cinema, Magazine article, Mr. and Ms Magazine

Pirates of the Caribbean – the Trilogy

I scoured the World Wide Web last night looking for my lost blogs or blogposts. Thankfully, I found some of my posts from my very first blog, M-Reality. I was then interested in having my blogs rank high in Google Page, Technorati and other ranking sites. So I made sure my blogs ranked high. Maybe because of such high ranking, two of my blogs were nominated as best blogs in the Philippines in 2006 or 2007. I liked this particular blog because of the intelligent comments it got. Most of the viewers were from England and USA. For some reasons, Filipino readers preferred my other blog, Reflections on the Bangsa Moro. Unfortunately, Blogger.com removed it due to some alleged “third-party malware”. Blogger.com did not even notify me. When I noticed it, I complained. And I found out that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of other bloggers in the same predicament.

One of the post I recovered was my review of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, which was published in Mr & Ms. magazine. For the past months, cable TV has been showing the Pirates of the Caribbean series, which went beyond Part 3. So, I am giving my 2007 post a new life in the Blogosphere. People who watched / are watching / will watch this trilogy might want to read this review…

 

In 2003, the movie Pirates of the Caribbean surprised everyone by not only being a top grosser – US$ 650 million worldwide – but also by being acclaimed by the critics. Lead star Johnny Depp was nominated as Best Actor at the Academy Awards, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Depp won at the SAG Awards.

The Pirates of the Caribbean was the first pirate movie to be a smash hit for quite a long time. Amazingly, the film was not based on a book or on a true story. It was based on a theme park ride at Disneyland.

Producer Jerry Buckheimer did not want to do a “straight” pirate movie. Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (writers of the smash hit Shrek) came up with an action-packed pirate movie spiced up with the supernatural. Just as Shrek had all the fairy tale ingredients turned upside down, so did the Pirates of the Carribbean, which had all the variables in the pirate tale formulas, turned awry.

The swashbuckling pirate hero was nowhere near the typical Hollywood pirates like those characterized by Burt Lancaster or Charlton Heston or Yul Brynner. Depp’s character is more like a cross between Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master and Boy George. Depp claims that he based his characterization on Rolling Stones’s Keith Richards because upon doing research on pirates, he concluded that the pirates of old were the equivalent of the rock stars of today!

A more typical pirate was Orlando Bloom’s character Will Turner, which was reminiscent of old Hollywood’s Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Bloom was the “straight” guy counterpart of Depp’s comic character just as Dean Martin was the straight guy to Jerry Lewis’s comic character.

Keira Knightley was superb as the belle of the ship. She looked marvelous in both dress or in pants. She fences well, too. And the film boasts of a great villain: Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush is simply marvelous as Captain Barbossa, the captain of a dreadful ship manned by the Undead.

INTERESTING TWISTS

Aside from the uncharacteristic portrayal of a pirate by John Depp, the film boasts of several interesting twists. The dreaded pirates of the Black Pearl (the ship captained by Barbossa) do not go around stealing treasure. Instead, they are looking everywhere for Aztec gold coins in order to return them to where they found them.

The movie shows how people exaggerate when they recount the exploits of pirates. Rumors of how Capt. Jack Sparrow survived being marooned in an uninhabited island for 10 years were widespread. Yet the truth was that Jack spent a mere 3 days on the island before being rescued by a passing boat.

It has been quite a while since the movie-going public has seen a good pirate movie with swashbuckling heroes (albeit one is a bit neurotic), good swordfights, and the required naval battles. Even the land-based villain, Commodore Norrington, turned out to be a gentleman in the end. Director Gore Verbinsky did a very good job indeed.

THE SEQUEL

For some reasons, it is rare for sequels to be as good as or better than the originals. Godfather 2 and Superman 2 were the exceptions rather than the rule. Unfortunately, Pirates of the Caribbean 2 is not an exception.

It appears that the creative team of Pirates had exhausted themselves in The Curse of the Black Pearl. The subtitle was made only as an afterthought, in case there would be a sequel. I believe the DVD version of Pirates 1 run for 3 hours and 32 minutes. Even the theatrical version is also already too long. It appears that the writers and director had put everything on the first film that there was no more room for a sequel. After all, the arch villain Capt. Barbossa had been killed and Capt. Jack Sparrow got back his ship, the Black Pearl.

SUPERNATURAL

The supernatural touch of The Curse of the Black Pearl was a stroke of genius. A chest of Aztec gold coins was under a powerful curse. Capt. Barbossa and his crew stole the chest and were put under the curse – to sail the seas as undead skeletons until all the coins be returned to the cave and blood be spilled in the ceremony. The curse was, in a way, also a punishment for Barbossa and the crew who mutinied against Capt. Jack Sparrow. In the end, the curse was undone and the crew of the Black Pearl became humans again. Otherwise, the film was set in reality, with pirates fighting the legal authorities.

But the sequel, Dead Man’s Chest, is set in fairy tale land. Bootstrap Bill (played by Stellan Skarsgaard), Will Turner’s dead father, turned up alive, or rather, undead. He is in the service of The Flying Dutchman captain Davey Jones, with a squid-like face and a hand like the claw of a crab. Jones’s pirates, who are under a 100-year work contract, look like walking corrals or other weird sea creatures.

The Flying Dutchman replaced the ghost crew of the Black Pearl as the villains. But in Pirates 1, the skeleton scenes took up only a few minutes of screen time. Most of the time, the Black Pearl crew was in human form. In Pirates 2, the Flying Dutchman crew members are permanently in their grotesque forms.

Moreover, like many fairy tale creatures, Davey Jones is immortal with a heart cut out from his body and is kept locked in a chest. And to top it all, he has a Leviathan – a giant octopus-like monster that swallows whole ships. They call it the Kraken.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Dead Man’s Chest is more a fairy tale than a pirate movie. Even the land-based villain became the equivalent of the wicked tyrants of Fairy Tale land. East India Company’s agent, Lord Beckett has powers that Pirates 1’s Commodore Norrington of the Royal Navy could only dream of. Beckett simply took over the island (Jamaica), had the Governor (Jonathan Pryce), his daughter (Knightley) and prospective son-in-law (Bloom) imprisoned.

And the “ending” – Jack Sparrow swallowed by the Kraken, Davey Jones’s heart given to Lord Beckett, who merely wanted Sparrow’s compass, and the unexplained re-appearance of Capt. Barbossa – was really the prologue to Pirates 3.

PIRATES PART 3 – At World’s End

As expected, the third part continued where the Part 2 ended – the rescue of Jack Sparrow from the land of the Dead. But Jack was not actually dead. He was just kept in Davy Jones’s locker, whatever that means. And this locker is located at the end of the world, in the land of the Dead that looks more like the North Pole.

The monster Kraken, the invincible beast of Part 2 that destroyed the Black Pearl and swallowed Jack Sparrow, was dismissed by a one-liner. Lord Beckett simply informed everyone that he ordered Capt. Davy Jones to get rid of his pet. Wow!

One of the main features of the story is the gathering of the world’s top 9 pirates. Of these, two came from one ship, the Black Pearl, namely, Sparrow and Barbossa. That is quite a feat for a dilapidated ship with a rag tag crew. Also, it turned out that Sparrow was captain of the Black Pearl for only two years before he was removed by Barbossa. Why then did he become so much of a legend?

Bootstrap Bill, Turner’s father, turned senile. Yet the time lapse between Pirate 2 and Pirate 3 could not be more than a year. And worse, to add more supernatural dose, the voodoo woman in part 2 became a goddess (Calypso) bound in human form. And after so much ballyhoo, she was unbound only to turn into a giant before turning into a million tiny creatures and vanish into the sea. With all the sound and fury, she did not do anything at all to the parties concerned – the Pirate Lords, the British fleet, or to Davey Jones, her supposed former lover.

The story of Pirates 3 is so convoluted that only its writers and director probably know what the story is all about. The only redeeming value of the film is its great naval battles and the very brief appearance of Keith Richards as Jack Sparrow’s pirate dad.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

When I watched Pirates – Curse of the Black Pearl, I did not expect much from the Walt Disney film. But it turned out to be a gem of a movie. For the Pirates Part 2, I expected a film of similar quality. I was disappointed. With the Part 3, I hoped it would be at least nearer in quality to Pirates 1 than to Pirates 2. I was greatly dismayed.

Most of the critics agree with me. In the Rotten Tomatoes website, 79% of the critics gave the first Pirate movie a “Fresh” rating. For the sequel, only 54 % did so. And for Pirates…At World’s End, less than half of the critics thought it was “fresh” enough. The majority thought that the third episode was quite “rotten”. Hopefully, there won’t be a fourth episode.

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From the August 2007 issue of Mr. & Ms. magazine

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