Friday, May 25, 2007
Yo ho, yo ho a pirate's life for me part three. That's right Jack Sparrow and company are back in theaters for the third and supposedly last installment of the Disneyland ride-turned-moviePirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
(opening May 25 throughout San Diego). The previous sequel went on to gross a billion dollars worldwide and Disney's hoping for another box office bonanza this summer.
Chow Yun Fat and Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
When we last left Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), he was dead. But no matter. Coming back from the dead when a franchise is in need is no problem. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End opens with Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) of the East India Trading Company cracking down on the pirate community by suspending everyone's rights and holding mass hangings. He's also employing the ghost ship The Flying Dutchman and its tentacled captain Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) to hunt down all pirates' ships at sea and destroy them. He's also scheming over something involving the pirate council.
Meanwhile, Will (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) and another resurrected pirate, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) are off trying to track down the deceased Jack Sparrow who has one of the missing pieces of eight necessary for the Nine Lords of the Brethren Court to meet. They end up trying to enlist the aid of a Chinese pirate (Chow Yun Fat), but everyone seems to be working on his or her own secret agenda.
Now Disney sent out a letter to all members of the press requesting: Please do not reveal the many plot resolutions that occur throughout the film, completing the characters' story lines from the previous two movies in the series. We hope you appreciate there are many Pirates fans who will enjoy their moviegoing experience so much more not knowing in advance the outcome of the many plot twists.
Well gee, that takes the wind outta my sails. I was so looking forward to trying to summarize the many plot resolutions that occur during the convoluted and near-three-hours of Pirates 3 . So to appease Disney (which really has nothing to worry about...honest) and not spoil the fans' enjoyment of the new film. I will cease discussing the plot.
, Now the first Pirate film was fun almost exclusively because of Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow. Depp had the right attitude, dont take things too seriously, maintain a sense of silliness and take home a big paycheck. He wandered through that film in a kind of rum-soaked stupor. He was constantly bobbing and weaving, as if Jack could never quite get his land legs and was continually swaying with an imaginary tide. Depp, even in a silly role like that, displayed his comic skills and made the silliness and stupidity bearable, and often even entertaining. He was an ironic presence who seemed to be above the formulaic antics of his co-stars.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Buena Vista)
But in the following two sequels, Depp has joined ranks of his lame co-horts. So now there's no one to poke fun at the proceedings. The sequels have taken the most problematic elements in the first film (the big budget effects, calculated humor, and bloated running time) and emphasized them. Director Gore Verbinski does pack a lot of action or at least a lot of frantic movement into his film. But there's no panache to the battles and swordplay, no sense of either Errol Flynn's swashbuckling bravado or over the top Hong Kong delirium. Instead its as mechanically delivered as the animatronc figures in the ridepredictable and repetitious, albeit fastest and more fluid in motion. Now such criticism is bound to fall on deaf ears since all those who made Pirates 2 a box office juggernaut last year will probably go see number 3 no matter what critics says. And the fact that the previous films grossed so much may mean that I'm the only one who felt shortchanged by the sequel. But I think that even people who liked Dead Mans Chest will admit that it wasn't as good as Curse of the Black Pearl and that it could have been so much better. Personally, I'd rather go on the Disneyland ride than to ever have to suffer through the 2 sequels ever again. Although the ride has now been changed to include multiple Jack Sparrows, so there's simply no escaping the film.
Now I am swearing off repeat viewings even though At World's End has added one of my favorite actors of all time, the ever-cool Hong Kong star Chow Yun Fat. But Verbinski so misuses him that it's painful to watch. Chow is an adept comedic actor and Pirates would seem a perfect place to let him shine. But Verbinski and writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio lock him into a stereotyped evil Oriental role. Now if they were clever, they could have played off that stereotype. I enjoyed the way Grindhouse was able to play with its B-movie stereotypes delivering the formula while giving it a knowing tweak.
I also have to complain about another blown opportunity: Keith Richards. How could they have missed the chance to for clever interplay between Johnny Depp and Keith Richards. Depp claims that Richards was the inspiration for his performance as Jack Sparrow, yet scenes between them are completely uninspired and bland. Richards, a bad boy of rock and roll, is made to play a character who's the keeper of the code? Richards playing by the rules and making sure that every one does? That's all wrong. He's the kind of guy who'd break the rules, even if they were pirate rules oops did I just reveal one of the resolutions? Sorry.
Geoffrey Rush and Orlando Bloom (Buena Vista)
The Pirates franchise has turned the films into effects laden extravaganzas that are overly complicated in terms of plot and weighed down by size. Complications, obstacles, double crosses, misdirections and more occur gratuitously or for the sole purpose of dragging out the story for another reel. I mean do we really need a goddess trapped in a human body, Chinese pirates, a vortex that sucks in ships, a meeting of all the pirate leaders, multiple sea battles, massive public hangings... and so on and so on. Maybe more isn't better and louder isn't an improvement. The result is that the characters have become completely lost amidst the plot complications and special effects, and we cease to care about what happens to them.
When At World's End started, I have to confess that I couldn't remember where Dead Man's Chest had left off because I had ceased caring about the characters. In part three, audiences are even subjected to multiple Jack Sparrows in various sizes. I guess the thinking was that if one Depp can pull in a cool billion imagine what two dozen could do. But when miniature Jack Sparrows start talking to the big Jack, all I could think about was how much more fun it was to watch Bruce Campbell's Ash fight off all the mini-Ashes in Army of Darkness.
And at the risk of sounding hypocritical, I do want to complain about the violence in Pirates 3 . I know that I have recommended many films, especially Asian Extreme Cinema, with a much higher level of explicit violence than this and not flinched. But the violence in Pirates offended me because it was so gratuitous. And by gratuitous I mean it was completely unnecessary. The multiple hangings in the open including the hanging of a young boy, a man breaking off his frost-bitten toe as a joke, dropping a canon on someone just to get a ohh that must hurt chuckle, and British sailors dying violent deaths because of their greedy commander all these things could have been left out and not been missed. What annoys me is that because it's a Disney film, the filmmakers seem to think they can do anything and not suffer any reprimands from the MPAA ratings board. After all, who would dare to say that Disney went too far in the violence department. Yet for a film that purports to be for everyone including young kids, I think it displays poor taste. Granted young kids probably won't even notice the violence since it's so Disney clean and they're probably playing video games that are more violent, but Pirates didn't need any of this. Good swordplay would have been sufficient. I know that this criticism--coming from someone with a high tolerance for violence--may not be taken seriously, but I think violence in movies has to be there for a purpose and if the purpose is a lame comic gag in what's essentially a kids' film, then I think 'a mistake.
Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Buena Vista)
Now I didn't hate absolutely everything in Pirates 3 , just almost everything. The digital print I saw was gorgeous--pristine and sharp. It bodes well for the future of digital projection. The make up artists also deserve praise for once again making some of the ugliest teeth ever. And I still marvel at Davy Jones's tentacle beard.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence and some frightening images) is one of those critic-proof films. And I'm sure fans will simply dismiss me as a stuffy critic who can't have fun at the movies. That said, I think I'll head out to see Hot Fuzz or Grindhouse again to cleanse my palette and enjoy my brand of cinematic fun. Either that or I'll break out my Errol Flynn DVDs.
The blog is open for comments. I'll bunker down for all the pro-Pirate mail. All I can hope for is that this will be the last well ever see of Jack Sparrow and company on screen.
And here's a review that hilariously sums up my feelings about the Pirate movies . Take a listen to a ninja review of Pirates 2 from NPR. I found this more fun than either sequel.
Companion viewing: Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Once a Thief, A High Wind in Jamaica