Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End


Pirates 3

In keeping with my new pirate-themed masthead, I finally get around to reviewing Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End. Not that I should really bother, since you’ve probably long ago gone and seen it. Like the two films before it Pirates 3 has had its all-important opening weekend, raked in the cash, and once again Hollywood has successfully wrapped its greedy fingers around the throat of a once evocative and fascinating theme and shaken furiously until all trace of juice has been squeezed from it. Everybody’s sick to death of pirates–pirate films, pirate books, pirate toys, pirate fast food cross-promotions … and now pirates are doomed to join dinosaurs, Star Trek, mummies and Aliens in limbo until someone years down the track with some real creativity can resurrect the genre a la Batman Begins. Next! I hear it’s going to be more of the same in Arabia with Prince of Persia.

Of course they could have gone out with a bang and made a decent film, but At World’s End sure doesn’t cut the mustard. It feels as tired and messy as the actors in it look. Orlando Bloom continues to go for the crown of Most Forgettable On-Screen Hero by further honing his astonishing lack of charisma. Johnny Depp puts his Keith Richard-schtick on auto-pilot (and Keith Richard proves how much more amusing the caricature is than the man himself). Geoffrey Rush hams it up OK despite having nothing interesting to actually do. The only person really working hard for their pay cheque is Keira Knightly, who refuses to admit that everyone’s lost the plot and, no doubt charged with the energy of youth, does inject some life into the tired proceedings.

After watching a few ‘Making Of’ specials on DVD I can understand why they’re all so tired. After filming the last two back-to-back, enduring a couple of hurricanes and organising crews of several hundred million people, the overweening impression that comes across on the screen is that everyone wants to get this over with and go home. There are some truly bad scenes, and long sequences of padding where everyone stands around in clumps on board one ship or another and tries to look interested while someone works their way through another twenty chewy mouthfuls of exposition. No, we don’t understand what’s going on either folks! In a desperate attempt to mythologize the whole trilogy, Gore Verbinski and his writers lose sight of the reason the first–and to a lesser extend the second– films were enjoyable; they were fun! Not only has it all become grim and tedious and way too complex by this third film, but those opportunities created by the mythology are criminally wasted. Davy Jones himself looks rushed to screen–it’s now quite easy to see that he’s computer-generated, unlike last time–and is completely emasculated as a character. All film long we lead up to the reveal of Calypso and her relationship to DJ, and when we finally get there, any glimmer of pathos is swallowed up in a wave of computer-generated gumpf. The character of Jack Sparrow loses all his charisma by pretty much disclosing that he has in fact, a serious multiple personality disorder. I can hear the studio execs now–“everyone loves Jack Sparrow, let’s put ten of him on the screen at the same time!” At least Verbinski avoids the obvious happy ending, but the alternative is unsatisfying and leaves you with more questions than answers.

Once again, the blame lies with the script; and at the speed all concerned were expected to work by the studios, I’m not surprised. The lack of soul in At World’s End is the inevitable consquence of working creatives like galley slaves and rushing a film to the cinema in order to squeeze every last possible cent out of the public.

Truly this is a disappointing film. I went into the theatre expecting rip-roaring adventure, actor chemistry and several shiploads of pirate fun. I came out feeling like I’d been hit over the head with a dead salmon wrapped in a wet blanket for three hours.

One and a half wooden eyes out of five.

New Masthead. Geddit?


Ships–pirates–masts! Brilliant!
A revamp to the masthead to brighten up the front page a little. Bought a great Dover clip book/CD-ROM of pirate imagery and this wonderful illustration by Howard Pyle (1853-1911), an American illustrator, just cried out to introduce my site–“So the Treasure Was Divided”, 1905, Harper’s Monthly.

Yeah, I know the quote is from Ben Hur. Somehow it all works for me.

Film review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest


Pirates of the Caribbean

Disney unexpectedly struck gold with this franchise, despite their fears that nobody wanted to see a pirate film (oh come on, Cutthroat Island wasn’t that bad). The second in the trilogy, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest delivers the rollicking adventure we all expected, and if there were some of us who were hoping for something a little bit more special, well, I guess we can still just enjoy the ride.

From start to finish we hardly get a chance to draw breath as Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp channelling Keith Richards), Will Turner (the competent Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (an energetic Keira Knightley) and a cast of assorted misfits jump from one action sequence to the other. And like an adventure ride, there’s not a whole lot of concern with rhythm and pacing — Gore Verbinski basically throws every pirate cliche you can think of in a bag, gives it a good shake, and pours it out on the screen with the aid of absolutely stunning digital effects and a cast who are obviously enjoying themselves.

Talking about effects, I have it on good authority that Bill Nighy, who plays Davey Jones complete with squirming tentacles and slimy squid skin, doesn’t actually appear in one frame in this film. Every shot with him in it is completely digital. When you see how well they have captured his performance, you’ll be amazed—despite the covering of tentacles, those are Nighy’s mannerisms to a T. The digital effects work in this film, with a very few exceptions, is absolutely astounding. In fact it’s almost so good it can be distracting; I found my eye sometimes wandering to the myriad of little details in the background as a main character was speaking.

Sure, Bloom’s leading man is as one-dimensional as ever, but this is Depp’s film and he knows it. Flush with the success of his foppish, half-drunken characterisation in the first film, he lays it on thick here. Jack Sparrow has quickly become a loved film character, but if the writers are skilled enough to develop him somewhat further in the third film he could become a classic.

Along with all the running, sailing, swordfighting and rolling (yes, rolling, and lots of it) we do see a little bit more emotional depth, which I found myself hoping for about halfway through the film. It’s a bit of an afterthought but augurs well for the third in the franchise.

But all these quibbles don’t detract from the fact that Pirates is a bloody entertaining film. It could have been something really exceptional, but if you shut your brain off and strap yourself in, you’ll be taken on a fun ride.

Four and a half rubbery barnacles out of five.