Gladiator vs. the French

Nik, Kate, and I saw Master and Commander tonight. As it turned out, not the best movie for an 8 year old. The ads played up the action sequences and made it seem more “yo ho” than it actually was. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I found it an excellent film and much more than the action movie it’s advertised as.

Being a big fan of stuff like Sharpe and Hornblower, this was right up my alley. In 1805 Captain Aubrey (Crowe) of the Royal Navy is tasked with hunting down a French privateer. Off the coast of Brazil, the privateer ambushes him and it’s only through luck and determination that Aubrey and crew escape. The rest of the movie centers on the Brits chasing down the French ship. The problem: said French ship outguns and outcrews the “HMS Surprise” two to one.

What surprised me was that most of the movie is given over to plot and character development. There are battle sequences at the beginning and end, but the rest of the movie centers on the crew of the Surprise and their assorted trials. Paul Bettany (who Nicole recognized right away as Chaucer from A Knight’s Tale; I didn’t place him) was very good as the doctor and naturalist. He also played William of Orange in the film of Sharpe’s Waterloo, so this is not his first outing in the era. An actor named Max Pirkis put in a good performance as a young midshipman who loses his arm in the first engagement. His character was what the Star Trek writers always wanted Wesley Crusher to be like: earnest, smart, kind, loyal, and brave (whereas Wesley always just came across as annoying; apologies to my wife and Mr. Wheaton!). Crowe is also good. He has a knack for playing a leader of men. It worked in Gladiator and it works here too.

The history nerd in me was also satisfied. Period detail was very good. They got the weapons right and the hand to hand combats were suitably chaotic and bloody. The film also did a good job of evoking the camaraderie and superstitions of shipboard life.

In short, good stuff. Makes me wish I had had more success two years ago when I tried to get the RPG license for the Sharpe’s series. Or maybe I’m the only one who would have liked to see a d20 game of Napoleonic adventure.

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