ACTION: “Master and Commander” has some great action scenes. It also has some more dramatic scenes. It is a masterful blend of character development and plot evolution. When it does rev up into action, the action is intense and realistic. The boarding of the French ship is one of the great set pieces in war movie history. “We Were Soldiers” is similar to “Black Hawk Down” in that it unfolds into a second half that is pure action with the home front wives scenes interspersed. The Battle of Ia Drang matches Master's climatic battle in intensity, but it covers a longer time frame.
Score at the end of the first period: Soldiers - 9 Master – 7
SOUND AND VISUAL EFFECTS: Master won the Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Sound Effects. It was nominated for Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects. Sound designer Richard King and director Peter Weir went to great lengths to get it right. They went to a lot of trouble matching sounds mentioned in the Patrick O’Brien books with scenes in the movie. The visual effects were also outstanding. The ship battles, replete with flying splinters, are amazing. The storm scenes (this is one of the wettest movies ever made) make you very happy you are sitting in your recliner. Soldiers does not have the pedigree of Master, but it is competently done. Since it is a throwback to old school war pictures, it forgoes the bells and whistles of CGI. The helicopter scenes are well done as are the air support.
Halftime score: Master – 17 Soldiers – 16
SOLDIER BEHAVIOR: Master spends a lot of time below decks with the common tars of the British navy. Their behavior and banter is authentic. The movie also takes us into the world of the officer class and does a good job contrasting the differences between the sailors and the officers. The various activities on a wooden warship are accurately depicted. Special props for the subplot of the midshipman who is saddled with being the Jonah scapegoated for the ship's bad luck by the superstitious crew. Soldiers follows the 7th Cavalry through training into the big battle. We do not learn as much about the soldiers as we do in Vietnam War movies that are more small unit oriented (e.g. Platoon, Full Metal Jacket), but Soldiers also does not go over the top like them. It is after all a movie about a battle and mainly focuses on the two commanders – Moore and Nguyen.
Score at the end of three periods: Master – 26 Soldiers – 23
EDUCATIONAL VALUE: Master is not a true story, but as a tutorial on Napoleonic ship combat and life it cannot be topped. You learn about life above and below decks. It covers leadership and strategy and tactics. It also is excellent in giving the audience a feel for what it was like on a man-of-war during a storm or in battle. This is an area of history that has been woefully neglected up until recently with this movie and the Hornblower movies. Soldiers performs the service of teaching about our first battle in Vietnam – Ia Drang. Most people would not be familiar with this key historical event. The movie is very instructive about the battle and even gives insight into enemy strategy and tactics. It is a true story and faithful to the book. However, the educational value is diminished by the ridiculous Hollywood kickass ending and the omission of the aftermath of the battle which included the ambushing and annihilation of an American unit marching out of the combat zone.
FINAL SCORE: Master – 34 Soldiers – 31
Master battle scene
Soldiers battle scene