Episode 55: Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World

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Though still weary from that long train trip to the Urals last episode, Sean and Cody board a British Navy sailing ship headed around Cape Horn as they delve into this swashbuckling 2003 adventure/war film, directed by Peter Weir. In Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World, indefatigable Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) can’t think about anything except the French man-o’-war he’s chasing all over the oceans. But his best friend Maturin (Paul Bettany) is so keen on collecting bugs in the Galapagos Islands that he can barely keep his mind on his job of sawing limbs off teenage crew members injured in battle. A whole lot of cannons go boom when the HMS Surprise finally meets her enemy on, well, the far side of the world. Environmental issues discussed include the effect of the Napoleonic Wars on forests in Europe and Asia, the weird beasts of the Galapagos Islands and how they got that way, “naturalists” in the early 19th century, and more dope on Darwin’s famous voyage.

How did British short-sightedness in managing their forests come back to bite them during the Napoleonic Wars? How far did they have to go to get timber for their ships? Are Americans still mad at the British for burning down their capital in 1814? What’s the history of the Galapagos Islands? Which previous episode was it where we revealed the strange fate of the Beagle, the ship that took Darwin there? Do all historians read Patrick O’Brian novels? How do you pronounce “Maturin”? Who was Alexander von Humboldt and why is there an ocean current named after him? What member of Darwin’s 1835 expedition to the Galapagos was still alive at the time this film was made, and how is that even possible? Which actor in this film’s cast did one of the podcast hosts have a Twitter exchange with? All these questions and more are lying in wait disguised as a whaler in this adventurous episode of Green Screen.

Trailer for Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World.
Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and Maturin (Paul Bettany) argue about the best way to run the ship.
Maturin (Paul Bettany) does surgery on himself. TRIGGERS: gross, potentially triggering, NSFW.
Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and the HMS Surprise finally catch up with their prey, the Acheron.
At last, the kissy stuff we came to see! Yuri is finally reunited with his love, the mercurial Lara (Julie Christie) after years of separation occasioned by the Revolution.
Maturin and his young helper scour the Galapagos Islands for scientific specimens.

Additional Materials About This Episode:

The Environmental History:

Second Decade podcast, Episode 55, “Norway, Part I” (discusses the role of timber from the Baltic region as a strategic resource in the Napoleonic Wars):

K.V. Kunhikrishnan, “The Colonial State and India’s Forests: Strategic Requirements and Policy Shifts,” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 59 (1998):

James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human condition Have Failed (Yale University Press, 1998) (discusses Prussian silviculture and forest management):

Mat Paskins, “The Woods for the State,” in Histories of Technology, the Environment and Modern Britain (UCL Press, 2018):

Brief biography of James Croll (1821-1890), janitor and sometime climatologist:

Aaron Sachs, The Humboldt Current: 19th Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism (Viking Press, 2006):

Lance Newman, review and summary of The Humboldt Current, American Historical Review, Vol. 112, No. 4 (2007):

“Harriet Finally Withdraws After 176 Years,” The Sydney Morning Herald, June 24, 2006:


Promotional making-of video for Master and Commander.

Next Movie Up: Runaway Train (1985)

The image associated with Master and Commander is presumably copyright (C) 2003 by Universal and Paramount PictureIts inclusion here is believed permissible under fair use. We are not the uploader of any YouTube clips embedded here.

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