Just back from seeing the entertaining, exciting and utterly soulless 150 minute trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End, otherwise known as Dead Man’s Chest.
I really, really loved the first Pirates. It was like The Secret of Monkey Island only on the big screen, with one heck of a great central character in the form of Jack Sparrow, an epic scope and a wonderfully paced, dense storyline with real chills and spills. Pirates the Second has all that, and more: Jack’s back, the Monkey Island references are back (nobody tell Ron Gilbert, okay?), the plot just goes all over the place and is filled with thrilling action sequence after action sequence… except… except…
Well, it doesn’t really go anywhere. The entire movie is a collossal set up for the third, so while it is very entertaining and you’ll be grinning throughout, I for one can’t fairly judge it as being either good or bad without having seen the next one!
This unsatisfactory conclusion, of course, leads one to examine what is there in Dead Man’s Chest even more, and you soon begin to realise that Jack Sparrow has been reduced to a clown (note to writers/director/producer: we didn’t love him because he was quirky, we loved him because he was quirky and real), the villains are quite boring, every joke in the previous one has been given a dusting-off and a groan-inducing twist, and there just isn’t an engaging story to put it all together.
My favourite part of Pirates — heck, any pirate movie — would have to be the sense of adventure, the journey, the beautiful way in which it was portrayed that, hey, you know, these guys are on these ships and they have to sail them to far away places. In Dead Man’s Chest all of this is done away with (despite a two-and-a-half hour running time) and characters just show up at the next place they have to mess around with, most of which are done in CG. Doing so makes the entire thing seem fake. In Cure of the Black Pearl there was a minimal use of CG except for when they really needed it, and so the lush, natural beauty of the caribbean was brought out.
Not so in the sequel, which if anything suffers from an overdose of computer generated imagery. ILM is the best in the business. There’s no doubt about it. The latest WETA project looks like a TV movie from the 70s compared to their work. There’s a lot of good CG stuff here. If I was to look at any one of Davy Jones’s crewmen rendered seperately, if I got to see the wire mesh that made them up or the rigging or the texture maps while browsing the forums at CGTalk, then I’d be blown away. On the big screen, as a storytelling device, it just looks like a cluttered mess. There’s too much visual information. There are too many dangly bits and popping barnacles and coral things that the eye has no idea where to actually look, and so just ends up picking some part of the background to look at while the dialogue runs though.
As a scientific example of what is possible in today’s CG, it’s award worthy. As art direction, it’s a fiasco.
The cinematography, slave now to the CG gods, similarly takes a turn for the monochromatic. Gone is Curse of the Black Pearl’s multicoloured tropical chaos. Say hello to every shade of green and gloom that was left over from The Ring.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still worth the watch. The action sequences are marvellous. Some of the lines are snappy. Depp is great with the little work he has in this film, and Bloom shows shades of his good work in Kingdom of Heaven towards the climax, but Keira Knightley isn’t convincing (there’s this tired attempt at a love triangle that I hope goes away quickly), the plot never has the kind of weight and propulsion it needs to genuinely seem interesting. By the end of the movie you’re just getting revved up for things to get going, and they throw a cliffhanger at you that is anticlimactic because you weren’t that involed to begin with.
The best thing I can say about Dead Man’s Chest is that it tries very hard to break out of the mould set by the first film, and in that it succeeds fully.
The worst thing I can say is that it really hits home the fact that it was written by the same people as Shrek.