Master and Commander Blu-ray Review
That he succeeds in every single department of the production is nothing short of miraculous. Like sea-shanties themselves, the genre appeals to a niche market and one that, unfortunately for Weir, seems to prefer undead pirates, novelty-act swashbuckling and big concept, low-brow entertainment. But, to his credit, Weir and his armada of crew, actors and writers, ignore the temptation to either dumb-down, dress-up or condescend to the masses. And, given the might of Hollywood's hunger for the easy dollar, this is a brave tactic indeed.
Master and Commander Blu-ray Picture
Another element of concern is some slight aberrations of colour-timing. This is most noticeable during the shot when Stephen Maturin, talking of the enemy captain, informs Aubrey that, “He fights like you, Jack”. Look at Bettany's eyes and face - something has gone slightly askew there. Then there is the noise that is evident against certain backgrounds, or costumes which, when added to the previous misdemeanours, of course, makes a new Blu-ray release sound like it is cursed. But, this is not the full picture.
There are, indeed, many pluses to the 1080p transfer of this 2.40:1 image. First and foremost is the enhanced level of detail throughout. Granted, it is not a huge step-up from the SD version, but there is definitely more finite attention bestowed upon the interiors of the ships, the grain in the wood, the texture on clothing, rope, sails, faces etc and even if the sea during a lot of shots actually looks quite bland, there are still many instances of spray, waves, drops and reflections on water that clearly look much clearer than previously. The distance shots of ships may not fare with much more distinction than last time around, but the views across the Galapagos do look reveal more detail across the lava flow and the flora and fauna, the rocks bearing clearer striations than before. The showers of wooden splinters flashing across the screen when canon-balls tear through the vessels are sharper - visually-speaking - and the probing of Stephen's bullet-wound and Joe Plaice's open skull have an ounce or two more in the way of clarity. Uniforms possess more grit and material, buttons look a tad shinier - all pointing to an image that does go beyond the original release.
Colours were never the most pronounced to begin with, with Weir's intention to keep things muted and not flashy. But flames do appear brighter and fuller, the little pockets of light from lanterns and percussion-flashes have more warmth and better delineation against the blacks and shadows and blood is a touch more vivid. The black levels are actually very good, with weight and presence that adds three-dimensionality to the many scenes below decks and night times that are accurately inky. Midnight blues are acceptable, but they can begin to merge with the darker elements a little too easily. Contrast is deliberately blown during some shots - an exchange between Aubrey and Maturin on Galapagos, for example - but, on the whole, is fairly consistent. There is a very nice shot revealed when Aubrey and Maturin sit below decks and ponder the fate of men and the foolhardiness of the quest for the Acheron as lightning turns the image an incandescent, but detailed silver.
Edge enhancement is much less apparent than it was previously - not that it was particularly bad even then, proving that the BD edition is tighter and crisper in terms of delineation. Apart from the examples mentioned, excess noise and grain are not problems for most of the film either, and there is no evidence of blocking, artifacting or pixilation. Fast action is smooth and there is no print damage. Fox have definitely tinkered with this transfer though since last time - but, all things considered, this MPEG-4 encode is still a worthwhile improvement as far as I am concerned.
Master and Commander Blu-ray Sound
Of course, Master And Commander offers much more than whiz-bang bass-pounding. The evocative and intelligent dialogue is wonderfully conveyed and even if, at some points in the film, it has to be yelled above the cacophony of wreckage, screaming and whistling debris, it is always clear and discernable. The fantastic intricacies of the many moving, rolling, sliding, clicking or clacking accoutrements onboard the ship are presented with impeccable placement, clarity and realism. The creaking and groaning of the hull and the lapping of the sea, so beloved even on the former track, are now even more exquisite at bringing the visuals to ear-deceiving life. The movement of feet around the decks offer some quite splendid little tricks too. Just after the first battle, when Jack has been caught napping, the trampling of the crew, as heard from below, is really cleverly tracked from seemingly dizzying circles above your head. The sea, the wind and the elements all swirl with textured conviction around the speakers, sweeping in and engulfing you on occasion, falling back and receding at other times. The ship's bell and the lifting of the lid on Aubrey's dinner trays, the sound of a pencil sketching in a notebook and the knocking of nails - all little things that positively shine here with clear-as-a-whistle authenticity. And the phenomenal score - every note, every melody and the surging strings of the two pivotal moments seared by “Fantasia On A Theme By Thomas Tallis” ignited on the track with sincerity, warmth and a crystalline presence.
Need I say more?
One of the best and most intelligently designed soundtracks just got the boost that we hadn't really thought it needed in the first place ... but are now really glad that it did.
Master and Commander Blu-ray Extras
Besides a new pop-up trivia track that is surprisingly few and far between with its nautical titbits and the BD-Java pop-up map that once kept this release in dry-dock, and rapidly loses its novelty value after a few glimpses, the only thing of any real value here are the 24-minutes of Deleted Scenes. Now this collection, it must be stated, are not often full scenes that seem to go anywhere. The majority of what we are presented with is set-montages taken on a themed basis. This is still eminently interesting stuff, though - provided you are up for more of this windswept, swaying atmosphere and weren't bored rigid by the main feature.
The selection has a Play All option and is titled thus - Weighing Anchor, Shipboard Life, Superstition - which is actually a great spooky little set-piece when unearthly noises are heard at night and the crew become mightily unsettled - Dentistry - which offers some broad comedy - Articles Of War and Galapagos. Mainly chronicling the antics of the crew and how differing ranks go about their day and their free-time - tattoos and grog for the seamen, gunplay for the marines etc - this selection reveals how in-depth Peter Weir really went into putting O'Brian's prose onto the screen. One great segment lifted directly from the books has Crowe's Aubrey clambering around the ship and swimming beneath her to assess what repairs need to be done.
All we get after this is the film's theatrical trailer (in hi-def) and some Fox On Blu-ray nods for The Day After Tomorrow, Eragon and Kingdom Of Heaven.
Of course, real fans of the film will already have the original 2-disc Special Edition that came out a few years ago - and they, like me, will have to hang onto it until Fox eventually re-release the BD with all the booty that that had to offer.
Is Master and Commander Blu-ray worth buying
Fox's long-delayed BD release - at least as far as the US and UK markets were concerned - loses out to the big guns with regards to special features, but slams a broadside into all comers when it comes to superlative audio transfers. Already mightily hailed as technical wonder of acoustic design on SD disc, Master And Commander now rules the seven seas of sound with its utterly majestic DTS-MA 5.1 track. Pure reference quality and a very high water-mark for others to follow. The image, on the other hand, is not the most scintillating available on the format, but - and this is the crucial thing - it is still very good indeed and leaves its SD cousin not quite dead, but barely conscious in the water.
Like the sea, itself, Master And Commander is a thing of rare and unpredictable beauty, ferocity and bewitching tranquillity. It is not an easy voyage, but it is one that definitely worth taking. Despite setting adrift its raft of extras from the previous 2-discer, this release comes very highly recommended. Masterful filmmaking and a commanding achievement. For fans, this is absolutely essential.
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