By the time Judge Jennifer Malkowski sailed to "world's end" with the Pirates trilogy, she was ready to abandon ship.
Our reviews of Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End (Blu-Ray) (published December 6th, 2007) and Pirates Of The Caribbean Trilogy (Blu-Ray) (published September 15th, 2008) are also available.
"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.
Facts of the Case
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)
• 2 Deleted Scenes with optional director's commentary:
"I Like Riddles" (1 minute)
"Two Captains, One Ship" (2 minutes)
• "Keith and the Captain: On Set with Johnny and the Rock
Legend" (5 minutes)
• "Anatomy of a Scene: The Maelstrom" (20 minutes)
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)
• "The World of Chow Yun-Fat" (4 minutes)
• "The Pirate Maestro: The Music of Hans Zimmer" (10
• Masters of Design: "Sao Feng's Map," "The Cursed
Crew," "Singapore," "Teague's Costume," "The Code
• "Hoist the Colours" (5 minutes)
• "Inside the Brethren Court" (11 minutes)
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.
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Scales of Justice
• "Bloopers of the Caribbean"
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