It is also possible that the French were warned that England had dispatched the Surprise to intercept Acheron, allowing the Acheron to ambush Surprise rather than the other way around.
  • Empathic Environment: After weeks In the Doldrums, as soon as Hollom is buried at sea, the wind picks up. Depending on how you look at it, either Hollom's spirit has forgiven the crew for their lack of fellowship, or driving him to suicide removed his curse on the ship and they can get on with their duties. Or it was a complete coincidence. Though he said meaningful words right before jumping off the ship, implying he felt he might have actually have been cursed. Ambiguity about such things is a common plot device.
    Blakeney: The Captain thinks we'll get our wind tomorrow.
    Hollom: I'm sure of it.
    • It is worth noting that the wind picked up the moment the crew began to ask forgiveness for what they'd believed about him, not the moment he drowned.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The first scene sets up the difference between the timid midshipman Hollom and the much younger but braver Calamy. Hollom is technically proficient, checking the draft of the ship's waters when told of a possible reef marker bell, but when he spots the shadow of the Acheron in the fog, he second-guesses himself and doesn't call an alarm without checking with Calamy, a teenage midshipman over a decade his junior. Calamy didn't see the Acheron, but even though Hollom is the watch officer, he calls for the alarm when Hollom hesitates, having no fear of the possibility of being wrong when the ship's safety is at stake.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: How Aubrey gets the idea for the Defensive Feint Trap. His surprise makes this trope fall short of Truth in Television; in real-life naval warfare and the universe of the books, ships employ ruses like this often enough that Aubrey wouldn't need the reminder.
    Aubrey: "Let me guess. A stick?"
    Blakeney: It's a rare phasmid, sir... It's an insect that disguises itself as a stick in order to confuse its predators.

    Captain Aubrey: [later] A nautical phasmid, Doctor, at least for a hungry eye, if one has an appetite for whalers. I intend to take a greater interest in the bounty of nature from now on. [...] I had no idea that a study of nature could advance the art of naval warfare! Now to pull this predator in close and spring our trap.
    Stephen: Jack. You're the predator.
  • The Faceless: In the times we see the Surprise crew look at the captain of the Acheron, his face is always covered up (usually by a spyglass, because he's looking right back). This is important so that later on we don't recognize that he's impersonating the doctor.
  • Famed In-Story:
    • Living Legend Lord Horatio Nelson is an inspiration for every seaman of the Royal Navy. Aubrey will never forget the first time his idol spoke to him in person, nor what he said: "Aubrey... may I trouble you for the salt?"
    • Captain Lucky Jack himself, who was also famed for knowing Lord Nelson in person. However as Maturin points out, being Born Lucky doesn't prepare you for defeat, and he suggests to Aubrey that he's motivated by Pride in his reckless chase of a superior opponent.
  • Fan Disservice: Maturin's Shirtless Scenes are all of him after he's been gut-shot, with all of the unpleasant physiological effects thereof.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Aubrey hears the rumble of the Acheron's guns being run out. This causes him to look back at the fog bank where he sees flashes of cannonfire, giving him just enough time to shout for the crew to hit the deck before Surprise is raked with grapeshot.
  • Food Porn: That pudding Killick serves to the officers looks luscious. All the more impressive for being made on a ship at sea with a minimum of fresh ingredients and served on a three-foot-wide tray with the amount of pudding made amounting to literal gallons.
  • Foreign Queasine: On the other hand, Aubrey's favorite dinner is "Soused Hog's Face," which is, quite literally, a pig's head cooked in wine. The British perfected the concept of nose-to-tail eating, but it's an acquired taste for non-Brits.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: De Vigny, the "Docteur" at the end that presents Jack with the dead captain's sword has no blood on his hands. Later, when we learn that it's the captain posing as the surgeon to escape notice, it suddenly makes sense.
  • A Friend in Need: Captain Aubrey has to choose between pursuing his quarry and saving Dr. Maturin's life. Stephen also has to choose to abandon his precious specimen collection, to inform Captain Aubrey the Acheron is nearby.
  • Friend to All Children: A very understated example, but crewman Davies qualifies. He has a soft spot for Lofty, one of the ship's boys and, along with Padeen and Maturin, is one of Blakeney's friends on the crew, even snarking good-naturedly with him about his lost arm.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Done when Dr. Maturin amputates Midshipman Blakeney's arm, when a crewman is whipped for insubordination, and when Stephen operates on himself. Avoided at other points.
  • Grand Theft Prototype: Aubrey's crew takes possession of the Acheron at the end of the movie. Should be noted also that the Real Life HMS Surprise, the inspiration for the ship in the novel, was originally the Unité, a French corvette in service of the French Navy, which was captured by the British Navy, renamed, and introduced into British service.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The opening credits make sure to note that the film is set during The Napoleonic Wars, and before the climactic battle Aubrey makes it clear that Britain is under threat of invasion and this is just their part of the conflict.
  • Grizzled Veteran: The old sailing-master is a particular fan of sea-shanties and Lord Nelson.
  • Handicapped Badass: Lord Will Blakeney, a one-armed 13-year-old Badass Adorable Plucky Middie. Naturally he looks up to Lord Nelson, who also lost an arm. A beautiful moment occurs when Aubrey visits the young Lord Blakeney in his hammock just after he has had his arm amputated. He recommends a book to the young Lord's attention: an account of Nelson's victories, with several fine illustrations. After some very stiff-upper-lip dialogue, Aubrey departs, leaving Blakeney to leaf through the book, which opens at an illustration of Lord Nelson, minus an arm. Blakeney more than rises to the implied challenge, which later leads to...
  • Heroic BSoD: Blakeney after the crew takes the Acheron. He can barely keep himself together while stitching up Calamy in his hammock. During the funeral service, he doesn't openly weep like the other young middies, but rather has a blank and sad look on his face. Afterwards, he goes to the doctor, still with a blank look on his face, hoping to ease his grief through study.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: Hollom's entire character arc basically states, "Displays of strength and decisive action (even if it's not genuine) will do you more good in this life than attempts to be friendly and compassionate." Hollom tries desperately to bond with the crew members and is viewed as a weakling for it. In the end, he's treated as a scapegoat by everyone, including Captain Aubrey, and is ultimately Driven to Suicide.
    Aubrey: You don't make friends with the foremast jacks, lad. They'll despise you in the end. Think you weak.
  • Historical In-Joke:
    • Dr. Maturin speculates about evolution decades before Darwin. Though evolution was already being speculated about years before the film is set, by Lamarck and Erasmus Darwin (Charles' grandfather) among others. Darwin's big idea was of natural selection, not evolution.
    • Maturin being half-Spanish might be a reference to Félix de Azara, a Spanish predecessor to Darwin whom the latter admired, or perhaps José de Acosta, another Spaniard who likely influenced Darwin's thought about species.
    • Jack says something along the lines of "heading home before peace breaks out with France, God forbid". He's not being facetious. Should peace break out, he would have been reduced to half pay, with no prospects for bettering his situation through taking prizes. Peace, for any naval officer without private wealth or political clout, tended to mean near-starvation.
  • Hollywood Darkness: Played straight as usual, but consciously averted during the decoy scene halfway through the movie. The crew of the Surprise jury rig a sailed raft with lanterns placed on it in such a way to resemble the aft lanterns of the ship to draw off the Acheron. The whole scene is shot as dark as most movies usually get, except at the very end where the shot fades to a more realistic darkness to show how that Acheron would actually fall for such a trick.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: "I just shot Maturin in the guts." You would think that the Captain of the Marines would know better. And he was shooting at an albatross; he clearly hasn't read up on his Nautical Folklore.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink:
    • Soon after a scene where Aubrey is seen with a picture of his wife while writing a letter to her, Surprise pulls into a Brazilian port where they take on supplies and he lays eyes on a woman smiling at him from under a parasol. Far be it from him to catcall a girl like some of his crew, but he still finds it hard to look away.note  The scene immediately following is dinner in the officer's mess with a hefty decanter of wine being passed around, Aubrey apparently having decided that it is a good occasion to get himself and his officers piss drunk.
    • Nagle is Drinking on Duty after becoming convinced that Mr. Hollom is responsible for the death of his friend. He deliberately shoulders aside Hollum in view of the captain and gets flogged for insubordination.
  • In-Series Nickname: Captain John Aubrey's nickname is "Lucky Jack"; his friend Stephen calls him that, as well as his crew.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Invoked by Aubrey. He brings a copy of Lord Nelson's battles to Will, to inspire the new amputee to achieve great things like the great Lord Nelson, who also lost an arm to battle.
  • Ironic Name: HMS Surprise. The very first thing to happen in the film is the ship being under surprise attack by French Acheron and barely making it out in a single piece. It gets redeemed later into a Meaningful Name, when in the finale Surprise lays a successful ambush on Acheron.
  • Karmic Death: Just about everyone who specifically goes out of their way to be mean to Mr. Hollom ends up dead.
  • Karmic Jackpot: Saving Dr. Maturin's life and letting him wander around the Galapagos like he originally promised leads Captain Aubrey straight to his prey's front door and a tactical idea made out of Mixed Metaphors and NATURAL PHILOSOPHY!
  • Knuckle Tattoos: Old Joe Plaice has "HOLD FAST" tattooed on his knuckles. This is a tattoo that was common on sailing ships in the old days.
  • Lame Pun Reaction:
    • "The lesser of two weevils." A groaner for Dr. Maturin and the audience, but hilarious for tipsy Captain Aubrey and the other characters present. Jack pestering Stephen to walk into the joke is funny in and of itself. As is Maturin's Lampshade Hanging of the incident, "He who would pun would pick a pocket!"
    • Jack gets a much better reaction to his second pun: "After all, surprise is on our side." This goes over well with the crew of the Surprise.
  • Large Ham: Captain Aubrey. You can tell Russell Crowe is having a blast playing this role.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: We truly see the crew's skill in battle after they successfully trap the Acheron alongside and drop their whaler disguise.
    Aubrey: LET FLY!!!
  • Lightning Bruiser: The Acheron is based on the period-accurate American United States class frigates, like the famous USS Constitution. She has a solid body that is almost impervious to any cannon shot the Surprise can hit her sides with, and while she is vulnerable to raking fire from behind, her speed makes outmaneuvering her a tricky proposition... but concentrated fire directed at the base of the mainmast (which is possible thanks to a clever ruse allowing Surprise to get close enough to make the gunnery accurate) is able to leave her a sitting duck. Since the Americans knew they could never compete with the 18th century Royal Navy, they purposely designed ships powerful enough to defeat any British frigate and fast enough to escape a British ship of the line.
  • Long-Distance Relationship: We get a brief glimpse of Aubrey writing a letter to his wife, Sophie, while looking at a miniature portrait of her.
  • Luring in Prey: In a non-monstrous example, Captain Aubrey has the Surprise repainted to look like a whaling vessel to lure the French privateer Acheron he's been hunting into coming in close so he can surprise and capture it. He calls this a "nautical phasmid", comparing it to a stick insect he was shown by Dr. Maturin earlier, which mimics a twig to evade its predators. Stephen replies that it's not quite the same: Jack is playing the role of predator here.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": The crew of the Acheron collectively crap themselves when it turns out that the unarmed whaling ship they've been chasing, a ship so unthreatening that most of them are calmly sitting on the rails, with no weapons to hand, is in fact HMS Surprise, a twenty-eight gun Royal Navy frigate, whose port battery is now trained directly at them.
  • Meaningful Echo: Blakeney asking Calamy to not let them sew through his nose in case he dies. Later Blakeney asks to personally take care of Calamy's body, and then must ask for help as he, having lost an arm, can't do the job on his own.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • It is considered bad luck for a sailor to shoot at an albatross. The Acheron loses its final battle with the Surprise after attacking a whaling ship called the Albatross.
    • HMS Surprise finally subdues Acheron using a clever ruse and the element of surprise.
  • Men of Sherwood: The marines and sailors aboard the ship all make up a cohesive and efficient unit that carry out their captain's orders in an impressive way.
  • Mentor Archetype:
    • Both Aubrey and Maturin are this to Lord Blakeney; he strives to be as brave and skilled at command as Aubrey while also finding opportunities to indulge his nascent interest in science.
    • Lord Nelson is this to Aubrey.
  • Military Salute: Played for Drama. Nagle not only refuses to salute Mr. Hollom, but he also bumps into him without so much as an apology. A military salute is crucial, whether you like the officer or not, because it means you respect the rank itself, if not the officer. Nagle's deliberate insubordination was a very grave insult by the standards and he is punished for it, despite his own popularity with the crew. After the punishment, Hollom finds himself alone with the crew, who all start passive-aggressively saluting him to the point that he nearly has a nervous breakdown. Shortly after, he throws himself overboard.
  • The Needs of the Many: When the mizzen mast breaks in a storm and falls into the ocean along with young mizzen-mast captain Will Warley who was working at the top of it, he swims frantically toward the wreckage of the mast which is his only lifeline back to the ship. Unfortunately, the wreckage is also acting as a deadly anchor that threatens to capsize the ship and kill everyone on board, and Warley is taking too long to reach it, so Captain Aubrey is forced to make the dreadful decision to have the wreckage cut loose, sacrificing Warley to save the lives of everyone else.
  • No Range Like Point-Blank Range: Thanks to a cunning ruse, Acheron is willingly sailing riiiight next to Surprise's port, getting in perfect position to catch a broadside from a distance that's normally used for boarding.
  • Not So Above It All: Aubrey shares his crew's dislike of the good-natured but weak-willed Mr. Hollom. While he has his own reasons as the captain to dislike Mr. Hollom (specifically his inability to command the respect of the men and lack of concern over his own stalled career), he still shares crew's superstitions of the latter being a "Jonah".
    Aubrey: Sailors can abide a great deal, but never a Jonah.
    Maturin: My God, you believe it too.
    Aubrey: Not everything is in your books, Stephen.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Aubrey is bemused by the determination of the French captain to hunt him down and wonders if It's Personal; that in his prior career he might have killed the man's son or the like. Maturin points out the man is simply Aubrey's French counterpart. "He fights like you, Jack."
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Two in the opening battle:
      • Jack is scanning the fog bank for a "shape" that Midshipman Hollom thought he saw. He pans back to the left just in time to see cannon muzzle flashes veiled in the mist and frantically bellows for everyone to take cover.
      • "The rudder's shot away! The steering won't answer, sir!"
    • Midshipman Blakeney, in charge of everyone left on the Surprise during the climactic battle, notices the Acheron gunners turning their guns towards the Surprise's waterline, aiming to sink her. One carronade blast later, Blakeney gets his chance at boarding action as he and his fellow boarders charge in to douse the guns.
    • Aubrey gets one at the end when Maturin is privately lamenting to him that Higgins (who is not a competent doctor) is the only one even somewhat qualified to care for the wounded on the Acheron. Aubrey is surprised, because he spoke to the Acheron's doctor himself. When Stephen informs him that the Acheron lost their doctor to fever long before the battle, Aubrey realizes that he's been had.
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: Let's all pause this history and war to have a nature documentary about the Galápagos Islands. While perhaps jarring to many in the movie audience, this sort of thing happens in the books all the time.
  • Patriotic Fervor: The whole film.
    Aubrey: [boarding the Acheron] FOR ENGLAND, FOR HOME AND FOR THE PRIZE!

    Aubrey: [leading gunnery practice] "You want to see a guillotine in Piccadilly?!" "NO!" "You want to call that raggedy-ass Napoleon your king!?" "NO!" "You want your children to sing La Marseillaise!?" "NO!" "Mr. Mowett, Mr. Pullings, STARBOARD BATTERY!" [crew cheers]
  • The Peter Principle: Discussed with Mr. Hollom, he had failed his officers exam twice and stuck as a midshipman. His indecisive behavior and easy-to-bully demeanor made him a target for the crewmen, which is a very offensive line to cross. After one crewman is flogged for disrespecting him and his position, he starts suffering Sanity Slippage as he simply couldn't demonstrate leadership capabilities and the rest of the crew became extra deferential to him. Unable to deal with his insecurities and fear of being a curse on the crew, he jumped overboard with a cannonball.
  • Pirate Parrot: One of Aubrey's crewmen is seen with a green parrot on his shoulder.
  • Plucky Middie: The Surprise's officer corps is filled out with early-teenage nobles undergoing on-the-job training; SOP for the Royal Navy of the time.
    • During the climactic battle, Lord Blakeney (around twelve years old) is actually in command of the ship at one point and leads a boarding party of adult sailors onto the Acheron.
    • Calamy is given the mission of freeing prisoners, gets a Heroic Sacrifice moment, and is promoted to Lieutenant posthumously. He died an acting third lieutenant, and his status at death would have been recorded as such on the ship's muster.
    • Boyle is seen bravely accompanying Blakeney's boarding party, hurling water over the French cannons to douse the fuses and prevent them firing.
    • Subverted with Hollom, who is nearly thirty and still a midshipman, implying he's failed his officer's exam multiple times, and has no hope of further advancement due to his incompetence and lack of leadership qualities.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Iva Davies of Icehouse co-wrote the score, along with Christopher Gordon and Richard Tognetti. Davies also did all of the synthesizer and sampler work.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation:
    • In book canon, Aubrey is supposed to be rather stout, being around six feet tall and 225 lbs, but Crowe was not made to gain weight for the role so that he didn't look distractingly pudgy or have difficulty with the physicality of the role.
    • The enemy ship, in the book the American frigate USS Norfolk, was replaced by a French privateer built by the Americans. The design in the movie was based on the USS Constitution, christened in 1797, which is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat today,note  and the Norfolk of the book was based on the Real Life USS Essex, which harassed British shipping in the Pacific Ocean during the War of 1812 and seized 15 prizes before she was captured by the British off of Valparaiso, Chile. Word of God is the movie's producers did not have the same concerns that C.S. Forester had when writing the Horatio Hornblower novels: that American audiences would not appreciate the Americans being the bad guys. Instead, they viewed it a sin to not show Napoleon as the true enemy, since only about three books have the US as the enemy (although one scene - in which Nagle and Warley present Aubrey with an accurate model of the Acheron's hull - indicates that the ship was built in Boston). It does mean, however, that instead of planning to take on a 32-gun frigate in the 28-gun Surprise (evenly matched, akin to HMS Shannon vs USS Chesapeake) only to find it wrecked on an island, Aubrey gets to face a very mean 44-gun heavy frigate with hull construction comparable to a line-of-battle ship, and is completely unable to penetrate her hull in the first engagement. Instead, he has to resort to cunning and audacity.
  • Precision F-Strike: The whaler who just lost his ship and two years' profit has a very curt opinion about the Acheron: "Fuckin' pirates."
  • Privateer: The ship the Surprise pursues is a French privateer.
  • Pride Before a Fall: Captain Aubrey's character arc. After the first engagement, all the officers agree that HMS Surprise is no match for the Acheron. Aubrey surprises them all by insisting they pursue the larger and faster ship, and later reveals he is exceeding his orders by doing so. When Aubrey says Acheron has twice their guns and twice their numbers, he's actually putting an optimistic spin on it. The United States class frigates were among the largest frigates of the time, and Surprise is among the smallest. In real life, the Royal Navy had standing orders for frigate captains not to engage the American heavy frigates without a numerical advantage. (Although this order would not be issued until 1812.) Aubrey nearly gets his ship sunk and his friends killed before he relents and decides to go home at the opening of the third act.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack:
    • Bach — "Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major".
    • Boccherini — "Musica Notturna Delle Strade Di Madrid No. 6".
    • Mozart — "Violin Concerto No. 3", 3rd movement.
    • Corelli — "Christmas Concerto", Adagio Op. 6 No. 8.
    • "Don't forget your old shipmates" — Traditional Napoleonic era naval song.
    • "Raging Sea/British Tars" — Traditional Napoleonic era naval song.
    • "Spanish Ladies" — Traditional English naval song.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Doctor Maturin is wounded by a wayward musket ball when one of the ship's marines tries to shoot an albatross circling the Surprise.
  • Red Alert: "We shall beat to quarters!" This line heralds a Napoleonic Red Alert sequence with sailors being rousted out of their hammocks by drumbeats and scrambling to their battle stations. Hollom isn't sure he actually saw anything in the fog, and his gross incompetence and fear of the crew’s already dismal opinion of him forces Calamy to step up and give the order instead. He allows Hollom to take the credit as to not further humiliate him. It proves to be a prudent decision, as the crew is immediately ready to fight back when fired upon. Used as Book Ends for the end of the movie when a Properly Paranoid Aubrey orders beat to quarters in case the Not Quite Dead French captain has already seized it back from the prize crew he left manning it.
  • Roadside Surgery:
    • One sailor receives a serious head wound during the first battle against the Acheron. The ship's physician performs open cranial surgery on the man on the main deck in broad daylight because operating lamps haven't been invented yet. This includes using a silver coin to patch the hole in the man's skull.
    • Junior officer Blakeney suffers severe damage to his right arm after the third skirmish against the Acheron, which necessitates amputation at the mid-humerus without anesthetic, just a shot of laudanum. Blakeney is awake and aware of the procedure, including the dreaded bone saw. Hospital escort ships hadn't been invented yet, and a sick bay was a rare luxury too good for the Surprise.
  • Rated M for Manly: A pair of warships, crewed almost entirely by badasses, each chasing and trying to capture the other over thousands of miles.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The fight for the Acheron truly turns in favor of the British when the whalers from the Albatross are freed and they take their anger out on their captors. Complete with roaring.
  • Rousing Speech: Captain Aubrey gives his crew several rather effective ones.
  • Rule of Threes: Lampshaded when Aubrey says the French captain has caught him by surprise twice, but there won't be a third time. As per this trope, the third time it's Aubrey taking the French captain by surprise.
  • Sailor's Ponytail: Most sailors sport this hairstyle.
  • Scars are Forever: Lieutenant Pullings' facial scar is much more disfiguring in the books than it is in the film, but since Pullings' actor is Mr. Fanservice, nobody objects too much.
  • Self-Surgery: Maturin must excise a musket ball from his abdomen along with the piece of his shirt that was taken with it to avoid dying of infection. He only trusts himself to perform the procedure and does it with the help of his surgeon's mate, a quite squeamish Aubrey, and a mirror. He couldn't even have the courtesy of some whiskey to dull the pain, as he needed all his mental faculties intact to do the job correctly.
  • Servile Snarker: Killik, Aubrey's steward. Loyal, vicious in a fight, and the only man on the ship, other than Maturin, who will openly grumble in the captain's presence without fear of punishment.
  • Shaming the Mob: Aubrey to his own crew, and himself, after Hollom's suicide.
  • Shell-Shock Silence: Happens to Aubrey during the first enemy ship attack.
  • Shown Their Work: On top of the research put into the film, the Surprise's stern chasers in the opening are crewed by Marines, not sailors. Tradition holds that the sternmost guns on a warship be manned by the Marine complement, which continues to this day. This unusual attention to detail is not surprising considering the movie is based on the books of Patrick O'Brian who was known for his meticulous research.
  • Speak Ill of the Dead: In a subtle way. At Hollom’s funeral, Killick hands Aubrey the Bible so he may read a verse, and has pointedly opened it at the book of Jonah, showing that the crew still think of the man as cursed. Aubrey, however, shuts the book and doesn’t read anything from it at all out of regret.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: British sailors must dig in and perform their duties against the odds while maintaining strict discipline.
  • Suddenly Shouting: During an argument between Aubrey and Maturin over whether to complete the promised stop at the Galápagos (during which Maturin was hoping to study the native fauna) or immediately pursue the nearby Acheron, each man is defending his side with arguments until Aubrey finally loses patience and puts his Captain's foot down (Maturin, for all of his intelligence and cunning, never does seem to understand why a warship can't make random stops for him to pursue his interests in nature).
    Aubrey: "I command a king's ship, not a private yacht! WE DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR YOUR DAMNED HOBBIES, SIR!"
  • Superstitious Sailors: Mr. Hollom is labelled as a "Jonah" - someone who is believed to be bad luck - by the ships crew, mainly because Acheron keeps getting the drop on them usually on Hollom's watch. Other mishaps also occur while he is around, and when the ship is becalmed, the crew's hostility toward him begins bubbling to the surface to the point that he picks up and cannonball and throws himself overboard. And then at his memorial service, the wind picks up again.
  • Sword and Gun: Dr. Maturin, in the final battle.
  • Take a Moment to Catch Your Death: "Looks like the deed is done, sir," sighs the old sailing-master upon boarding the enemy ship, which is covered with bodies. Then, suddenly...
  • A Taste of the Lash: One sailor gets flogged for disrespecting and bumping into Hollom, his senior officer. Hollom actually said nothing, and got reprimanded by Aubrey in private because not demanding the men's respect erodes the discipline the ship requires.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • The old sailing-master, upon boarding the enemy ship, which is covered with bodies, thinks they are done. However... they are not. The battle is about to continue and he's among the first ones shot dead.
    • Killik is packing up the Captain's silver. "For God's sake don't drop anything!" Next moment a cannonball blows out the bulkhead behind them, knocking them and the silver to the ground.
    • Lampshaded when Aubrey predicts they'll have the Acheron, then tells the midshipmen to touch wood, scratch a stay and turn around three times while saying, "May the Lord and saints preserve us!" It's not enough—the Acheron escapes after the mast breaks during a storm.
  • Title Drop: Included in the Captain's rousing speech.
    Aubrey: ... England is under threat of invasion. And though we be on the far side of the world, this ship is our home. This ship, is England.
  • Twist Ending: Played for awesomeness and hilarity.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: During the storm a couple of sailors puke.
  • Wasn't That Fun?: Captain Aubrey grins and says, "Now tell me that wasn't fun," after retrieving Midshipman Calamy from the sea after setting up a ruse.
  • The Watson: Dr. Maturin asks about the weather gage, and Lofty the child crewman asks about privateers.
  • Weapons Understudies:
    • Of a sort. The French frigate is represented by a 3D model of the USS Constitution, an American (nominal) 44-gun Heavy Frigate (essentially an Age of Sail Battlecruiser). note  In The Far Side of the World, the book the film was based on, the enemy was USS Norfolk, a 32-gun American frigate during the War of 1812 more comparable to HMS Surprise, based on the Real Life exploits of USS Essex.
    • The Surprise herself, portrayed here by the replica of HMS Rose, a 20-gun post shipnote  mounting nine-pound long guns. The Surprise, classed as a 28-gun sixth rate, was rearmed with twenty-four 32-pound carronades along her main deck plus eight 32-pounders on her fore- and quarterdecks, plus chasers, upon entry into British service. As in the French Navy, this caused confusion over whether she should be rated as a fifth rate or a sixth rate (she was re-rated as a sixth rate in 1798 and maintained this for the remainder of her career). She also bore the main mast of a 36-gun frigate, equally as inordinate as her heavy armament.
  • Weather of War: A fog conceals the French privateer before the first attack, but also saves the Surprise when Aubrey orders his men to put out boats and tow the damaged ship into it, knowing the French won't risk their advantage by following them.
  • We Have to Get the Bullet Out!: When Dr. Maturin is shot, he performs (assisted) surgery on himself to remove the bullet. This is entirely Justified at the time, however: musket balls travel at a low velocity and can carry bits of clothing into the body with them; since clothing is often dirty, these bits of clothing were a common cause of infection. The doctor's assistant even explains that he's worried about the clothes more than the ball, and after extraction he matches up the recovered piece of clothing with Maturin's shirt, to ensure there are no other pieces left in his body.
  • Wham Line: From Jack upon learning the Acheron's doctor is long dead and realizing just who the "doctor" that gave him the captain's sword actually is.
    Jack: Their "doctor" gave me this sword.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: One of the more realistic depictions of the trope in modern cinema.
  • Worthy Opponent: The captain of the Acheron, who outwits Aubrey twice and nearly sinks him both times. Later seen disguised as the ship's doctor, presumably in order to regain control of his ship at a later date.
  • You Know I'm Black, Right?: Jack and Stephen are talking shortly after Warley's death.
    Jack: The crew will take it badly. Warley was popular. Have they expressed any feelings on the matter to you?
    Stephen: Jack, before answering, I'm compelled to ask, am I speaking with my old friend, or to the ship's captain? Because to the captain I'd say there's little I detest more than an informer.
    Jack: Now you're talking like an Irishman.
    Stephen: Well, I am an Irishman.
  • Zipping Up the Bodybag: Done the old-fashioned way, stitching up the dead bodies up in their hammocks before dropping them over the side. Blakeney is worried about the tradition of putting the last stitch through the nostrils (to ensure the man is actually dead), and asks Calamy to ensure that doesn't happen to him should his wounded arm prove fatal. In the aftermath of the final battle, it's Calamy who's passed, and Blakeney makes sure to stitch him up himself.

Alternative Title(s): Master And Commander The Far Side Of The World