I’ve had a couple of people from my classes tell me that they watched the video review I posted on “Thor”, but they did not find time to read any of the other movie postings. So what I’m going to do for this entry is write a few comments and also post a video review so that both parts of my brain get a little exercise. I hope that will also encourage some of you to try both formats as you follow along. Maybe you can leave a comment about how you perceive the two media differently.
In 2003, I looked forward to the original pirates immensely. Other theme park movies had not worked but “Pirates” was going to be different. It was a natural adventure film, with a swashbuckling theme, backed by some supernatural influences. As a kid, the pirates ride at Disneyland had always been my favorite. I remember going in 1967, and my great grandmother being wheeled to the exit side of the line to wait for us and then helping her in and out of the gondola for the ride. She was in her 80’s at the time, but everyone wanted her to be part of the adventure. I was not disappointed one bit by the film version, which had a magnificent performance from Johnny Depp as the quirky lead character. This movie had surprises and also felt familiar. I know I saw it several more times in theaters and it was on my top five list for that year. When the film succeeded so well that two sequels were announced, I also had high hopes. As everyone already knows, the follow ups were not as endearing, charming or memorable as the first. There were some terrific sequences and characters. I think Davey Jones is an amazing synthesis of actor and CGI. The three way sword fight was ingeniously choreographed. At the end of Dead Man’s Chest, when Captain Barbosa is returned from the dead, although it made no sense, I felt a thrill in anticipation of the third movie. Both “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End” were bloated, at times incoherent, and ultimately mildly entertaining but letdowns. The story line was wrapped up and we had a Trilogy that did not feel organic but it did feel complete.
Here we are, five years after the last of the pirates movies and Captain Jack Sparrow is back for another episode. The character remains fun, but in “On Stranger Tides”, he is overwhelmed by a story that should take an hour and a half to tell but instead takes almost two and a half. Much of it is shot in the dark, which is probably needed to make the 3-D images pop more clearly. It has many of the same problems that the two sequels had, too many shifts in loyalties and uncertain rules for the supernatural elements. It often feels like it is being made up as we go along. That is not a bad thing if you are playing pirates but if you are making a movie, the structure of the story should drive the action rather than the other way around.
Don’t despair me hearties, there is still plenty to enjoy in this new adventure, but it is not the return to the sharp movie making found in the original film. The action is fine, there is a nice daylight chase though London on carriage tops that was reminiscent of a similar chase scene in “Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother” back in 1975. The murkiness of the settings undermines the sword duels in the first two thirds of the movie, but you do get a pretty good fight near the end of the film. Again, there are some clever escapes and humorous bits of by-play in the action sequences, but they are not set up as well as the theft of the English Ship in the original pirates, and they often make less logical sense than the sneaking around that dominated the third film. The Mermaid attack sequence is very nicely shot however, and it does have some of the charm that we got from the skeleton crew in “The Black Pearl”.
The three biggest assets besides Johnny Depp in the character he will always be referred to as in his obituary, are Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane and once again Geoffrey Rush. A couple of years ago I saw “Nine” with Ms. Cruz, and well I had always thought she was beautiful, it was there that I saw how sexy she could be. She brings a lot of sex appeal to the film, but we need more by play and story focus on her and Captain Jack. Ian McShane, looks the part of Blackbeard like no one else, but he needs a little more development as well. There is an element of supernatural about him that is not really explained and seems to exist only to allow a couple of set pieces and a story element to work. Geoffrey Rush, basically can do no wrong. His character is still black-hearted, but now he has a vengeance story line that makes the last third of the picture work. Rush was great in “The King’s Speech” which won the academy award this year. I saw “Mystery Men” on the satellite a couple of days ago and he was great in it. I get the feeling, he is just damn good at what he does. In this movie, what he does is bring the story to life and make it a real pirate film rather than just a zombie, mermaid, action adventure.
I enjoyed the movie but I did not love it like I did the first film. I miss some of the characters that added charm in the original trilogy, not Will and Elizabeth, but the background pirates and soldiers. There was one character piece in this film that was not a featured player. One of the pirates plays and sings and his interaction with the mermaids adds to the fun in the movie. We needed sharper bits of humor like this from all of the players and a much tighter rein on the storytelling. This movie will do good business, and maybe they will follow through on the plot threads that set up more sequels. I can tell you though, no one will be sitting on the edge of their seat waiting for that to happen, and if it doesn’t, no one will really miss it.