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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 natural selection.

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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