Having exceeded his word quota for the month, Chief Justice Michael Stailey is hereby sentenced to watch Cutthroat Island until his eyes bleed.
Our reviews of Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End: Two-Disc Limited Edition (published December 4th, 2007) and Pirates Of The Caribbean Trilogy (Blu-Ray) (published September 15th, 2008) are also available.
"Do you think he plans it all out, or just makes it up as he goes along?"—EITC First Mate to Lord Beckett
Well, this is it. The big finale. No holds barred. No expense spared. The trilogy goes into the books as the most profitable three picture film series in history. Jerry Bruckheimer's bank account swells and Gore Verbinski beats the odds and lives to tell the tale. But the questions remain. Did Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End live up to theatrical expectations? And is it worth revisiting on Blu-ray? Indubitably.
Facts of the Case
When last we left our merry band of swashbucklers, Captain Jack (Johnny Depp) and the Pearl were being digested by the Kraken, Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) had gained control of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and the seas courtesy of the formerly exiled Captain Norrington (Jack Davenport), Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) had raised Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) from the dead, and the gang were Scooby-ing up for a rescue of unimaginable proportions. As we re-enter the tale, the piracy profession is on the brink of extinction, the call of the Brethren Court has gone out, uneasy alliances are made between both believed friends and known enemies, Will (Orlando Bloom) is still bound and determined to save his father, and Jack once again may be the only hope for everyone's survival. The only problem is he's still dead.
If you've read either of my reviews of Curse of the Black Pearl or Dead Man's Chest, you know how much I've enjoyed this journey. Gore, Jerry, and their creative team have brought a level of action, adventure, and fun back to the big screen the likes of which we haven't seen since the glory days of Indiana Jones. So it'll come as no surprise to you that I was very much looking forward to At World's End and the film did not disappoint. If, on the other hand, you somewhat enjoyed the first film and were bored by the second, don't expect to be miraculously reinvigorated by the third.
At World's End is a sweeping, rollicking, and ultimately rewarding conclusion to the events put in motion by the arrival of Jack Sparrow in Port Royale low those many months ago (in cinematic time). Now before you start shouting at your computer screens telling me what I fool I am, let me explain why.
Curse of the Black Pearl was fresh and fun, returning us to an age that had not been well represented since Errol Flynn and Charles Laughton walked the backlots of Hollywood. It was a self-contained gem of a film that took everyone by surprise (come on, based on a theme park ride?) and turned a truly gifted actor with a flare for picking phenomenally quirky roles into an international superstar. By Labor Day 2003, the box office had already raked in $275 Million and moviegoers couldn't wait to see more. Of course, this sent Disney Execs and the creative team scrambling. No one had intended this to become a franchise. Hell, it was challenging enough to make this picture, let alone another…or two. But that's what the Mouse House wanted, so Jerry and Gore re-marshaled their forces and went to work.
Writers Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott were the most surprised of all because now they had to re-engineer a trilogy out of a picture they had already shot their wad of pirate knowledge on. When pre-production began on these back to back films, there wasn't any sign of a finished script and Gore was already working with his design team storyboarding fight sequences and set pieces that were not yet connected to any through line. If that's not pressure for a writer, I don't know what is.
Granted, a large segment of folks have argued that's exactly why Dead Man's Chest was a long, drawn out, meandering mess, on par with Season Two of ABC's Lost. But I'll counter by arguing that it's a bridge film (much like Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) and to be fully appreciated needs to be viewed in the same context with At World's End. Chest is the setup and World's End is the payoff…and a big payoff it is.
Everything is on the table and the players are all in. Beckett will stop at nothing short of ridding the world of every living pirate…man, woman, or child. To survive, the nine Pirate Lords must temporarily put aside their treachery and come together to ensure their own survival. Yet human nature will always win out and there is no honor among thieves, regardless of which side is wearing the white or black hat. This fragile balance will continue to fracture and buckle until it ultimately breaks and whoever remains standing will be declared the winner, despite incredible losses on both sides. Allegorical? Perhaps, but At World's End never becomes preachy. Jack's father, Captain Teague (played with uber-panache by rock legend Keith Richards) has the most succinct line in the franchise, in response to a risky gambit that may prove fatal…"It's not about living forever, Jackie. It's about living forever with yourself." Taking responsibility for one's own choices. Imagine that.
Granted, there are folks, such as my esteemed colleague Judge Jen Malkowski, who bemoan the fact that the dark tone found in these final two films has betrayed the enjoyment of the first. What they seem to be missing is that these characters are in a life or death situation, which is what makes each choice, each double-cross, all that much more critical to the outcome. You truly need a scorecard on hand during At World's End to keep track of who's betraying who and to what end. There's even a Reservoir Dogs moment aboard the Pearl to illustrate just how little concern any principal character has for anyone but themselves. It's dark stuff, but it's also what epic tales are made of. The higher the stakes, the greater the lengths people go to survive. And these moments are underscored by some massively impressive action sequences. The Maelstrom, in which Jack and Davy Jones have their final showdown is worth the price of admission itself, if only to cinematically appreciate the subtlety of what ILM wove into the visual tapestry that Gore and his team were able to create in-camera. And witnessed in 1080p makes it all that much more impressive. It's art.
Now, before you tune me out completely, At World's End is not going to take home the Oscar for Best Picture. This is not a Shakespearean life altering experience. It's great filmmaking with its fair share of flaws. For example…
The whole Will/Elizabeth romance feels disingenuous. Any passion that may have been ignited during the first film has long since gone out. You'll rarely see two actors looking less hot for each other than these two. I admire and respect Keira Knightley as an actress, but even Orlando has made fun of his own stardom on Ricky Gervais' Extras. Sometimes you can only do so much.
Speaking of relationships, the Tia Dalma (Calypso)/Davy Jones tryst is another potmark on the franchise. They tried to explain it, but it still doesn't ring true. A human falls in love with the goddess of the seas? Okay…And when he capitulates to becoming her ferryman, she purposely screws him over and yet pines for him at the same time? What is this, yesterday's episode of Jerry Springer? And while we're on the subject, did Bruckheimer misplace his checkbook or was it a conscious choice to recreate Allison Hayes and Darryl Hannah's performances in both versions of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman? That's the best visual you could come up with for a sea goddess?
A few other unanswered questions floating around: What's the history between Jack and Tia Dalma? What is the story behind the "P" branded on both Jack and Beckett's wrists? What did Jack do to Sao-Feng that angered him so (not counting the passing comment made in the "Brethren Court" feature found in the bonus materials)? And how long can Will Turner actually hold his breath? According to the time counter on my player, it was at least two minutes from the time Barbossa and Elizabeth entered the bathhouse to the time he surfaced. And, come to think of it, the whole gang was giving their lungs a workout during the whole "up is down" sequence. Maybe it's an 18th century thing.
Finally, this may be personal preference, but I don't feel we saw enough of Singapore and Chow-Yun Fat at Sao-Feng. It felt rushed, as if there was more to be told. And were those barnacled men in his bathhouse? Escapees from the crew of The Flying Dutchman, leaving open an unexplored connection between Sao-Feng and Jones? Enquiring minds want to know.
Not wanting to end this diatribe on a down note, I'll finish with some of my favorite moments from At World's End:
• The entire multiple Jack sequence. Stunning, surreal, and bleakly ethereal it brings to mind memories of The Monkee's film Head, as written and produced by Jack Nicholson.
• The beauty of passing through the caravan of lost souls.
• The reveal of Shipwreck Cove.
• The introduction of the Brethren Court and the reveal of Captain Teague.
• The cameo appearance by everyone's favorite key-toting pooch.
• The return of the Royal Navy's version of Abbott and Costello, although why they become principal cast members by the end makes very little sense at all.
• The gruesome death of Mercer, Beckett's henchman, at the hands of Davy Jones.
• The final Davy/Jack battle.
• The shell head pirate who had and lost control of the chest in Dead Man's Chest getting bonked on the head with it and knocked overboard.
• The on-again/off-again friendship between Jack the undead monkey and Cotton's parrot.
• Any aside between Pintel (Lee Arenberg) and Ragetti (Mackenzie Crook).
And finally the nods to the classic attraction from whence this all came…
• Elizabeth's water entry into Singapore.
• Barbossa on the way over the falls, "You may not survive to pass this way again, and these be the last friendly words you hear."
• In the blackness, as they plunge into the depths of Davy Jones locker, we hear actual audio from the ride.
• During the Maelstrom, "It be too late to alter course now, mateys."
Presented in 1080p, 2:35:1 native widescreen, the visuals are almost as impressive as you'll find on the BD releases of the first two films—crisp, clear, and resoundingly colorful—but somehow appears grainer than the first two. Then again, much of At World's End is dark, so we don't get as many of those "wow" moments most frequently seen in the establishing shots of Port Royale, Dominica, or the ships under a clear sky on the open sea. It does, however, make the multiple Jack sequence seem that much more blinding than I remember in the theatre. Don't be mislead by the packaging, which lists the film as interlaced (1080i), meaning the resolution is painted on the screen, as opposed to simulataneouly displayed. At World's End is indeed progressively scanned.
Where you'll really notice the difference between the SD (Standard Definition) and BD presentations is the audio. The 5.1 Uncompressed Surround mix is awesome. The directional effects, a rich bass heavy underscore by Hans Zimmer, and massive special effects sequences will give your receiver one hell of a workout. Even the menus utilize the full surround experience, although I could have done without Mr. Jolly Roger pestering the heck out of me every time I let the option menu sit for more than 10 seconds, especially on the Bonus disc. That wasn't the case on the first two BD releases and I wonder if someone just got lazy.
Speaking of the Bonus Materials, there is plenty to explore, though missing the two things I was most looking forward to: A feature audio commentary by director Gore Verbinski, apparently only available on the single disc SD release (?), and a comprehensive documentary follow-up to the fantastic tale told through "According to Plan" on Dead Man's Chest. What we do get feels somewhat less impressive and more EPK-ish (Electronic Press Kit)…
Enter the Maelstrom (Exclusive to the BD release):
Anatomy of a Scene: The Maelstrom:
Bloopers of the Caribbean:
Two Deleted Scenes:
Keith and the Captain:
The Tale of Many Jacks:
Hoist the Colors:
Masters of Design:
Inside the Brethren Court:
The World of Chow-Yun Fat:
The Pirate Maestro:
Seven Easter Eggs:
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is a fitting conclusion to a tale that was never supposed to be told. What to some may be cumbersome and boring, others see as epic storytelling on a scale that may never been witnessed again. This franchise has caught lighting in a bottle and is something to be admired, if only for the sheer amount of energy, resources, and creative ingenuity it took to complete. It's not perfect by any means, but nothing in Hollywood ever is. The series will stand the test of time as great cinematic fun.
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