On Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest


As stated in a previous post, I am rather fond of the Pirates of the Caribbean film series. This post is relative to the next installment, Dead Man’s Chest.

According to The New York Times review:

At first glance, it seems like a pretty good deal. You put down your money — still less than $10 in most cities — and in return you get two and a half hours of spirited swashbuckling, with an all-star three-way battle of the cheekbones (Orlando Bloom vs. Keira Knightley vs. Johnny Depp) and some extra-slimy computer-generated imagery thrown in at no additional cost.

But there’s a catch, as there usually is. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” is not just a movie. It’s a glistening, sushi-grade chunk of franchise entertainment, which means that maximal enjoyment of it comes with certain obligations. It is the second episode in what will be at least a trilogy — the third installment is scheduled for release next summer — and full appreciation of its whirligig plot will depend on thorough acquaintance with the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” picture, conveniently available for purchase on DVD. And since “Dead Man’s Chest” brazenly dispenses with the convention of an ending — it’s pretty much all middle — you will, by virtue of buying that ticket, have committed yourself to buying another one a year from now if you’re the least bit curious about how the whole thing turns out. By then, chances are good that you will have forgotten most of what happened in “Dead Man’s Chest,” so you’ll have another disc to add to the shopping cart.

The question is: Is it worth it? The same thought probably crosses the minds of Disney theme-park vacationers as they endure endless lines for the ride on which the movies are based, but the notion is quickly banished because nobody likes to feel like a sucker. By a rational calculation of time and money — yours and the untold millions invested by Disney, the producer Jerry Bruckheimer and others — the answer is probably no. But hey, this isn’t about that, right? It’s about fun. You’re there to have fun. Fun for the family. Fun for the kids. Fun for everyone. So shut up and have fun.

And you probably will, even if it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’ve been bullied into it. Gore Verbinski, the director, has an appropriate sense of mischief, as a well as a gift, nearly equaling those of Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg, for integrating CGI seamlessly into his cinematic compositions. What is curious about the recent crop of high-tech blockbusters is how seriously they take themselves, and unlike, say, “Superman Returns,” “Dead Man’s Chest” cannot be called pretentious. It makes no claims to being about good and evil, the difficulty of saving the world in the modern era, or the inner lives of any of its characters.

Instead, it sends Elizabeth Swann (Ms. Knightley) and Will Turner (Mr. Bloom), their wedding day ruined in an opening sequence that seems to pay tribute to the old Guns N’ Roses “November Rain” video, on a search for the pirate captain Jack Sparrow (Mr. Depp). Jack, as usual, finds himself in all kinds of trouble, pursued not only by agents of the British crown, but also by an undead, squid-faced mariner, the famous Davy Jones, who commands a ghoulish crew of half-human, half-aquatic creatures. These sailors are like the cast of “SpongeBob SquarePants” — or the menu at a seafood restaurant —come to life: Night of the Living Bouillabaisse.

One of them, played by Stellan Skarsgard with a starfish embedded in his face, is Will’s long-lost father, a development that adds a gelatinous morsel of father-son pathos to the stew of plots and subplots cooked up by the screenwriters, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Davy Jones himself, meanwhile, speaks in the sinister whisper of Bill Nighy, though it is his swaying mass of facial tentacles that most viewers will remember.

And there are other memorable bits and pieces, visual highlights of a movie with no particular interest in coherence, economy or feeling. Ms. Knightley is, once again, a vision of imperial British pluckiness, with an intriguing dash of romantic recklessness that surfaces toward the end. Mr. Bloom, as is his custom, leaps about, trying to overcome his incurable blandness, and is upstaged by special effects, musical cues, octopus tentacles and pieces of wood. Naomie Harris turns up for a few scenes of hammy voodoo, and Mackenzie Crook and David Bailie contribute some proletarian slapstick. Most of the other members of the first movie’s cast show up again, sometimes in surprising circumstances.

The franchise, of course, belongs to Jack Sparrow, and to Mr. Depp. Because this is a sequel, the role is no longer the splendid surprise it was in 2003, when “The Curse of the Black Pearl” charmed audiences and disarmed critics on its way to the third-best domestic box-office gross of the year. But the best parts of “Dead Man’s Chest” confirm Jack Sparrow as the most viable Disney cartoon character in quite some time, though his anarchic insouciance has more in common with the work of Chuck Jones or Tex Avery. Mr. Verbinski, for his part, grasps the kinship between today’s computer-assisted filmmaking and the hand-drawn animation of old, which lies in the freedom to revise the laws of physics at will. Two sequences in particular stand out, and would stand alone nicely as shorts: I will always think of them as “Fruit Kebab” and “Runaway Hamster Wheel.”

But the easy delight that such flights of visual fancy inspires is crowded and blocked by all the other stuff going on in this long, ungainly movie, which for all its busy, buzzing parts, is incapable of standing on its own. It batters you with novelty and works so hard to top itself that exhaustion sets in long before the second hour is over. By next summer, I suppose, we’ll all be rested and ready for more.


4 thoughts on “On Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

  1. Pingback: On Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End | The Progressive Democrat

  2. Pingback: On Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides | The Progressive Democrat

  3. Pingback: On Mamma Mia! | The Progressive Democrat

  4. Pingback: On Total Recall | The Progressive Democrat

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