Disney // 2007 // 169 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski // December 4th, 2007
"Ay, Jack, the world needs ya back somethin' fierce!" -- Gibbs
The pirates are back for a third installment of shenanigans on the high seas. As usual, there's plenty of swashbuckling, rum drinking, and "Arrrrr!" dialogue, and everyone wants to kill Jack Sparrow (even though he's already dead as the film begins). But amidst all the sword crossing, a complicated web of double and triple crossing deals drags down the action and drags out the film to almost three tedious hours. No longer the fast-paced, lighthearted adventure series it was once upon a Black Pearl, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End too often feels like a very superficial political thriller.
Setting out to disprove the old pirate wisdom, "dead men tell no tales," Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, Elizabeth: The Golden Age), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley, Domino), and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring) begin a mission to rescue the deceased Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) from the depths of Davy Jones' locker. To do so, they need a ship and they need a map, both of which they try to obtain from notorious pirate lord Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat, Bulletproof Monk), who eventually agrees. But secrets and lies abound among the pirates and everyone seems to be concealing their own plan for personal gain. If internal strife isn't enough to sink them, Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander, Elizabeth: The Golden Age) of the East India Trading Co. will try his best to do so, as he vows to rid the oceans of piracy.
If you want evidence that the Pirates franchise isn't as fun as it used to be, look at the progression of pirate songs. Our emblematic little ditty, "Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!" is lively and celebrates the pleasures of pirating, also recalling the pleasures of the original Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney theme parks that so many of us remember fondly from our childhoods. In that ride, the pirates shoot their cannons, get marooned on islands, and gleefully pillage a coastal town in a lighthearted manner that is best not to think too hard about. That's pretty much the kind of stuff our big-screen pirates used to do, and that's the kind of song they used to sing. Apparently, that tone and those activities aren't enough to fill out three feature films, so now our pirates have to be more serious. They have to fight for their freedom and stop downing rum for long enough to make really elaborate plans, and the ditty they sing, "Hoist the Colours," sounds alternately like a funeral dirge and a call to arms.
I've got no problem with stories that seem "silly" taking on really dark and serious themes. I'm a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, after all! But it's painfully obvious that a narrative master like Joss Whedon isn't steering this ship, and the darker, more complex plot points here just aren't meaningful enough to be worth the unexpected tone. There's no great emotional or narrative payoff to sifting through this network of conflicting motives and double crosses (and many of these plot points really don't even make sense once you "figure them out"), which really just dampens the fun and extends the film to an excruciating 169 minutes. I would love to hack off 30 of those minutes and give them to the other film I'm reviewing this week, the frustratingly short Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Gore Verbinski laments in the deleted scenes that things had to be cut because they "had a lot of story to tell," but that story was scripted for the film -- not adapted from a preexisting text -- and I dare say it should have been a lot shorter.
Unfortunately, it's not just the complex alliances and motives that weaken this film, but even some of the fun moments fail to capture the magic of the original. Without giving spoilers, I can say that this movie features one of the most ludicrous screen kiss scenarios I've seen in a while, and that the comedy of the goofy crewmen and their animals is wearing thin.
Amazingly, Captain Jack Sparrow is a character who is still not wearing thin, even in the film's desperate attempts to literally multiply what people like about the series by doing scenes with multiple Jacks.
This scene inside of Davy Jones' locker is one of the highlights of the film, with its somewhat surreal visuals and sounds and a number of fun performances from the brilliant Johnny Depp. From his saga with the peanut to his experiences with the rock crabs, this section is both fun and artful. Here and elsewhere Depp goes a long way toward salvaging this film, because he gives strong performances and, more simply, because he just seems like he's having a good time. He's almost the only character we can say that about, with the notable exception of Gary Oldman's Captain Barbossa. Their rivalry as dual captains of the Black Pearl is another highlight, including the delightful phallic competition for who has the bigger telescope. But the rest of the characters mope through the story in a most disagreeable way, particularly romantic leads Swann and Turner. And how much do we not care about this romance anymore? In fact, there are several romances not to care about in this film.
Other than Depp, the chief pleasures to be found in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End are, of course, the pricey images and sounds created for this third adventure. Some of the sets, like Singapore and the Shipwreck Cove, are incredibly rich and fun to look at. If you like big complicated battle scenes, the climactic maelstrom scene won't disappoint.
With a number of different ships and crews brawling during a giant storm while sailing into a vortex of water, we really do get an exciting, immersive battle experience. Computer generated images are mostly integrated seamlessly into the action (with the exception of some of the more ridiculous sea creature crewmen), and little details like splashes of water on the camera (which were added in post-production) make us feel like we're there -- even though "there" is largely just a big blue screen. If only all this technical wizardry had been in service of a really good story...which, ironically, would have been just about the least expensive aspect of this big-budget snoozer.
As for the discs themselves, they do a decent job of rendering the elaborate visuals and sounds of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. I'm no expert at detecting these flaws, but I did notice deep blacks breaking down a bit in many of the darker scenes, slightly marring otherwise beautiful shots like this one:
I also thought I detected some edge enhancement, which is accentuated in this film because of the many strong contrasts between dark pirate hats or ship ropes and bright sky backgrounds.
The audio tracks are very rich, with lots of good seafaring sound effects and an effective score from Hans Zimmer. The score and sounds are particularly effective in one of the film's quieter sequences: aboard the desert ship with the all-Jack crew. There, the surreal visuals are supported by off-kilter notes and strange twangs that add to the atmosphere of instability and confusion.
Disney does justify the two-disc format with the host of special features gathered on Disc Two (with one exception, "Bloopers," which is housed on the first disc). I also found two Easter eggs in the special features menu (including a really fun one about "the perfect peanut"), and there certainly could be more. Here's a basic rundown of what we get:
* "Bloopers of the Caribbean" (5 minutes)
These are just ordinary bloopers, except they have Johnny Depp. Most things are better with Johnny Depp than without...
* 2 Deleted Scenes with optional director's commentary:
"I Like Riddles" (1 minute)
Pintel and Ragetti, Capt. Barbossa's comical crewmen, discuss the riddle of Sao Feng's Map and whether it might be dangerous to them.
"Two Captains, One Ship" (2 minutes)
Jack and Barbossa squabble over their rights to captain the Black Pearl, ending in a tugging match for control of the ship's wheel. This is a funny sequence worth watching, though Verbinski's justification for cutting it is quite fair.
* "Keith and the Captain: On Set with Johnny and the Rock Legend"
It's a glimpse behind the scenes of Rolling Stones' guitarist Keith Richards' appearance in Pirates. Richards was part of Depp's inspiration for how to play Jack Sparrow, based on his interpration of pirates as the rock stars of their age. In this featurette, we see Depp and Richards interacting in an interview, footage from Richards' days on the set, and a snippet of Richards playing the guitar made for his character, Captain Teague.
* "Anatomy of a Scene: The Maelstrom" (20 minutes)
The longest of the special features gives us a glimpse at the tremendous production and post-production effort that went into the climactic maelstrom scene. The sheer scale of these sets is pretty hard to believe, and it's fun to get an inside look at which parts are computer generated and which are shot "in camera."
The featurette is well-produced and interesting, though it made me really question for the first time whether movies like Pirates are worth the immense resources required to make them. The Black Pearl ship set uses up 1,000 gallons of oil per minute when it's moving. The crew announces this fact proudly, but tidbits like this one are really a little appalling.
* "The Tale of the Many Jacks" (5 minutes)
In which we see Johnny Depp doing a chicken impression, hanging 20 feet in the air from giant dreadlocks, and socializing with twelve other Jack Sparrows on set. This sequence still isn't as cool as the many Malkoviches scene from Being John Malkovich, though.
* "The World of Chow Yun-Fat" (4 minutes)
The cast, crew, and Chow Yun-Fat himself talk about the Chinese celebrity's work on Pirates. Apparently, he's a real joker and he hugs everyone he works with.
* "The Pirate Maestro: The Music of Hans Zimmer" (10 minutes)
Zimmer talks about composing fresh themes for his third Pirates film, and we see some of the techniques of new music that he integrates into his score -- like the guy playing a saw with a violin bow.
* Masters of Design: "Sao Feng's Map," "The Cursed
Crew," "Singapore," "Teague's Costume," "The Code
These five featurettes run about five minutes each and explore different areas of the film's style, focusing on five specific elements in the third film. The lead designers for each element guide us through the process of its creation. My favorite moment was in "The Cursed Crew" when designer Crash McCreery admits that although there are millions of ideas in the ocean for these half-man, half-sea creature crewmen, there are "only a few really good ones."
* "Hoist the Colours" (5 minutes)
Zimmer, Verbinski and others discuss the big ideas behind the pirates' call-to-arms song.
* "Inside the Brethren Court" (11 minutes)
In this nifty extra, a one-minute introduction to the Brethren Court leads into a menu of the nine pieces of eight seen in the film. Select one and you'll get a one-minute video about that pirate lord, including some historical background information (though it's hard to tell what is fact and what is fiction in these segments).
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End demonstrates that the Pirates franchise, once a surprising and delightful success, has run out of creative steam. Unfortunately, it has not yet come close to running out of box-office steam, and Disney's studio execs will flock to reported treasure just as quickly as pirates would. So, of course, as this third chapter closes, it gives us a clear starting point for a fourth. If we needed fifteen Jack Sparrow's to make this movie bearable, how many will be on screen next time? Wherever the fourth movie sails, I won't be following. Savvy?
"Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!" Judge Jennifer Malkowski was willing to sing that little ditty two movies ago, but Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End has driven her to the life of a landlubber. Guilty as charged.
Review content copyright © 2007 Jennifer Malkowski; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 169 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* "Bloopers of the Caribbean"
* 2 Deleted Scenes with optional director's commentary
* "Keith and the Captain: On Set with Johnny and the Rock Legend"
* "Anatomy of a Scene: The Maelstrom"
* "The Tale of the Many Jacks"
* "The World of Chow Yun-Fat"
* "The Pirate Maestro: The Music of Hans Zimmer"
* Masters of Design: "Sao Feng's Map," "The Cursed Crew," "Singapore," "Teague's Costume," "The Code Book"
* "Hoist the Colours"
* "Inside the Brethren Court"
* Official Site
* PotC: Curse of the Black Pearl Review on DVD Verdict
* PotC: Curse of the Black Pearl [Blu-ray] Review on DVD Verdict
* PotC: Dead Man's Chest Review on DVD Verdict