Master and Commander: The Far side of the World (and the Box-Office)

Every week we’re sold different ads and promos for new films coming out, at a blinding, furious rate. The market these days is so highly saturated that it’s become almost a hassle to choose what to watch. It’s rough when an entire feature length film has to grab your attention and tell you it’s worth watching, using only a one-sheet poster and a two-minute trailer. Yes, they exist to create hype, but when another hundred films are utilising these exact same tools that same season, so much can go amiss when the marketing team handling the promotion miss the mark.

This was the case for films such as Dazed and Confused (billed as a “stoner comedy” thanks to an awful poster, much to the dismay of the director) and Master and Commander, whose entire promotional foundation was built upon a static image which gives the most generic impression of the film’s plot, being a “Stormy Russell Crowe historical naval drama”. Eleven years after its release, I finally got around to watching the Peter Weir-directed film through recommendation and discovered not just a wet, screaming Russell Crowe on a boat, but a beautifully photographed film with nuanced storytelling and real human pathos. It’s a film that unravels before your eyes, that doesn’t focus necessarily on naval war, but rather the psychology of comradeship and unity, a result of duty to both country and fellow man. It isn’t a film that exists to examine history, but to tell personal stories with just as many quiet moments as there are loud.

While a critical success, Master and Commander didn’t quite achieve as highly at the box-office as it probably deserved (it was out-grossed by Scary Movie 3 that same year). Unfortunately, this is the way the industry continues to operate, which means that many films like Dazed and Confused and Master & Commander may someday not even make it into production in the first place. But at least these films that currently do exist can still be seen and appreciated, thanks to the power of simple word-of-mouth.

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