Thursday, May 26, 2011

On Stranger Tides - the novel

The novel On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers was re-released to go with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The two have very little to do with each other except for the inclusion of Blackbeard and the use of magic. I read the book when it first came out in 1987 but I didn't remember a lot about it. I did remember that it featured a puppeteer who became a pirate, a trip to the Fountain of Youth, and a few other details.

The novel was one of several that Powers wrote dealing with magic in a historic setting. These are not alternate histories where major events are different than in our world. Instead they include historic events. The first of these novels, The Drawing of the Dark, centered on the Siege of Vienna (one of them, there were several). The Anubis Gate was the best of these and is considered an early Steampunk novel. On Stranger Tides is not as epic as The Anubis Gate but it is still a good book.

On Stranger Tides takes place at the tail end of the Golden Age of Piracy. It follows John Chandagnac, the son of a puppeteer who is traveling to the New World on family business. His ship is taken by pirates and he is forced to join the crew. The pirates decide that his name is too long and he is soon rechristened Jack Shandy and made the cook. He learns about ships and works his way up the ranks.

During the voyage over, Jack became friends with fellow passenger Beth Hurwood. Her father and his companion, Leo Friend are both sorcerers who have come to the New World where magic still works.

Magic is in great supply in the Americas and all of the pirates have picked up a few tricks. Some are very powerful, especially Blackbeard. It is possible to become even more powerful by traveling to the Fountain of Youth.

The book is well researched and manages to shoehorn the historic Blackbeard's actions into the novel. His eccentricities, things like drinking rum and gunpowder and wearing smoldering slowmatch, are done for magical reasons.

One constant in Powers's books is that nothing comes easy. Jack Shandy may triumph at the end but he will pay for it with pain and blood.

Interesting side-note - the novel was a major influence on the computer game Monkey Island which in turn influenced the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

It's finally out and it was worth the wait. In many ways this is the movie I was hoping that PotC 2 would be. The feel of it is much closer to the original. While Jack's motivations are always in doubt, everything else it pretty straightforward. It is also a Jack-centric movie. There are very few scenes that do not feature Captain Jack. This is fine with me since he was always the big draw in the previous movies.

Just a handful of regulars from the other movies make it into this one - mainly Barbossa and Gibbs with a couple of cameos by Jack the Monkey. We think we spotted a British officer from the original but he has no lines. The new cast also gives the movie a fresh feel.

The third movie ended with Jack starting on a quest for the Fountain of Youth. This movie picks up there. It seems that Jack has not been successful although he has not given up. In the meantime, the Spanish get a clue to the Fountain and launch an expedition. King George II does not want the Spanish to have sole access to the fountain and sends his own expedition commanded by Barbossa who managed to lose the Black Perl and a leg. Also racing to find the Fountain are Blackbeard who is trying to stave off his prophesied death and his daughter who, like Jack wants a few extra decades of youth.

The movie is much darker than the others, both figuratively and literally. Blackbeard is bloodthirsty and most of the scenes take place at night or on cloudy days.

The movie is a bit scaled back from the third movie which spent a rumored half-billion dollars but it has a very large budget. The main thing missing is over-the-top special effects. This movie does not use two full-sized gimbal-mounted ships or a cast that is half-CGI.

On Stranger Tides does feature early-18th century London and an unnamed island (Hawaii) which gives it a very lush look. Rob Marshall, the new director, improves the cinematography so it is actually a better-looking movie.

I didn't notice any references to the PotC ride in the movie but there are several references to the prior movies - just enough to let people know that this actually is PotC movie.

I only have a couple of complaints. The action is mainly front-loaded. The movie begins with several set-pieces and compared with them the ending is almost anti-climactic. Similarly, there is nothing comparable with the skeletal duel between Jack and Barbossa from the first movie. The closest thing is the fight with the mermaids which comes earlier. This does not mean that the ending was unsatifying, just not as memorable as in previous movies.

Two final notes - fans of Tim Powers' book On Stranger Tides should not expect to see much of the book in the movie. The credits say "inspired by". This consists of giving Blackbeard supernatural powers and having a quest for the Fountain of Youth.

Also, zombie enthusiasts will be disappointed by the movie's zombies. They are ugly and unkillable but nothing like the brain-hungry monsters in pop-culture.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Will Pirates 4 Be Any Good?

The first review of PotC:On Stranger Tides is out and the reviewer didn't like it. Of course, the reviewer seems mystified that anyone liked the first three. As a side note, she is also unaware that brain-eating zombies are a recent cinematic invention and that the zombies of folklore were corpses reanimated as servants.

Anyway, I distinctly remember a number of bad reviews of the first three movies. Critics felt that the original one was too long and repetitious. I suspect that big-name movie critics feel that reviewing pirate movies is beneath them.

I readily admit that PotC 2 was not as good as PotC 1 and that PotC 3 fell somewhere in-between. Disney was in such a hurry to shoot the movies that they didn't wait for a finished script so dropped plot threads abound. Also, I can understand why they wanted to keep Will and Elizabeth in the movies but their storyline really ended at the end of the first movie. That complication has been dropped and Depp assures us that the script is more like the original.

I have no idea how they will adapt On Stranger Tides. The book is about a puppeteer who accidentally becomes a pirate. Probably the subplots about Blackbeard and magic are used.

One thing I am hoping for is the return of some actual pirates to the franchise. Except for the sack of Port Royal early in the first movie no one engaged in any piracy. In the second and third movies, the pirates were the good guys and the villains were not pirates. Maybe Blackbeard will add some piracy to the Pirates franchise.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Santa Maria Event

It's over and it was a success. We worried for the last few weeks about the weather. The river flooded multiple times this Spring but it was back around normal levels by last week. The forecast was for rain all three days but we got lucky. The rain completely missed us on Friday and we only got a bit of rain on Saturday. That left us with a wet Sunday.

One immediate problem was launching the boats. We had planned on using both of my boats but there was a significant amount of mud on the boat ramp from the flooding. Michael and I removed the crown of this with a shovel and mattock then launched the Black Sheep. I decided that the ramp was too chancy to launch the Firefly. If we had rain then the ramp would become too slick to retrieve the boats. Also, we had some last-minute cancellations so we did not need the extra boat.

We had a nearly full crew by Friday night.

On Saturday the city was hosting a Race for the Cure and people had trouble getting to the ship. Next year we will probably move to the 3rd weekend to avoid this. The race was over by opening time and we had enough time to hold a safety meeting and assign people to the ship and the boats.

Everything went well on Saturday. Attendance was down a little, probably because of threat of rain, but it was still well above normal. The battle went perfectly. Diosa did a great job of organizing the visitors as defenders. This time we had boarders from both boats - six in all and we made the defenders stand back until they were on deck before fighting.

Because a front was moving in, the gunfire was especially loud. We had a brief shower after the battle then it cleared up again.

This time we had people go through the ship on self-guided tours. This meant fewer breaks for the crew but we didn't have unmanageably large tour groups.

After closing, Ed, Margarita, and I spent an hour or so swapping tunes and singing shanties.

The rain moved in in earnest on Sunday. The Hard Tackers were performing but had to move onto the ship. This made things a little crowded.

It was too wet to use the boats so we did an abbreviated battle. I issued boarding pikes to the visitors and alternated having them threaten imaginary pirates and having people fire from the shelter of the awning.

Things broke up earlier than when we have clear weather so everything was cleared off of the ship by closing.

I left the Black Sheep at the ship, tied off to the ship's canoe and the final eight of us had pizza.