Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Many movie franchises seem to go endlessly on film after film. The basic rule of thumb supported by most movie studios is if the previous movie made a significant box office profit approval for the next offering is certain. The downside of this paradigm is akin to what has been called ‘The Peter Principle’; a precept commonly cited in the business world that describes a person receiving promotions until they ascend to a level they are ill equip to handle. In cinematic circles this is frequently demonstrated when a franchise passes the laudable trilogy entering the fourth installment. This phenomenon observed in the extremely popular and lucrative series of films; ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’. This has been a flagship film franchise for the Walt Disney studios since 2003. After the initial huge reception two additional movies were released in fairly rapid succession. They are currently up to the precarious number four and in typical fashion a turning point have been reached and accommodations must be made. Actors that moved to super stardom through their participation in the first three films are now at a point in their career where they want to stretch their abilities with other more challenging roles. This is the publically announced reason given by mainstay cast members Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley for declining to participate in this movie. Undoubtedly the core of the franchise is the outlandish character of Captain Jack Sparrow brilliantly brought to life by Johnny Depp. Still, Knightley and Bloom were integral to the success of the original trilogy and their absence left a sizable vacuum in the story line. Depp had stated he would return if the script was right and it is a reasonable assumption that the reported $55 million portion of the quarter of a billion overall budgets may have swayed this exceptionally talented actor in his decision. Considering the global gross of the film has approached twice the budget excusive of the Blu-ray and DVD sales we can pretty much resign ourselves to at least a fifth flick on the horizon. With all that stated the film may lack some of the heart of the first three but it just about compensates for it with the cutting edge special effects and the roller coaster like action that drives the movie. Grab your popcorn and turn off the higher reasoning sections of your cerebrum and enjoy an afternoon of fun with the entire family.
Say what you will about Captain Jack Sparrow he may be a self-adsorbed egotist but he is loyal to his crew. More times than not this gets him into trouble such as the most recent case where he attempted to rescue his first mate, Joshamee Gibbs, (Kevin McNally) in London. This brings him to the unwanted attention of his Royal Highness King George II (Richard Griffiths). The monarch has a special mission for his wayward subject, one that is fraught with danger and best left out of official channels. Jack is dispatched to locate the mysterious Fountain of Youth in the New World before it can be found be the Spaniards. Performing service for the Crown is one thing but rubbing salt in the wound is the fact that the expedition is headed by Jack’s mortal nemesis, Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Not one to stay in one place Jack flees and is warned by his father, Captain Teague (Keith Richards). Besides some information about the fountain Jack discovers someone is impersonating him, a woman, Angelica Teach (Penélope Cruz), daughter of the nefarious pirate king, Edward Teach (Ian McShane), better known by his nom de voyage, Blackbeard. He is desperate to obtain the miraculous powers of the fountain because of the forbidding prophecy concerning a one legged man, a description that since the previous film is met by Barbossa. In order to obtain the effect of the fountain’s water must be drunk from one of two silver chalices owned by Juan Ponce de León. While one man drinks mermaid tears from one cup another drinks the water from the other. The life force is drained from the water drinker extending the life of the one consuming the tears. That part of the procedure presents itself when a violent pack of mermaids attacks but one of them, Syrena (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey), is taken captive.
One thing that does work to a better degree than I had anticipated was the story. Usually by the time the fourth movie comes along the writers have exhausted the plot devices available for the characters. In this movie the team of writers, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, established the franchise at its start. In this case the adapted a book, On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers’, in order to infuse a touch of new blood into the mix and considering the changes to the character line up it worked out. The novel was tweaked in order to suit the peculiarities of Captain Jack Sparrow. Counter balancing this is a new director, Rob Marshall, who is more accustomed to helming musicals including ‘Chicago’, ‘Nine’ and a TV production of ‘Annie’. While this did provide a fresh vantage point stylistically the general progression of the story is staggered and halting. A more seasoned hand might have been able to give the necessary powerhouse drive from one action sequence to the next but Marshall halts for exposition in such a fashion the continuity is disrupted. A Pre-summer action flick needs more drive and less reliance on the plot. I know that seems like an odd statement especially since I’m usually vocal about the necessity for a strong story but in this specific genre most fans are watching for the action and effects. Although this film has plenty of both the presentation could have been smoother; better integrated. This film is more of a rebuilding year, a boon not afforded to most franchises at this point in the development of the series. Considering this film had to introduce new members of the primary cast and extend the underlying mythos the dip in overall quality may just be a blip on a set of films with the potential to carry on strongly.
Considering this film was to serve the dual purpose of bringing the trilogy into the realm of a full-blown franchise as well as rebooting the story line after that of a number of years, a significant amount of reworking was necessary. At the end of the third film most of the storylines have been tied up my rather neatly in the character arcs have reached a point satisfactory to most of the fans. In order to bring back, not only the favorite characters, and familiar circumstances, a significant amount of new material had to be included. This revision encompassed not only the stories and characters but was extended to the very look and feel of the film. ‘On Stranger Tides’, was released on the cusp of a technological revolution. 3-D movies have been around for considerable length of time being some popularity in the 50s. Now with the introduction of high-speed processing and vast amounts of computer storage it is possible to introduce three-dimensional images into a film with an increasing degree of realism. In the case of this film the filmmaker is still on a learning curve not quite grasping the full potential inherent to the illusion of depth. The film was created within pressing the audience over the fact that it is in 3-D. As such, there is an overabundance of so-called ‘pop out effects’. Objects just seem to suddenly fly out of the plane of the screen apparently careening towards the audience. While unarguably effective in justifying the plastic glasses you are wearing it does little to actually improve the storytelling. While this is typical of many 3-D films, especially those who are action oriented, it does little to advance the use of three-dimensional techniques as an integral part of cinematic expression. Since the foundation of this film is entertainment along the lines of its source material, a theme park ride, it might be considered unrealistic to expect more from the 3-D experience. In any case, the film may not live up to the standard set by its predecessors but it’s reasonable is an enjoyable afternoon with the family.
Posted 10/11/11 Posted 05/04/2014