MASTER AND COMMANDER
The Galapagos Islands
MASTER AND COMMADER has
the distinction of being the only feature film ever to shoot on The Galapagos. A
province of Ecuador, The Galapagos is home to a variety of unique plant and
animal species, including the almost-extinct giant tortoise. When English
naturalist Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos in 1835 on his historic voyage
aboard HMS Beagle, he discovered a natural laboratory rich in flora and fauna.
His research of the animal life there contributed to his theory of evolution and
Before receiving permission to shoot on the
Galapagos, the filmmakers spent months addressing the concerns of the Ecuadorian
government and the Galapagos National Park representatives, regarding the scope
of the film company's activity in the Park, as well as the presentation of the
Galapagos within the story.
The Galapagos scenes are the only time where the
men of the Surprise leave their wooden world to touch land. The story's
reverence for the Islands is reflected in Stephen Maturin's studies as a
naturalist and in his intense desire to see the Islands during their journey.
"I love that aspect of Maturin; he gives us
a glimpse of the world at that time, bursting with new developments in science
and natural history," says Weir. "It was an incredible era: there was
a feeling that knowledge was opening up in ways that were completely new.
Stephen's activities hint, as Patrick O'Brian certainly intended, that
Darwin was to come, less than forty years later, and make discoveries which he
would later incorporate into his theory of evolution."
Weir and a reduced shooting unit shot at the
Galapagos for seven days. Cast members Paul Bettany, Max Pirkis and John
DeSantis, along with 36 film crew members and all of the company's equipment,
were housed on the small tour ship the M/V Santa Cruz, a vessel built especially
for moving around the Galapagos. Filmmakers, cast, crew and equipment were
transported from the Santa Cruz to the islands each day via small boats, and all
equipment was hand carried and removed from the islands each night.
While the filmmakers captured one-of-a-kind
material during their visit to The Galapagos, logistical requirements dictated
that they also recreate the area in Baja. Digital matte painter Robert Stromberg
of Digital Backlot worked with ILM to transform the gray cliffs of Baja into the
startling landscape of The Galapagos. (Stromberg and company even accentuated
the color of the sky in the Galapagos footage, enhancing the Islands' already
impressive beauty.) In addition, Asylum digitally cloned birds, iguanas and
other fauna native to The Galapagos, for these scenes shot in Baja.
According to Robert Stromberg, it's hard to
overestimate the importance of the Galapagos scenes. "It's the only point
in the movie you actually see land," he points out, "making it a
centerpiece of the movie. Peter wanted to make The Galapagos look almost like
another planet to the men aboard the Surprise."
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