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Patrick O’Brian’s 20 historical novels chronicling the nautical exploits of Capt. Jack Aubrey and the crew of the HMS Surprise during the Napoleonic Wars have provided vicarious seamanship to a boatload of readers. The able-bodied screen adaptation Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World will please those folks first and foremost—a demographic that I suspect has significant overlap with hard-core Trekkies, Civil War buffs, and other guys who won’t be bringing along a date. Thoroughly boyish entertainment, Master and Commander is, to paraphrase another sailor man, what it is, but it’s not without nuance—and in between the Surprise’s opening-scene skirmish with the French frigate Acheron and the ships’ decisive rematch at the end, there’s plenty of time for it. Taking their cue from O’Brian, writer-director Peter Weir and screenwriter John Collee created a script that thoroughly examines the social complexities of the Surprise’s floating world. It’s a man’s world, of course, and it’s led by the manliest, Russell Crowe’s Capt. Jack. A kind of genius seaman, “Lucky” Jack is the consummate alpha male, displaying the same exuberance whether climbing the rigging or devouring his meal of spotted dog. Playing friendly foil to Jack is ship’s doctor Stephen Maturin (Crowe’s A Beautiful Mind co-star Paul Bettany), every bit the man of intellect to Jack’s man of action. After the opening battle, Master and Commander turns into an extended below-decks debate between these two as to the best course of action for the ship. Because Weir and his own crew evoke the shipboard life of 1805 with remarkable convincingness—things look and sound real, and the special effects, refreshingly, are designed not to draw attention to themselves—and detail, this workaday world of duty doesn’t suffer for lack of incident. It helps, too, that the Surprise boasts a crew of authentically seadoggy actors, including Billy Boyd’s clever coxswain Bonden, George Innes’ superstitious seaman Joe Plaice, and David Threlfall’s grumbling, mumbling cook Killick. But 13-year-old newcomer Max Pirkis, as kind- hearted and resourceful midshipman Lord Blakeney, is as scene-stealingly memorable as anyone, Crowe included. Come to think of it, the combination of that dashing captain and this bonnie lad might be enough to lure in the ladies after all. —Todd Hitchcock