Tuesday 31 May 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Bough’s N’ Sparrows

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides US 2011
Directed by Rob Marshall
Playing at cinemas now.

Ahoy there me hearties. There be slight spoilers among these waters. Steer clear if ye want to live true...

I’ve had something of a chequered history when it comes to my appreciation of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I’ve never been to Disneyland myself but I had a Donald Duck book which made mention of it and the Pirates of the Caribbean ride when I was a kid... a book which gets handed down through the family when a new toddler is born... this one was written in the 50s I believe. Occasional cultural references plagued me my entire life and then even Jeff Goldblum got in on the act when I went to the cinema to see Jurassic Park... I’d had enough.

By the time the first movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, arrived on our screens... I was far from chomping at the bit to see it. That being said, Johnny Depp was in it and he usually has something special to bring to the acting table so I spliced my mainbrace and got in line to see it and was genuinely and pleasantly surprised at what an entertaining movie this was... and a mainstream movie at that. Didn’t see that one coming.

After seeing a return of many gold pieces at the box office, however, the producers, crew and actors all returned to make the second and third installments in the newly launched “franchise” back-to-back so we could all be entertained some more while throwing our hard earned cash into their corporate coffers with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End... or to put it another way, after I’d gone to see them... the producers, crew and actors all returned to make two movies which were absolutely bloated travesties of all that was good about the first movie and flog the proverbial dead horse into the ground by squeezing out anything that was charming and entertaining about the original work... a work which they’d all helped to create in the first place. Literally, the only thing about the second and third installments (apart from comparable but by no means “as good” musical scores) was the superb acting of Johnny Depp which managed to lift these two carcasses of sequels and elevate them to that sad but common status... “yeah, it was watchable but I wouldn’t want to be forced to look at it again.”

So pardon me if I didn’t get excited at the prospect of another Pirates of the Caribbean movie sailing on course for our shores... especially since said saucy plunder would be “enhanced” (aka have the extra irritation factor) by being in 3-D. However, Johnny Depp is almost always able to carry a movie on his back (the one exception being, in my humble opinion, Secret Window... where he proved that even his fantastic acting skills are not quite able to be a saving grace in a movie quite that bad), the initial teaser trailer (from last year) was quite cute and... well it had one new asset which I always have a weakness for (or should that be two?)... Penelope Cruz was in it and, if the trailers were anything to go by... yeah, she was bringing her cleavage to the party. Arrrr! In 3-D... arrrr harrrrrr arrrrr!

So, for the absolute best reasons for going to see a modern Hollywoodland movie that I could think of, I set sail for my local cinema to take a gander at the latest installment in the franchise, On Stranger Tides, which thankfully had nothing to do with the last two installments... throughout which I was thoroughly confused as to what was going on with the story at any given time and still am to this day.

Well... what can I say about the newest monstrosity in this series? Um... okay... lets have a think. Was it any good? Gut reaction? No, it was mostly pretty awful, although I have to say that it was certainly a lot better than the last two installments... it’s just not an eye-patch on the first movie and that’s really a shame. Disney are really having a hard time trying to get lightning to strike twice in the same spot... at least critical and artistic lightning. The films are pretty much built in box office cash whales so they really aren’t going to be worried that people like myself are finding the sequels less than inspiring. There’s gold in that thar Jack Sparrow and Depp seems to enjoy playing the role so no worries there for securing his services for another couple of movies in the series methinks. It’s a shame though because that first movie they did was really something special.

So what went wrong with this one then... well a bit hard to pin-point really. Just a bit uninspiring and hum drum I think... that’s the worst that could be said about it. Maybe lazy writing “in committee” to make sure all the boxes are ticked on what makes a fun movie? Almost as though it’s been written by a galleon full of piratey script-doctors... although I’m sure that’s not the case.

There are certainly some plus points. Hanz Zimmer’s score made a little better use of the main Jack Sparrow action statement from Klaus Badelt’s score from the first movie... that’d be the one which Badelt seemed to “acquire” from the action sequences in Zimmer’s score for Gladiator (the parts of that Gladiator battle music which weren’t an... um... cough, cough... “homage” to Gustav Holst’s Mars: Bringer of War that is)... and a whole load of Zimmer’s own themes from the initial trilogy have been pitted against each other in a musical stew which isn’t a far cry from the tone of the first three movies.

Then there’s the more than competent Penelope Cruz herself (with piratey bosom in tow), coming off of the starboard bough and initially introduced masquerading as Jack Sparrow himself (gosh... I’m so relieved I got that sentence in there... now my review title pun works!) and delivering a performance that is a pleasure to behold. She could have done with a little more exposure in the movie perhaps (and so could her... oh, alright, I’ll stop it now) but the chemistry with both Depp and Ian McShane was pretty good and having her in it made for some good risqué humour which you wouldn’t expect to find in a Disney movie aimed at a family audience (comments about missionary positions and such like).

And what about Ian McShane in this one, eh? Geoffrey Rush is back as Barbossa but Disney picked the wrong villain to kill off because McShane’s Blackbeard is truly a pleasure to behold. He plays it really well and to the hilt!

But there are some huge minuses on this one. While Johnny Depp's opening stunt scenes are fairly okay... they really are just okay. They are not hilarious or particularly exciting to watch and I was reminded at one point of a similar set-piece in the much maligned and frankly underrated Cutthroat Island, which did it all so much better (although, the greatest pirate film ever is obviously... The Crimson Pirate!) and this film failed to deliver very big on the action sequences and even the less showy scenes of swordplay could not capture the original charm of, say, Jack Sparrow’s initial duel with Will Turner in the first movie. Which is a shame.

And Jack Sparrow himself seems to be a bit of a changed person in this one too, it has to be said. The performance seems to be quite a bit toned down with Depp hardly acting as drunk as the Jack we knew from the first three films (maybe he’s holding back on that stuff so he can re-use it to good effect in his new version of The Thin Man, which I understand he’ll be remaking soon) and, even worse, the witty dialogue seems a bit less sharp and a little forced. Maybe it’s just me but... although his performance was still absolutely excellent... it didn’t really seem to gel for me with the Jack Sparrow of old.

The film has some nice ideas including a romance with a mermaid... one of many vampiric mermaids... but the film is so long and somewhat busy that it really does feel its two and a bit hours in length. They tend to take their toll on the old bones if ye be as old as me shipmates. But I know it wasn’t just me because kids in the audience were starting to get bored too.

And as for stranger tides? Well, believe me... there was nothing nearly as strange in this movie as there were in any of the other three. Think the marketing people got a bit carried away with themselves again on this one. First rule of advertising mates... don’t advertise the qualities of a specific product when it turns out you don’t actually have a product which would live up to your claims. On Stranger Tides my shiny doubloon!

At the end of the day I’d have to turn in my verdict and say that this fourth venture into the world of Jack Sparrow was an okay watch and nothing more. Not completely disappointing but not the film I’d have liked to have seen either. I’d really like them to make another in the hopes that we can get something as good as the original movie again but I think they’re missing a trick or two when it comes to analysing just why that original movie worked. As it is though, this one’s not that great and I doubt I’ll watch it again anytime soon. Which is a pity but that’s the way the grog grumbles!


  1. I think you have covered all aspects of this flick! Matey, I'm mighty glad you saw this movie so I don't have to--I think your review is entertaining enough for me!

    That said, I do have a fondness for Blackbeard, or maybe anyone who can walk about with firecrackers tied in his beard. Or maybe it's McShane, whose salty language in a previous incarnation had to be laundered for this family film, I presume?

  2. Aha! McShane. Over this side of the pond we don't really know him from Deadwood... which I'm guessing is what you're referring too. Over here we all know him from his regular, longtime role as Lovejoy... who's an antique dealer... dealing with antiques that get embroiled in mysteries and intrigues it always turns out.

    I'd love to see him as a young sixties hearthrob wannabe in an obscure sequel they made to What's New Pussycat though. I have the score to it but not the film.