Every once in a while a Hollywood studio throws out the hit-formula playbook and bets that smart moviegoers will go along for the ride. “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” which opens Friday, is that rare case.
“It’s a $135 million art film,” said Russell Crowe, who is winning praise for his robust portrayal of Patrick O’Brian’s seafaring hero, the captain of H.M.S. Surprise, Jack Aubrey. “I’m confident the audience exists.”
“Master and Commander” was able to chart its own course because the studio hired a strong, confident director, the Australian Peter Weir, who held out for what he wanted. He concentrated on the action from the 10th book in the O’Brian series, drawing elements from the first. He asked that Russell Crowe be ready to shoot in 2002, not 2003. He demanded enough post-production time to make the computer-graphic effects look so real as to be invisible, forcing the studio to give up a prime June slot and push the release back to November. And he refused to make changes in the rough cut that were demanded by 20th Century Fox’s financial partners, though it meant a daunting marketing challenge.