OxBlog

Friday, November 14, 2003

# Posted 10:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ENTERTAINMENT MEDIA BIAS: I don't usually read movie reviews, but since I'm a really big Russell Crowe fan, I thought I'd see what the WaPo has to say about Master & Commander. According to Desson Howe, the film
isn't just a fabulous seagoing spectacle. It's one for the ages. Not only does Peter Weir's film give you an atmospheric feel for the agony and ecstasy of early 19th-century sea warfare, it's a rollicking good story.
On the other hand, Stephen Hunter says the film
feels weirdly overstuffed, as stories keep stumbling into and over one another or are buried beneath the arrival of other stories. The worst example is the film's narrative framework...
While film reviews are obviously a matter of taste, it's a little strange to hear two-highly paid professionals disagree about virtually every aspect of a film (except the opening battle sequence, which they both think is great.)

Sadly, I must admit that my impulse is to distrust the positive review. In other words, I'm an optimist when it comes to Iraq, but not when it comes to Hollywood. There is something of the beret-clad art-house critic in me, so I tend to believe that there really is such a thing as taste in film and that most of what comes out of Hollywood is recycled trash.

On the other hand, I love Jet Li and Jackie Chan and all sorts of far-out action flicks that don't pretend to offer you anything but a good time. So while I tend to trust bad movie reviews, I was also taught at a young age how the permanent presence of a stick in most film critics' hindquarters (especially at the NYT, my adolescent paper of choice) means that they will poo-poo any film which offer its viewers a good time rather than a sobering intellectual odyssey.

Speaking of which, what does the NYT have to say about Master & Commander? According to A.O. Scott,
This stupendously entertaining movie, directed by Peter Weir and adapted from two of the novels in Patrick O'Brian's 20-volume series on Aubrey's naval exploits, celebrates an idea of England that might have seemed a bit corny even in 1805, when the action takes place.
Hmmm, so you start out thinking it's a compliment but then it turns out to be somewhat backhanded. Later on, Scott tells us that
The Napoleonic wars that followed the French Revolution gave birth, among other things, to British conservatism, and "Master and Commander," making no concessions to modern, egalitarian sensibilities, is among the most thoroughly and proudly conservative movies ever made. It imagines the Surprise as a coherent society in which stability is underwritten by custom and every man knows his duty and his place. I would not have been surprised to see Edmund Burke's name in the credits.
So is this a good thing or a bad thing? Burke: Intellectual and European. But also conservative. Cleverly, Scott also points out that the date of the action in the film has been moved back a few years from 1812 to avoid the unpleasant fact that at the time, the Anglo-American special relationship was not all that special. At least they don't let Krugman do movie reviews...
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