The Null Device

Master and Commander

Tonight I went to the cinema to see Master and Commander, Peter Weir's film depicting naval battles between a heroic British crew and dastardly French privateers in the oceans around South America. Visually, it was quite spectacular, with impressive sets, locations and effects. The story was the usual boy's-own adventure on the high seas. Interestingly enough, the music was composed by one Iva Davies (the lead singer of 80s Australian-rock band Icehouse, and best known for not wearing underpants); it consisted mostly of chamberish pieces. There were also some sequences in the film with the captain (played by Russell Crowe) playing (and almost rocking out on) a violin; I wonder whether he'll incorporate his violin lessons into the next TOFOG album.

(Something else to think about: would Master and Commander, a film in which the British Navy are heroic and the French are snivelling villains (not all that far removed, morally, from the craven, effete redcoats in The Patriot), have been made before 9/11? Could it be the trade-off for films like Fight Club and Starship Troopers (not to mention the two Che Guevara biopics Hollywood had on the drawing board on 10/9/2001), which would not get the green light these days? My hypothesis is that, on September 10, Middle America saw the British Empire as evil colonial oppressors; after September 11, the British Empire became a projection of contemporary America/McWorld, a force for good through superior firepower; sort of the way that the Star Trek Federation was. Discuss.)

There are 34 comments on "Master and Commander":

Posted by: Nostradamus Tue Dec 9 18:09:03 2003

"My hypothesis is that, on September 10, Middle America saw the British Empire as evil colonial oppressors; after September 11, the British Empire became a projection of contemporary America/McWorld, a force for good through superior firepower; sort of the way that the Star Trek Federation was."

I think that's a stretch. You are sadly mistaken if you believe that middle america either knows enough about or cares whether the British were evil colonial oppressors or not. They were the bad guys in the Revolution, but ever since World War I, they've been the American's favorite cousin. September 11th doesn't have much to do with it.

Posted by: Graham Wed Dec 10 00:39:42 2003

I was reading some thing about Richard Tognetti teaching Crowe to 'mime' playing the violin, but he went ahead with the whole hog.

I think Iva Davies got the gig after that orchestral take on Great Southern Land that was done for the Y2K thing in Sydney.

Posted by: acb Wed Dec 10 02:01:53 2003

Nostradamus: then why were so many Hollywood villains pre-9/11 depicted as effete, treacherous Englishmen with impeccable upper-class accents? Not to mention that in pre-9/11 movies, England (the geopolitical entity) is more likely to be depicted as "the oppressors of the Irish/Scots" than a force for global good?

Posted by: mark Wed Dec 10 02:34:56 2003

Ah, but how many Americans in this day and age can accept the Federation? By the time they had any real power, they were effectively Communist, at least at the core.

(Oh, shit... I'm geeking out...)

Posted by: Jamie Cameron Wed Dec 10 04:13:38 2003

Wasn't this moving based on a series of books that far predates 9/11? If so, it's a stretch to claim some kind of connection with current events ..

Posted by: Graham Wed Dec 10 07:52:18 2003

For what it's worth, Idiotarians _hate_ the idea of the Federation in Star Trek. But as for the Ferengi...

Posted by: acb Wed Dec 10 08:15:45 2003

True, the books predated 9/11. Though the pre-9/11 climate wouldn't have been quite so favourable to this movie, and it probably wouldn't have been made then. The studios' marketing departments would probably never have given it the green light, something about the public not wanting to see a film glorifying the bunch of Zulu-massacrers and Irishman-torturers that is the British military.

Posted by: Ben Wed Dec 10 11:46:19 2003

You've been reading your Lyndon LaRouche collection again, haven't you Andrew?

Posted by: acb Wed Dec 10 12:38:36 2003

Lyndon LaRouche? Wasn't he the guy who kept raving on about giant lizards?

Posted by: Graham Wed Dec 10 14:07:02 2003

They made "Zulu", though, didn't they?

Posted by: Nostradamus Wed Dec 10 21:35:59 2003

acb: As for the effete English villain with the impeccable accent, I think that's more of a class statement rather than an anglophobic one. The above described villain is the stereotypical representation of an upperclass or aristocratic gentleman more than a representation of *England* per se effectively making the film a class battle between the hero and villain rather than a political battle between the hero and England.

As for movies in which England (geopolitical entity) is portrayed badly, those are usually historical pieces rather than the propaganda you make them out to be. Given, some of them may be revisionist, but what can you do...

We need to remember here that the film industry in America has traditionally been quite liberal, and currently is very active in organizing anti-bush opposition. It isn't logical for them to be a mouthpiece for conservative propaganda by making films praising member states of the "coalition of the willing," specifically Britain. Even if you interpret Master an

Posted by: Nostradamus Wed Dec 10 21:46:15 2003

Damn, got cut off and forgot what I wrote...


...Even if you interpret Master and Commander as an example of that type of pro-english post 9-11 world propaganda, the more logical motive for the film industry to make it is money. The time was ripe for an action packed sea-drama, as Pirates of the Carribean had just finished its commercially successful theatre run, and the made for tv adaptations of the Horatio Hornblower series were doing so well. I think it might be a little paranoid to think there were ulterior political motives.

One interesting thing about Americans is that in the absence of themselves, they will readily take the side of any english speaking surrogate, which was precisely the case in Master and Commander. Possibly the only politically influenced move was the removal of the American enemy from the movie. In the books, the Asheron is an American warship, not French.

Posted by: Citizen Smith http:// Wed Dec 10 21:56:05 2003

Remember, Oceania is our friend. Oceania has always been our friend and ally against the evil hordes of Eastasia.

Posted by: acb Thu Dec 11 02:21:02 2003

Nostradamus: I wasn't claiming that Hollywood is ideologically committed to Neo-Conservatism or any such. Hollywood is a money-making machine, and the politics of its films reflect what will sell to a broad audience. My contention was that films like Master and Commander would not have been as marketable in the pre-9/11 climate.

The thing about other English speakers acting as surrogates for America was also a point of mine. A film about gung-ho GIs killing evil terrorists would be a bit too in-your-face for the general public (though, pre-9/11, it could have been done as satire, a la Starship Troopers), but making the heroes Redcoats puts in enough remove to make the film comfortable.

Interesting that you mention that the Acheron was an American vessel in the books. (Where and when were the books written?)

Posted by: acb Thu Dec 11 02:22:17 2003

re: English historical atrocities: the scene in _The Patriot_ where the Redcoats massacre American women and children in a church was actually taken from a WW2 Nazi atrocity committed in France. There is no record of the British having done anything of the sort during the American War of Independence.

Posted by: Ben http:// Thu Dec 11 04:03:29 2003

Doesn't mean it didn't happen. I think you'll find that sort of thing used to happen as a matter of course during wartime in the eighteenth century. Where do you think the soldiers came from? The prisons and the gutters primarily.

Posted by: mitch http:// Thu Dec 11 11:14:24 2003

The real question is, would this film have been made before the April 2002 *South Park* episode which featured Russell Crowe "fightin' round the world" with Tugger the tug-boat?

Posted by: Ben http:// Thu Dec 11 11:39:24 2003

Go watch a few films like The Outlaw Josey Wales or Amistad.

Posted by: mark Thu Dec 11 13:58:22 2003

Nostradamus, Andrew mentions the scene in _The Patriot_ where American women and children are burned in a church. I'd go further and say the *entire* film was bullshit through-and-through. The British soldiers wore red coats, horses were involved, and some of the characters (albeit only the Redcoats, for some reason!) had English accents. That's about all that was even remotely historically accurate about that steaming pile of shit.

There's a difference between a fictional movie set in the past that gets a few details wrong, and a movie written by people who don't seem to know anything at all about the Revolution or the 18th Century.

Posted by: Ben http:// Fri Dec 12 00:22:08 2003

Mark, I bet you're the sort of nit-picker who criticises civil war films that have Dynamite and second world war films which talk about B52 bombers and such.

Posted by: Nostradamus Fri Dec 12 00:31:36 2003

You all get me wrong. I'm not defending the Patriot. I just personally find it much easier to believe that the film industry released Master and Commander due to the popular trends at the time. As i said before, Pirates of the Carribean was financially successful in theaters, and A&E's adaptation of Horatio Hornblower was selling well also. It seemed a perfect time to put out an 18th century sea drama. I just don't buy the pre/post 9/11 political argument. I don't think the American film industry is quite that in tune with politics in the nation. Especially a good 2 years after the event. Film screening like that happens only in the direct aftermath of events as tragic as 911.

Posted by: Nostradamus Fri Dec 12 00:34:38 2003

As for when and where the novels were published, I couldn't tell you. My father had read the books and told me about the discrepancy regarding the nationality of the warship.

Posted by: Nostradamus Fri Dec 12 00:44:23 2003's december 12 over there...fuck...if it was Dec. 12 HERE, I'd know if I'd have gotten into College or not...

sorry that was off topic. just musing.

Posted by: Graham Fri Dec 12 01:13:20 2003

You're Nostradamus, aren't you supposed to know these things?

Posted by: acb Fri Dec 12 01:26:40 2003

Nostradamus: would you contend that Master and Commander could have equally been made/released to a mass market by the same studios in 2000? (Not counting techical advances in computer graphics, &c.)

Posted by: Ben http:// Fri Dec 12 07:28:32 2003

I don't see why not? Anti and Pro British films have always been a staple of hollywood.

Posted by: Graham Fri Dec 12 07:58:26 2003

This is a silly thread. But, anyway, Peter Weir, would you say his Witness was pro or anti-Amish?

Posted by: mark Fri Dec 12 09:29:25 2003

Not quite, Ben. I <em>do</em> nitpick rather a lot, but my nitpicking tends to be confined to "how could a Mac interface with an alien ship? And infect it with a virus?" or "they just detonated a nuclear blast less than 50 feet from where they're standing! No, I don't care if they ARE wearing sunglasses!" or "come ON, there weren't any sportscars in the 1850s!". "The Patriot" ranks at about that level, I think.

Posted by: Ben http:// Fri Dec 12 15:42:57 2003

Not quite. I think you are overlooking that war (particularly civil/guerilla war) is a very unpleasant thing. Think about some of the things that went on in the past few years in Bosnia, and instead of the faceless slavs consider 18th century America. Do you really think that there was some inherent, magical force preventing soldiers from raping, murdering and looting because it was happening on that particular continent? That sort of behaviour was rife. Where do you think all the Indians went? Look at the English Civil War (the War of the Roses) and the statistics of the number of civilians executed was staggering. Some historians estimate 20% of the adult population was killed in battle or put to the sword in many areas. And these were the exact same people who went to the Americas.

Posted by: Nostradamus Fri Dec 12 23:16:39 2003

acb: I think in the pre 9-11 political climate, close to anything would have been given the greenlight in hollywood. As a conscientous movie-going American, I sincerely doubt that they would have had any reservations about adapting Master and Commander for the big screen. Especially since their big star Russel Crowe was involved.

Posted by: Nostradamus Fri Dec 12 23:21:33 2003

Yeah...I know I don't really know you guys but I got into college today!!! im excited.

hahaha sorry...just feel like celebrating.

Posted by: Paulo http:// Mon Dec 15 15:14:59 2003

It is true there were many French pirates in those seas at that time. There also were regular corsairs appointed by the king of France. And of course pioneers from both sides. The old rivality between the two countries led to numerous battles. But in the end I think France kept the more colonies. (Am I still in the topic? ;) )

Posted by: Ben http:// Tue Dec 16 03:07:21 2003

paulo, you're way off. The English were the winners in the colony stakes in the 19th century, even if they had just lost most of North America. All France had was pacific islands, Vietnam, little bits of North Africa and I think they still had Louisiana until the early 19th century.

Posted by: Luke Tue Dec 16 05:06:32 2003

The Patrick O'Brian books were published in the 60s/70s, IIRC. The book version of M&C (though the film is taken from a number of books, according to Weir) was published in 1968-69, I think.

O'Brian died in 2000, but the books are apparently quite diligently researched.

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