Screenplay by Peter Weir, John Collee
Studio: Fox (released Nov. 14)
Source material: The “Master and Commander” novels by Patrick O’Brian
Storyline: Overmatched British warship “Surprise” plays cat-and-mouse with a French privateer across two oceans during the Napoleonic wars.
About the script: In an era of hyperkinetic “thrill ride” movies, this screenplay scores by daring to appeal to the mind and the heart as well as the adrenal glands. The plot is no more sophisticated than a good “Star Trek” episode but “Master and Commander” isn’t about the plot — it’s an exploration of the complex and unfamiliar world contained within that British frigate. If one of the hallmarks of a good movie is that it takes take us somewhere we’ve never been before, this one succeeds with flying colors. And it still provides plenty of pulse-pounding action along the way.
Biggest challenge: Finding a plot, since none of O’Brian’s novels would quite work as a screenplay. Then, says Collee, “weaving together something that felt like O’Brian but wasn’t O’Brian.”
Breakthrough idea: Collee: “Seeing the film as a dialogue about what it is to be a man. The other breakthrough idea is that we were really writing about a family in which Jack is the dad, Stephen is the mum, Lord Blakeney is the kid and the rest of the crew are the unruly teenagers.”
Favorite scene: “Steven is sitting at the end of the boat dejected, having been told that his lifelong ambition to visit the Galapagos is not going to happen, and Lord Blakeney, the little boy, brings him a beetle as a gesture of condolence. It’s so heartbreaking. The most young and vulnerable kid on the ship tries to make things better for him.”
Lines we love: Collee: Maturin worries aloud about how to repay Aubrey for saving his life. Aubrey: “Tosh. Name a shrub after me. Something prickly and hard to eradicate.”
Weir: Aubrey, after Hollom’s suicide: “The fact is, not all of us become the men we once hoped we might be, but we are all God’s creatures, and if some of us thought ill of Mr. Hollom, or spoke ill of him, or failed him in respect of fellowship, then we ask your forgiveness, Lord, and we ask for his.”
Writers’ Bio: Sydney-born Peter Weir is a four-time Oscar nominee, as director for “Witness,” “Dead Poets Society” and “The Truman Show,” and as writer for “Green Card.” He also wrote the screenplays for his films “The Last Wave,” “Gallipoli” and “The Year of Living Dangerously.” Scotland native John Collee, a novelist and screenwriter, trained as a physician and practiced medicine in the developing world for many years. He wrote “The Heart Surgeon” for the BBC and “The Paper Mask” for Granada Films.