Fans of Master and Commander were surprised in early June 2021 with the announcement of prequel rather than a sequel. Here’s why it’ll be rebooted.
Fans of Master and Commander, the 2003 Peter Weir naval film starring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany, were surprised in early June 2021 with the announcement of a new prequel installment, rather than the long-awaited sequel. Why the unexpected twist? Master and Commander was a critical hit when it was released – being nominated for 10 Oscars and taking home two – and it found a large audience that has been long waiting for news of a sequel in the years since its release.
Via Deadline, 20th Century announced that author and screenwriter Patrick Ness would be writing a new prequel installment in the series. The original Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was based on elements from several of the Jack O’Brien Aubrey-Maturin novels, and Ness is expected to adapt the earliest book in the series, which hints at younger characters, recast actors, and an earlier setting.
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While a new movie in the Master and Commander franchise is a welcome announcement, it does leave the question of why he studio preferred to essentially reboot the series with a prequel, rather than continue the story with a sequel featuring two beloved actors who had proven chemistry, and a team which had already created a successful outing. Star Russell Crowe had occasionally taken to Twitter to tease or encourage a sequel, and even defended the first installment as recently as January 2021. So: Why is the upcoming Master and Commander movie a prequel, rather than a sequel?
While the first Master and Commander movie was a critical darling, its box office success was less resounding. It made a profit of $211.6 million, but against a budget of $150 million, that left something to be desired. While the intention was there to create a franchise from Master and Commander, and the existing material for adaptation was certainly broad enough with 20 published novels in the series, a franchise-starting blockbuster would have to make more to kick of a string of sequels. In the words of the movie’s own director, Peter Weir, a sequel was “most unlikely... it did well…ish at the box office, [but] it didn’t generate that monstrous, rapid income that provokes a sequel.” Consider another franchise-starting seafaring film released in the same year – Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. That film made $654.3 million off a budget of $140 million, and turned out to be the first in an ongoing line of at least seven movies. The success of the Pirates franchise may also have eaten up some of the potential audience for Master and Commander sequels.
There’s also the fact that Crowe and Bettany are more than a decade older than their first outing as Aubrey and Maturin. While they were still fresh-faced sailors in the first Master and Commander, their age may require that the story shift to a later period in their characters’ careers. Considering screenwriter Ness’ experience as a writer of YA novels, it’s clear the studio considered a story following younger iterations of the characters to be favorable. The new film will likely show the two at their first meeting, which occurs in the first novel in the series. Whatever the reasoning behind 20th Century’s announcement of a Master and Commander prequel rather than a sequel, Aubrey-Maturin fans should celebrate that the franchise is receiving another look-in after 18 years on the shelf.
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