November 18, 2003

Kevin Drum Agrees with Me!

Kevin Drum agrees with me that Master and Commander is really a Star Trek movie:

Calpundit: The Day After Tomorrow: I just got back from seeing Master and Commander, which was OK, I guess. Sort of like Wrath of Khan set in 1805 or something. How's that for a review?

But is it a good Star Trek movie? If it's as good as The Wrath of Khan, it's definitely worth seeing. If it's just an ordinary Star Trek movie, it probably isn't.

So far reviewers have split into three groups:

  1. Men who like the "rum... lash" realism and are impressed with cannon-go-boom.
  2. Men who love the books and are distressed at the evisceration of Stephen Maturin's character.
  3. Women. So far I have read no review by any woman. Russell Crowe claimed that women would like it because the movie was really about "relationships" and not rum, lashes, and cannon-go-boom. I'm skeptical.

Posted by DeLong at November 18, 2003 07:23 AM | TrackBack



Ya know, not that it's anybody's business, least of all mine, but since the man appears to be determined to live his life on the front page, have you ever noticed that as soon Russell Crowe spends enough time with a woman to actually talk to her one of them gets dumped like a hot rock?

Surely Hugh Hefner or Governor Wears-the-pants has some thoughts about this.

Posted by: julia on November 18, 2003 08:23 AM


I dunno whether Teresa will review it, but she certainly enjoyed it. Then again, she might have some comments about people who categorically deny that women might enjoy some high-quality "cannon-go-boom."

Personally, I thought it was a fine adaptation of a portion of what O'Brian is about: the kingdom of Jack Aubrey at sea. Obviously, it was entirely missing the on-land intrigue, politics, and comedy-of-manners that are another big part of why we read the books.

Regarding Stephen's character, well, expectations may have played a part. I had been under the impression that the movie dispensed entirely with Stephen's steely side, and in fact it doesn't.

I find that I'm often a lot more forgiving of the liberties taken by movie adaptations of novels than many people. A novel is 60,000-200,000 words or longer. A feature-length movie screenplay is 10,000-15,000 words. Cramming in even half the nuances of a good novel is a bit of a miracle, when it happens. I enjoyed Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World the way I would enjoy a big coffee-table book of lavish illustrations of scenes from the books. The books are still on my shelf, intact and unharmed, and indeed I may re-read them again, now that you mention it.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden on November 18, 2003 08:32 AM


Given that you mentioned the rum and the lash, can we assume that there was no sodomy?

Posted by: Keith on November 18, 2003 08:40 AM


Hm. I'm a woman and I liked it, but then I grew up reading C.S. Forester et al, am a Royal Navy-philic (I fly a White Ensign from my porch!), and have been waiting for someone, anyone, to do an accurate movie about the period.

I would tend to divide people's opinions into two simple groups: People who "get it," and people who don't.

Posted by: Susan Paxton on November 18, 2003 08:45 AM


Hm. I'm a woman and I liked it, but then I grew up reading C.S. Forester et al, am a Royal Navy-philic (I fly a White Ensign from my porch!), and have been waiting for someone, anyone, to do an accurate movie about the period.

I would tend to divide people's opinions into two simple groups: People who "get it," and people who don't.

Posted by: Susan Paxton on November 18, 2003 08:48 AM


And why shouldn't it be a Star Trek movie? Harry Potter starts off a Cinderella.

Posted by: K Harris on November 18, 2003 10:15 AM


I am a huge Hornblower fan (boy, does that look funny to see in print) and I couldn't bring myself to get into the aubrey/maturin thing because it just felt like cheating on my first love. See, women can too like seasick sagas, but we let our feminine feelings clutter up our ability to transfer loyalties mid-series. I'd be willing to go see the movie (I liked the wrath of khan and agree with whoever on the bloggsphere posted that Galaxy Quest was the best star trek takeoff of all time) but I can' t stand russel crowe.


Posted by: Kate Gilbert on November 18, 2003 10:16 AM


Another review by a woman:

And I think Crowe nailed that one: sea stories are popular with women the way other stories about small, closed communities with complex relationships are popular with women.

*Star Trek* is something of a sea story in drag as well.

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on November 18, 2003 10:44 AM


The peripatetic and irascible Diana Moon is blogging once again, and has a review up here:

though you may have to scroll down a bit, since her permalinks don't work for me. Briefly, she hated it -- the film is "technically spectacular, and emotionally empty", and the French baiting offended her enough that she wanted to stand up in the theater and start singing the Marseillaise.

Still haven't seen it myself; if I do, it will probably be largely for the effects, but hey, those could be worth the money...

Posted by: Charles Dodgson on November 18, 2003 11:09 AM


Here are some more reviews by women from Metacritic ( / Stephanie Zacharek (score = 100)
Entertainment Weekly / Lisa Schwarzbaum (score = 91),6115,492364_1_0_,00.html
Philadelphia Inquirer / Carrie Rickey (score = 88)
LA Weekly / Ella Taylor (score = 50)

And here are some by reviewers whose gender is a little opaque based on their names:
Washington Post / Desson Howe (score = 100)¬Found=true
Portland Oregonian / Shawn Levy (91)
New York Daily News / Jami Bernard (score = 88)
Miami Herald / Rene Rodriguez (score = 75)
Film Threat / Chris Barsanti (score = 75)
TV Guide / Maitland McDonagh (score = 60)

Posted by: Anonymous Blogger on November 18, 2003 11:26 AM


Mr. Desson Howe will no doubt presume that you meant his reviews, not his gender, in using the descriptor "opaque."

He is, however, far more opaque than his Style section comrade, Stephen Hunter, whose customary approach to any movie is encompassed altogether by the words "not that much."

Posted by: Mark S. on November 18, 2003 11:46 AM


Gee, if Diana Moon hated the "French baiting" I bet she would have liked it even less had it been shot the way the author originally wrote it.... And has she ever heard of the Napoleonic wars? Not much in the way of kisses and flower petals flying.

Posted by: Susan Paxton on November 18, 2003 12:35 PM



Posted by: Diana on November 18, 2003 01:38 PM



Could have been much worse...

Posted by: Brad DeLong on November 18, 2003 01:55 PM


Man, who could not agree with you?

Posted by: Bernadette on November 18, 2003 02:09 PM


My wife loved it as much as I did.

More to the point, if you want Hollywood to make movies based on any literature other than Marvel comic books and J.K. Rowling ever again, you should pay your money and see it now.

There is some truth to the idea that the film has shifted things a bit from Stephen to Jack, but the essentials of their relationship are conveyed extremely well and both actors are superb (Paul Bettany even overcoming the fact that he is ugly sort of the way Cher was unattractive at the beginning of Moonstruck before she got her makeover).

It is "emotionally empty" only in the sense that there is not a scene where all the characters tell each other what they're really feeling and then have a group hug as the studio audience goes "awwww." If you are not haunted by what happens to Warling, by Hollom's failure, by Lord Blakeney's boyish courage; if you are not fascinated by the sight of the actual Galapagos islands and the thought of what it would have been like to be one of the first men ever to see its creatures; if you are not almost sick with fear at Stephen operating on himself (never mind that you know how it will come out), if you do not find it absorbing how Stephen comes to accept the priorities of the Navy over his own, then you are dead to anything more subtle on the screen than Arnold Schwarzenegger bashing a female robot's head into a toilet, and deserve the movies you will get for the rest of your life if this one fails.

Posted by: Mike G on November 18, 2003 02:09 PM


Go,go Brad go!

Posted by: Bernadette on November 18, 2003 02:19 PM


I have succumbed completely to the hype and am reading the first novel in the series before I go to see the film. My immediate thought when I started reading was: "This is Star Trek", because of all the technical goobledegook.

But it is very gripping stuff and O'Brian has the most amazingly cinematic eye - he can cut even within a single paragraph from one event to another and you have to really work to keep up, so much is happening. His favorite adjective seems to be "living" as in "the living sea", "the living sun" - extraordinary communicator of physical sensation.

If the film is half as good, it'll be great.

(PS I've just come back from a lecture on international criminal law, and apparently the development of antipiracy laws and subsequently the role of the British Navy in fighting the slave trade on the west coast of Africa represent significant developments towards it. The US, UK and Spain attempted to set up the first international criminal court in 1817 on slavery-related matters - but guess what, the US pulled out!)

Posted by: E Lake on November 18, 2003 05:10 PM


E, I wish you joy of your reading. I devoured the first six in a row before I decided I should probably read something else next. I have two left to go.

I don't think the Star Trek analogy will long survive the reading of the books. Stephen is a much more interesting, idiosyncratic, difficult and even angry character than Spock, not a mere foil for Jack but, on the contrary, the main character in most of the books (indeed eventually his intelligence work drives Jack's adventuring, to Jack's consternation); and while the sailing-nerd stuff is sort of there for the music of the language (no one is expected to follow it), the care with which O'Brian delineates the social milieu of the ship, and of the Navy more generally at that time, belongs to the tradition of Austen or Thackeray, not Roddenberry.

Actually, although I tried and failed to read Hornblower afterwards-- I coudn't go backwards from O'Brian to Forester's adventure yarns-- one thing that I think helped give me context was having read the Flashman novels years before, since Jack still belongs to the world of purchased military rank and saucy rakes that is being snuffed out by the more pious and businesslike Victorian era all through the Flashman books.

Posted by: Mike G on November 18, 2003 06:10 PM


What Mike G said, whoever he is. A sterling fellow (i.e., his prejudices and mine match).

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden on November 18, 2003 08:51 PM


I reviewed M/C at my blog and had to restrain the urge to say "Wow, it's Star Trek on the high seas..." I mean the parallels were just too powerful, but heck, everything compares to Star Trek somehow, I guess, so I figured it wasn't an original observation. I did get a mention of the doctor comparing him to Bones, though. I'm glad to see now that I wasn't the only one who got that impression.

Posted by: tom mangan on November 18, 2003 10:21 PM


Um, about Diana's review and the French -

If I understood, she was referring to the facts that:

(a) The French were the allies of the US in this period, or at least the British were our enemies and the French were hers (some of the sailors on the Surprise would have been Americans seized at gunpoint, and held as slaves).

(b) In the book (taking her word for it, since I haven't read them), the 'villain' was an American warship, desiring to raid the British whaling fleet. An enemy more acceptable to US tastes was substituted.

Diana, have I summed up your expressed opinions reasonably well?

Posted by: Barry on November 19, 2003 04:48 AM


Actually I think Star Trek was loosely based loosely on the British Navy of the late 18th and early 19th cventury.

Hasn't anybody wondered why "away teams" wear red? As in British Marines who generally accompanied the captain ashore.

Why a favorite holodeck game played by captain and crew and the second series involved 18th and early 19th centruy British naval ships?

Note when they play these games Picard, Worf and other Star Trek officers wear British Naval uniforms of the period.

Furthermore they wear their tall peaked hats back to front rather than sideways indicating the Naploeanic period specifically. Aubrey is considered old fashioned (18th century) because he wears his sideways.

Indeed Star Trek seems to be loosely based on the voyages of Captain Cook ( going where no one has gone before?) Tony Horowitz _Blue Latitudes_ has a nice little comparison of the two.

I for one thought the landing at the Galapagoes island had an incredibly alien Trecky kind of appeal. Muturin as Dr. Spock, Captain Jack as Captain Kirk?

Posted by: Lawrence on November 19, 2003 02:06 PM


The best explantaion of the technical sailing-ship gobbledegook I know is in Eric Newby's "The Last Grain Race", an unsentimental memoir of sailing in a big steel four-master to Australia and back in 1938. The key point is that each sail needs four ropes: two to move the horizontal spar round the mast, two at least to raise and lower the sail. With sixteen sails, that makes for at least 64 ropes having to be manipulated at deck level for every change in sailing conditions. The grain clippers had tiny crews - twenty or so - compared to the hundreds of Nelson's Navy; they had steam power for winches and no need to manoeuvre quickly. The working language on Newby's ship was Swedish.

Posted by: James on November 20, 2003 02:08 AM


I've always wondered if TNG Captain Jean Luc Picard's "Make it so" orders are derived from a screenwriter who had read Patrick O'Brian. My recollection is that Aubrey starts saying around the 5th book. (If Hornblower went around saying it, I sure don't recall.)

Posted by: Copans on November 20, 2003 01:17 PM


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