July 16, 2006

Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest

pirates3The movie we paid $6.75 to see on Sunday afternoon was a funny, scary, exciting, and visually spectacular pirate adventure... hidden within a overly-long, needlessly dense, unnecessarily elaborate 150-minute movie. Director Gore Verbinski entered the editing room with enough material to make a great summer movie. Unfortunately, thanks to time constraints, he didn't have enough time to sculpt that movie out of the raw celluloid. What we are left with, is a movie with too many plot threads, one or two too many "set pieces", and several too many characters. (Showcase Cinemas Woburn)

Plot Threads

  1. Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) wants to control all commerce in the Carribean, and needs Jack Sparrow's magic compass to do it;
  2. Will and Elizabeth are sentenced to death unless Will can convince Jack to trade the compass for their pardon;
  3. Jack Sparrow must pay his debt to Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) or find a way to cheat Jones instead;
  4. Former Commodore Norrington will do anything to regain his honor and his commission;
  5. Elizabeth must escape from prison and stow away on another ship in order to catch up with Will Turner. At the same time, she struggles with her desire to become a pirate, and a possible romantic attraction to Jack Sparrow.
  6. Will Turner must kill Davy Jones in order to save his father, "Bootstrap" Bill Turner (Stellan SkarsgÄrd), from eternal servitude aboard Jones's Flying Dutchman. Is there any wonder why this movie clocks in at two and a half hours?

Set Pieces

All the action sequences are well made, and are entertaining, thrilling, and funny. There's just too many of them. In the last third of the movie, Jack, Will, and Norrington all fight each other to acquire a key to the Dead Man's Chest of the title. In the process, they take a crazy ride on a old mill wheel, which rolls across the jungle landscape. This is far too similar to the "bone-cage-ball" ride down a different jungle hillside in the first third of the movie. By the time the mill wheel crashes on the beach, I was ready for Davy Jones to show up already. Once the threesome pop out of the mill wheel, they all swordfight each other simultaneously. I think this was meant to "top" any previous swordfight, but it simply highlights the unnecessary complication of the story. Sure, Jack Davenport is a good actor, but did we need him tagging along through half the movie?

Too Many Characters

Sequels inevitably suffer from "reunion-itis", where the writers throw into Movie 2 familiar characters from Movie 1, even if there's no plausible reason to include them. Louis Tully in Ghostbusters 2, The Donkey in Shrek 2, and Leo Getz in Lethal Weapon 3 and 4 are good examples. The good news is, the Laurel-and-Hardy pirates (the Pirate With the Wooden Eye and the Bald One) are funnier than they were in Movie 1, but every scene dedicated to them slows down the movie. Perhaps the inclusion of Lord Beckett will pay off in Movie 3, but in Movie 2, he seems to exist solely to give Will and Elizabeth motivation to chase Jack Sparrow across the Carribean.

The Good News

is that the movie's effects are more visually stunning and opulent than any movie I have ever seen. The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Star Wars prequel trilogies use equally impressive effects, but for verisimilitude. Davy Jones and his condemned crew of encrusted sea-creature pirates are simply stunning. Our jaws were dropped for the entire second half of the movie- we were stunned at the time and money spent to plaster the screen with such lavishly rendered and imaginative characters. The phrase "no expense was spared" never seemed so appropriate. Talk about getting your money's worth: Every penny of the $10-$12 people pay for movie tickets these days is right up there on screen.

What's Next

Gore Verbinski reports that principal photography for #3, At World's End, is only 60% done. Let's all hope he gets more time in the editing studio before it hits theaters next Memorial Day.