So, while Mr. Teachout was keeping score at the National Book Awards dinner last night–and I’ll be damned if I don’t pry a lot more scuttlebutt out of him–I was getting my first taste of Patrick O’Brian, albeit by way of Peter Weir. I felt really grandly entertained at Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, though it seemed clear that the famous Aubrey-Maturin friendship was not captured in anything like all of its nuance and complexity in the books. Make no mistake, this is an adventure movie, and it’s more about the general experiences of being English, at war, and at sea than about specific characters or relationships.
This isn’t to say that the characters aren’t nicely individuated and very believably human. Weir does sketch out the emotional contours of a couple of the shipboard relationships in very broad but deft strokes, and this seems just enough specificity to animate what is essentially a more general evocation of a time and place–and, of course, a great yarn.
The storytelling is terrific, offering up plenty of the sort of well-chosen, toothsome details that make a narrative memorable. There’s a model ship that is a small wonder, both as a material object and as a plot pivot. Later in the movie you get a (literally) breathtaking glimpse of a real ship from far enough away that it, too, looks like a toy–and the plot again turns decisively. I loved the benign, wise-looking beasts of the Gal