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HORATIO HORNBLOWER
The Complete Adventures

Review by Chastity Campbell

Stars: Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, Dorian Healy, Michael Byrne, Robert Bathurst
Director: Andrew Grieve
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: A&E
Features: See Review
Length: 600 Minutes
Release Date: October 8, 2002

“Welcome to Purgatory, Mr. Hornblower!”

Film ****

Batten down the hatches and secure the rigging!!!!   Welcome aboard the amazing journey of a boy endeavoring to become a man, who just happens to become a hero along the way.   This could be nothing other than C. S. Forester’s magnificent tale of Horatio Hornblower. 

The first time I ever saw Ioan Gruffudd do any acting at all was while watching James Cameron’s Titanic  Little did I know that was not to be his only foray into the world of the high seas, and sinking ships.   Gruffudd brings the role of Horatio Hornblower to life on such a realistic scale that you have to wonder if this story wasn’t written specifically with him in mind. 

The journey begins in the episode titled “The Duel” and through the magic of dry ice, large-scale models, and some very special costume designs you are immediately transported to the year 1793.  Hornblower is reporting for duty aboard the Justinian, and with a name like Hornblower, you know there’s going to be trouble.   A senior midshipman by the name of Simpson takes an immediate disliking to young Horatio and proceeds, throughout the first half of the movie, to make life a living hell for our future hero.   Fear not; for as with all things, life changes and so do orders.  Horatio is transferred to the Indefatigable and catches the eye of the Captain, after proving he can handle the stress and pressure of battle. 

Volume II, “The Fire Ships,” picks up during the dark days of the Napoleonic Wars.   Captain Pellew sails the Indefatigable to the African coast to pick up some supplies but once they reach their destination, they find that the small crew sent to pick up the supplies has been exposed to the Black Plague.   Horatio is among those exposed and must spend the next three weeks in quarantine on the supply ship until the crew can be sure they will not pass the dreaded disease along to the rest of the fleet.  Horatio is also up for a promotion, but will the call of duty interfere with his desire for a full commission?  

“The Duchess and The Devil”, Volume number III is by far my absolute favorite of the six volumes.   It’s chock full of daring deeds and dashing heroes, that just make a girl want to swoon. 

After Horatio and seven of his men capture a French vessel all by themselves, Captain Pellew gives Mr. Hornblower the honor of captaining the ship back to Britain where it is to be recommissioned as a British war ship.   Along for the ride is an outspoken Duchess and some very important papers that need to reach the Admiralty with all haste.   Unfortunately after a bad performance for some Spanish soldiers Horatio, his crew and the Duchess are taken prisoner and transferred to a remote island where they find a long lost friend.   Can Horatio prove he’s got what it takes when it comes to the danger and intrigue of war?  Will finding a lost friend cost him his freedom forever?   Makes you want to run out and buy it right now, doesn’t it!!!

Number IV is the last in the original set presented by A&E.  “The Wrong War” takes us onto dry land as the now commissioned Lieutenant Hornblower has been asked to transport a group of French Royalists on a desperate mission to invade Brittany.  Along the way he finds love, a new meaning of courage, and a new respect for the guillotine.  Will his doubts be his undoing, or will they prove that the war they are fighting is the wrong war indeed?  Come on, you know you want to go buy this box set!!!

The adventures of C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower continue in a two-disc 200-minute story arc that will leave you breathless and your heart pounding.  “The Mutiny” is set in the year 1802, almost ten years after our hero first began his journey.  When last we left Horatio he was coming closer and closer to finding out just what it means to be an officer in the King’s Navy.  However, circumstances and an unfortunate reassignment lands him on the ship of a Captain who is, unfortunately, a few bales short of a full load if you take my meaning. 

We find our hero locked in a cell awaiting trial for mutiny, which is considered one of the worst things an officer can do.   We follow the story as Horatio relates his last ship assignment to his former Captain Mr. Pellew.  We find out that Horatio has been put through the grinder on this ship and unfortunately, no one was able to help him.   After an unfortunate accident, the captain is declared unfit for duty and is chained up to prevent him from interfering with the acting Captain’s orders.  As the trial date is getting near, it seems our favorite hero has run out of luck and time…or has he?

“Retribution” is the final installment in this wonderful and amazing story.  This is where we get to see our hero Mr. Horatio Hornblower show the grit and guts that make him the Lieutenant that we love so much.   This story picks up directly where “Mutiny” left off, and we get to see Mr. Hornblower and a few fellow officers on trial.   It’s a terrific ride through the highs and lows that make this series of movies so wonderful.   The movie lover in me just can’t spoil the ending of this amazing series for you, so I will leave you here and let you wonder until you can make it out to the video store and pick up your copy.  Trust me, you’re going to love them…all of them!!

Each one of these DVDs is 100 minutes long and each movie can be viewed as a stand- alone production.   So if you choose to buy one or all, you can still get in on one of the best swashbuckling adventures that I have seen in a long time.

Video ***

It’s been a while since I’ve watched anything on DVD that wasn’t in Anamorphic Widescreen format.  I do have to say, however, that it was refreshing to have the entire area of my television screen filled to capacity with vivid colors, crisp images, and a wonderful array of technical effects.   The only flaws were in the darkness of some night- time scenes, as they tended to be so dark you basically saw nothing.  This does not detract in the slightest from the viewing of the other 595 minutes of this set of DVDs!

Audio ***

The audio was good overall with the exception of a few instances where the sound effects overwhelmed the actors.   Then again, this is a war we are talking about and cannon fire does tend to be rather loud, doesn’t it?  A good blend and mix with the Dolby Digital quality and clarity make these DVDs sound as, good as they look!  

Features ***

There were features aplenty in this box set, and all of them, in one way or another, teaches things I’m sure most people never knew.

We get 3 special programs. “England’s Royal Warships”, “Sail 2000: Aboard the Eagle”, and “The Making of Horatio Hornblower”.  All three of these were superbly done and gave the viewer quite a bit of insight into what sailing in the King’s Navy is really all about.  Not to mention how hard a job it truly is!

The 3-D character generated cannon is an excellent guide to learning terms associated with this piece of equipment.   Very detailed and nicely animated, you can’t help but wish they had fixed it so you could fire the darn thing.  Well, just once, anyway.

You get a Guide To Royal Warships, as well as a nice list of Nautical Terms & Definitions.  

To round it all out you get a look at the author of the series of books that made these DVDs possible, Mr. C. S. Forester.  It’s not very long, and is very straight forward and to the point about his literary abilities but quite interesting nonetheless.

Summary:

Hop the next Frigate that comes along and sail into your local video retailer for a chance to abandon the here and now for a little excitement on the high seas.  Don’t delay, act now, and you too can learn all about Chowder, Chock-A-Block & Doldrums.