Welcome to the Last Movie Outpost Behind the Scenes column. We hope to cover the most interesting and timeless movies with some pics and factoids you might already know, but if you don’t, even better! Feel free to recommend or contribute images or articles in the comments below.
“Subject To The Requirements Of The Service”
Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World was the first, and to date only filmed version of any of the Aubrey-Maturin series. Though it takes its name and basic plot from The Far Side Of The World, the film takes lines and incidents from a number of Patrick O’Brian’s books, though the main plotline and strategies come from The Far Side Of The World (the tenth book in the series). The film is set during the Napoleonic Wars, and much of the film’s action takes place at sea.
Although Russell Crowe had reservations about the first drafts of the script that he had been sent, the chance of working with Peter Weir was what ultimately convinced him to commit to the project.
While many people were pleased with the choice of cast members for most of the roles, two, in particular, did cause comment. Paul Bettany does not physically resemble O’Brian’s description of Stephen Maturin. Bettany is tall and not dark-haired, however, he is considered to have portrayed Maturin quite well within the limitations of the script.
Heath Ledger was in talks to join the film, presumably to play the part later taken by Bettany.
Billy Boyd was also considered to be physically the opposite of O’Brian’s Barret Bonden who is described as a tall man with a powerful physique.
In the film, Bonden is often depicted at the wheel steering the ship. A coxswain may steer a racing rowing boat but in the Navy, the petty officer in charge of the steering was the quartermaster.
“This Is The Second Time He’s Done This To Me. There Will Not Be A Third.”
Certain scenes are filmed on the Galapagos Islands; this was the first commercial film production allowed to film on the islands, and also gave time for Crowe and Bettany to learn how to play the violin and cello respectively for the film.
Captain Jack Aubrey’s rank in the film contradicts the title; only a post-captain could command a frigate, and in fact, Aubrey’s uniform, with its two epaulettes, indicates that he not only holds the higher rank but has done so for at least three years.
During the film’s pre-production, the replica of Captain James Cook’s ship, HMS Endeavour, was circumnavigating the globe.
The production was able to fly a pair of cameramen to the ship as it was about to sail around the bottom of South America; a route the HMS Surprise takes in the film. Thus, the footage of the stormy seas from that part of the voyage is genuine.
To research for his role, Bettany went to the Royal College of Surgeons in London to learn how to use 18th-century surgical instruments.
The cast endured a two-week boot camp where they literally learned the ropes and what to do onboard a frigate, including the loading and firing of cannons. They also learned basic sword skills.
To create an authentic sense of camaraderie among the cast they were all housed in special quarters, away from the rest of the crew. Designed like a gentleman’s club there was no TV and no crew member was allowed in without being invited.
It was nicknamed “The Monkey Bar”.
“For England, For Home, And For The Prize!”
The Acheron is based on USN Constitution and echoes her rated gun-capacity (44) and her exceptionally strong build, although the model of Acheron’s hull presented to Aubrey by the seamen Nagel and Warley does not follow the flush-decked layout of Constitution.
During the chase of the Acheron, Mr. Allen, the sailing master, remarks to Lt. Pullings –
“Over a hundred sea miles and he brings us up on his tail; that’s seamanship Mr. Pullings, that’s seamanship.”
This line appears to have been borrowed from the 1951 film Captain Horatio Hornblower starring Gregory Peck, which contains an almost identical line. The remark does not appear in any of the O’Brian works.
After filming, the HMS Surprise was purchased by the San Diego Maritime Museum for an undisclosed sum, and with the proviso that the ship is loaned back to 20th Century Fox for any future film productions.
This film was intended to be the first entry in a franchise. However, due to low box-office numbers, no sequels were ever made, despite critical acclaim and winning several awards including Oscars for Best Sound Editing and Best Cinematography in 2004.
The toast to “wives and sweethearts (may they never meet)” is the traditional toast for Saturdays in the Royal Navy.
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