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.

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