Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Patrick O'Brian books vs. film

As a rabid Patrick O'Brian reader (how many times have you read the Aubrey-Maturin series?), I dreaded seeing the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, but I had to, I am so in love with that era I just couldn’t resist seeing it brought to life. And I trust Peter Weir as a filmmaker. I was able to disconnect the books from the film somewhat, and see the film as a stand-alone entity. Russell Crowe was a good Jack Aubrey, but he’s not my Jack Aubrey... The books-into-film genre is often unbearable for a viewer, I can’t imagine what it’s like for an author.

I can come close, though. John le Carré says this: “ Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.” Patrick O'Brian didn't live to see this happen to his books. I thought the film was great, but of course it pales beside the books themselves.

On a recent trip to California, I unexpectedly discovered (by driving by the waterfront in a taxi and doing a double-take, thinking What is that??) that the Maritime Museum of San Diego ( is the home of the H.M.S. Surprise, formerly the H.M.S. Rose, the replica wooden ship used in the making of Master and Commander. So I got to go on board, see props and costumes on loan from the film studio, and (steadfastly ignoring the cruise ships nearby) imagine what it would have been like to sail on such a vessel. My heart was thousands of miles away, though, because this trip was shortly before the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, and I wanted to be in Portsmouth, England, to see the Victory. Instead, I was in Southern California, on board a replica of a Royal Navy frigate of the same era, recently used in a movie based on a series of books, themselves loosely based on the adventures of one of Nelson's real-life frigate captains. I felt so very American.

I recommend all three (the series of books, the film, and the Maritime Museum), by the way, if you have any kind of an affinity for the Napoleonic era. Peter Weir said the series was “…one of the great reading experiences of my life…” Me, too.

I love the series as well and understand that trepidation about seeing it brought to life. But Weir did a wonderful job and the score did a lot to ease my frustrations with major changes to O'Brian's order of events. You DEFINITELY have to view the movie as a separate entity. There is simply no reconciling it with any single book. However, there are direct dialogue quotations and events from several books in the Aubrey/Maturin series. Separate entity yes, but Weir captured Aubrey and Maturin in many ways. Wish they would have included a little more of Maturin's life as a spy and it would be nice to meet Diana and Sophie some day.

-An aside, I truly enjoyed browsing your blog. Best of luck with the bookselling. I adore my Palm and laptop but there is nothing like the feel of turning quality leaf between thumb and forefinger.
The extended dvd of the film has some nice extras on it, including Peter Weir talking informally about why he loves the books so much, and how he was drawn to bring part of the series to film (and the problems inherent in such a task). I bought the soundtrack to the film also, and play it in the shop often. Thanks for your note - hope you keep reading in the months to come!
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