Saturday, May 21, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

I consider Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island a masterpiece of literature, but there ends my interest in pirates. I enjoyed the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, but the first two sequels added CGI bloat to the original’s charm. The latest Jack Sparrow adventure, On Stranger Tides, is careful not to overdo the CGI. Instead, it’s bloated with clashing, clattering sword fights that go on and on and on to the point that you forget what the hell they’re fighting about.

Still, I found elements to enjoy. I took my daughter, a Jack Sparrow fan, and I enjoyed her laughter in response to this more lighthearted escapade that starts with Jack impersonating a judge, swinging from a chandelier, leading the Redcoats a merry chase through the streets of London, jumping from coach top to coach top, hijacking a coal wagon that spills burning coals to ward off the cavalry. And although Depp overdoes Jack’s affectations and antics, he still can raise a chuckle with a well-timed one-liner.

As for the story, it’s all about finding the Fountain of Youth on some unidentified island, and by the time said Fountain is found, you forget what everybody’s after, but the journey takes us through some colorful scenery, and in order to make the Fountain’s waters work, you need a mermaid’s tear, and that’s as good an excuse as any to throw in the film’s best sequence in which Jack, Angelica (Penelope Cruz), and dastardly Blackbeard (Ian McShane) attempt to capture a mermaid.

I found the mermaids quite fetching and lots of fun. They start out as Victoria’s Secret models posing in fish tails, but they transform into fierce man-killers, providing a startling contrast as they swarm in a shark-like frenzy around a longboat full of potential prey.

(Gemma Ward plays Tamara)

(Astrid Berges-Frisbey as Syrena)

For its minimalism and use of color, that famous Howard Pyle illustration of the poor pirate marooned on a desert island has always been my favorite depiction of a pirate. And I’ve always appreciated how the Pirates of the Caribbean films have, I'd like to believe, alluded to that painting by including striking locations and minimalist shots of Jack on a pristine beach, but it’s well nigh time for Jack, admittedly a classic film character, to find one of those desert sand spits, settle down, and give up pirating for good.


FilmDr said...

Nice review, but you are far more generous with this movie than I am. Don't you get tired of quest narratives, in this case with two chalices stolen from the third Indiana Jones film? Even Jack makes fun of the quest for random objects at the end. I noticed that you hardly mention Penelope Cruz. Isn't she largely neutered by Jack's self-absorption? He hardly needs a female lead, since he's androgynous anyway. Except for the mermaid scene, the movie has little sense of dramatic emphasis. Things just happen, and we're supposed to figure out things like character motivation, or not care because the action is distracting. I still get the overall impression that none of it matters--it's just there to keep the franchise in operation. In the recent Entertainment Weekly, Depp does apologize for the last two films (just as Bay apologizes for the last Transformers incarnation). Note how these people apologize for the blockbuster's crappiness after they take the money. It's a new form of marketing based on apologizing for the recent trash now that everyone has awakened from the last onslaught of marketing.

Hokahey said...

FilmDr - This post is brief because it doesn't deserve more than this - so I gloss over much or, in this case, a lot of nothing. I didn't have much to say about Cruz. I will say that I got nothing out of her relationship with her father and it was hard to get behind her wish to die for him. I love how you say that Jack "hardly needs a female lead, since he's androgynous anyway."

Yes, the whole quest hocus-pocus with the chalices and the tear is so contrived and unoriginal and meant to fill in the empty spaces left by the lack of plot.

Uh, what did Bay apologize? Too much CGI? That can't be it if you saw the recent preview which makes the last Transformers movie a member of the CGI minor leagues in comparison.

Sam Juliano said...

Well Film Dr., I'm certainly tired of all this and in fact took a rare pass on Saturday afternoon, letting my wife and five kids see it without the honor of my presence. Seems like my kids are pretty much in Hokahey's camp, that is down the middle somewhere. Johnny Depp is popular in these parts, and basically can do no wrong in my house. But I'll admit I'm in no rush to see this at any point. I agree with Hokahey's approach here to say just enough.

FilmDr said...

This is what Bay had to say about his last Transformers flick:

“We had to agree on a story in three weeks, and then we knew they were going on strike. It was a f—ed scenario all the way around. It wasn’t fair to the writer, it wasn’t fair to me, and it wasn’t fair to anybody.” The director does insist, “it was still an entertaining movie,” but he also admits, “I think we failed on certain aspects.”

So, that's something of an apology.

I think my problem with the new Caribbean film is that I suffered so much with 2 and 3 (and don't ask why I kept returning), number 4 acted on my consciousness much like the ripping open of an old wound. It was like Proustian recall without the pleasure--return to trauma. One has to be careful with these blockbusters.

Employment Experts said...

I was a big Pirates fan but even I stopped enjoying it after they announced a fourth film with no Orland or Keira. Intrigued as to how it still has so many followers and fans worldwide, especially more than Harry Potter, Twilight, etc.

Hokahey said...

FilmDr - Sam - Thanks for the comments.

Bay's apology is interesting. It's amazing when you think that a Transformers movie has a writer!

Yes, one has to be careful with these blockbusters. They are, at least, a little more enjoyable with a younger fan. I saw Pirates with my daughter and we'll see Transformers too because she loves Shia LaBeouf. Fortunately for me, she's not into superhero movies, so I will be happy to give The Green Lantern a miss.