Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World has all the elements of the kind of movie that keeps studio heads up at night: it’s literary (based on the Patrick O’Brian seafaring series), period (Napoleonic), expensive (close to $150 million), packed with action (swords, pistols, rifles and cannons) and VFX (ships at sea under fire). That’s why, even though the Napoleonic adventure movie looks like a success, grossing $209.5 million worldwide, it was a nail biter for Twentieth Century Fox co-chairman Tom Rothman at the time. (He took on partners in the venture, and had to push back the release to get the FX finished.) The well-reviewed awards contender (nominated for ten Oscars, it won two) barely made its production and marketing costs back. (Here’s my NYT story from 2003.)
It makes sense that Russell Crowe (post-State Of Play) would want to return to the juicy role of Captain Jack Aubrey in what should be a big adventure franchise. A script is in the works based on the 11th novel set in the Caribbean, dealing with Aubrey’s illegimate son, a priest.
But this sort of heavy-duty period movie about ships at sea is tough to execute: Master and Commander had finicky Australian Peter Weir at the helm. Rothman wooed him by laying a mock captain’s sword on his lap and asking him to take command of the HMS Surprise. Weir has been unwilling to return for a sequel.
Fox says it’s early days yet, with no deals in place.