Thursday, July 20, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest / *** (PG-13)

Jack Sparrow: Johnny Depp
Will Turner: Orlando Bloom
Elizabeth Swann: Keira Knightley
Davey Jones: Bill Nighy
Gov. Swann: Jonathan Price
Bootstrap Bill: Stellan Skarsgard

Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by Gore Verbinski. Written by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio. Running time: 150 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of adventure violence, including frightening images).

My parents took me to Disney World when I was a little boy and one of my favorite rides was Pirates of the Caribbean. It was one we rode for a second time on our final day there, our “highlights of the park” day.

I also enjoyed the film “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”, released in 2003 when I was no longer such a little boy. I admired it for simply supplying a fun time on a summer night. It had special effects and action sequences, but never seemed to push them ridiculously over the top like so many other summer blockbusters. Its success relied heavily on its interesting and original characters that nodded to the classic pirate lore of the past but breathed their own special air into the genre.

Now comes “Pirates of Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”, an almost entirely different breed than the first film. “Dead Man’s Chest” is wall-to-wall action from beginning to end. There is hardly a shot in it that hasn’t been tampered with by computer or special effects of some sort. And yet somehow the filmmakers have retained the same spark of originality from the first film, and those wonderful characters make this adventure work, however many tentacles it my bear.

“Dead Man’s Chest” is a much darker film than the first, despite the fact that the original took place mostly at night and a good majority of this one takes the risk of exposing its CGI trickery by placing much of its action in the sunlight. It opens on a rainy scene, the wedding day of the former film’s romantic couple Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley, “Pride & Prejudice”) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, “Kingdom of Heaven”). But East Indian Trading Company envoy Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander, “Pride & Prejudice”), crashes the wedding, holding death warrants for Will, Elizabeth, Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport, BBC’s “Coupling”) and the outlandish Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”).

Jack Sparrow is nowhere to be found. He is doing his best to hide himself and his ship, the Black Pearl, from Davey Jones (Bill Nighy, “Underworld: Evolution”). Jack owes a debt to Jones for granting him the Black Pearl for 12 years in exchange for his eternal soul and servitude on Jones’ ship the Flying Dutchman. Of course, once Jones does get a hold of him, Sparrow is quick to point out that because of a mutiny by his first mate Barbossa; he was only Captain of the Black Pearl for two years.

Jones and his crew are one of the more impressive aspects of the picture. It’s obvious the character design team had a good time developing these beings who’ve paid for their immortality by mutating into humanoid forms of various sea creatures. One resembles a hammerhead shark; another has a giant hermit crab for a head. One punished soul has even begun to attach to the hull of the Flying Dutchman like a barnacle. Jones himself has developed the head of a squid with his tentacled beard making up for the lack of fingers on his lobster claw hands.

Of course, the crew of the Flying Dutchman is hardly the only spectacle in this summer sequel.
The film is laced with action sequences from beginning to end. There are sea chases and foot chases. Jack at one point finds himself hailed by island natives as a god that must be eaten to release him from his tormented human form. And there is an extravagant chase and fight sequence involving all four main characters, the crew of the Flying Dutchman, and a giant wheel that qualifies as the most unique obstacle in an action sequence in quite some time. And did I mention the giant sea beast known as the Kraken?

I have neglected delving into the plot because there are some rather surprising developments, especially considering this is fairly mindless adventure fare, but most are best left for the viewer to discover. The surprises do push what should be the lighthearted nature of the film in a grimmer direction, but Depp’s eccentric Jack Sparrow and two holdovers from the mutinous Black Pearl crew keep the darkness from overshadowing the picture with their quirky humor.

I will say the story begun in this film won’t be finished until next summer when “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” hits theaters Memorial Day weekend. This means “Dead Man’s Chest” really requires a bigger commitment from its audience than the first movie did. I am reminded of the second and third installments of “The Matrix” trilogy which requested a commitment level its audience was not willing to make through both films.

Reviewing the first film I wrote: “In a summer of sequels, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ harkens back to days when movies didn’t have to top each other or themselves. They just had to be fun and allow you to leave the theater with a smile one your face.” “Dead Man’s Chest” not only is an over the top sequel, but is more likely to leave you with a ponderous look than a smile.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" didn't leave me with a ponderous look. Instead, it left me with admiration that the two screenwriters took the story into a new direction, instead of trying to rehash the first movie with a slightly different story. I admire originality. DMC was filled with it, in compare to SUPERMAN RETURNS, which was nothing more than a remake, disguised as a sequel.