Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

:: Yarr, ahead be semi-spoilers ::

- whew - this is a long movie. If you wish to peruse my thoughts on Dead Man's Chest, you may click the link. After loving Black Pearl and really liking Dead Man's Chest I was very much looking forward to World's End, but in the back of my head I knew it would not live up to my expectations. Still I was hoping for at least some cool pirate stuff, and that, thankfully, we get.

World's End is strange in that it in no way can stand on its own as a film. It would be virtually impossible to discern any one of the dozen plots without some knowledge of the first two films. So what happens is that World's End becomes this sort of sprawling epilogue, much of which was just not needed when there were elements I would have much preferred them to expand upon. And why any writer, director, or producer would want to include a dozen plots in one movie is beyond me. Think I'm exaggerating?

1. Rescue Jack Sparrow from Davey Jones Locker
2. Stop Davey Jones and the Flying Dutchman
3. Alliance with Singapore pirates
4. Break East India Trading Co. advance on pirates
5. Meet with the Pirate Lords
6. New Pirate King
7. Free the Sea Goddess Calypso
8. Calypso/Davey Jones angst
9. Elizabeth/Will Turner/Sparrow angst
10. Will Turner must free his father
11. Sparrow wants immortality
12. Pirate Lords Vs. EITC
13. ...dude, I can keep doing, I'm not kidding. I haven't even mentioned Barbossa!

If you have a high tolerance for exposition (not to mention a iron bladder), World's End is not bad in this respect. A large 85% of the film is story driven, and the action adventure parts are few and far between. This as opposed to Dead Man's Chest who's action adventure part was the entire second half of the movie... but it is the focus on story in the third pic that is ultimately its downfall. It is so very clear that there are much more interesting things going on, alot of the time I found myself thinking, "yeah this is okay, but get on with it already!"

There are a few things I felt a bit cheated out of. First and foremost was the concept of the gathering of the Pirate Lords. I had heard a bit about it and was really hoping that would be the focus of the movie. Chow Yun Fat even! Sadly Chow's Character of Pirate Lord Sao Feng is totally wasted (and not even very good). Shame on the storytellers for missing such a great opportunity. The gathering of the Pirate Lords does indeed happen and is pretty cool, but boy there could have been more here. The reveal that Jack Sparrow is one of the 9 lords comes out of nowhere in a matter-of-fact way, and I'm thinking the history behind how he became a lord has got to be much more interesting than just needing to be in attendance at the meeting. Actually during the play out I was thinking that Jack was not an actual Pirate Lord but everyone just thought he was and he'd have to reveal the last one though eventually earn the rank... but I digress.

With an overwrought focus on Will Turner's need to save his father, the introduction of Sparrow's father comes off as lackluster, again there has got to be a better story behind their relationship. The fact alone that piracy may be a Sparrow family tradition warrants some inspection, doesn't it? Sparrow Sr. appears to hold some lofty weight in the eyes of the pirate den, but for all I can figure it's just because he's the keeper of the Pirate Code. The Pirate Code being another nice tidbit totally glossed over and left behind.

The biggest miss is the appointment of the Pirate King, which was nicely done to start but left high and dry. Not to mention Elizabeth Swan's character as a whole is short changed something fierce. Prior films go through great pains to establish her as a strongly-willed type with a hankering for hutzpah, alas that tree is pruned fairly close by the end of the film. Off the top of my head I can think of at least three great directions she could have gone towards a much better ending to the film, regardless of the scenario lover Will Turner was placed in.

If you think adding to the film to explore the above would have been more than we could handle, I propose that there was tons of stuff the film could have easily done without. The stuff about Calypso? Sure that would have been cool, if it was the focal point and not a sub-plot. Dalma's character served no purpose other than to look creepy. Gone with Calypso and gone is the Davey Jones connection and that precious screen time (and needless exploration of Jones character who has enough going for him already). Jack Sparrow's delusions, which only serve to preclude that Sparrow is in fact insane and not as cool as we want him to be, the film would have done better without. I mentioned Sao Feng was wasted, and so much of the dealings and double crosses with the Singapore pirates is also unnecessary. Basically even without anything new I would have liked to see, the film could have been edited into a much tighter story.

The Pirates of the Caribbean movies, especially World's End, fall into this category of "Ultra Movie" where every shot is perfectly lit, every costume is minutely detailed, and every frame of CG was well paid for. I can imagine a gas-pump cash ticker up in the corner running over each scene because the one thing I can say for sure about World's end is that it looks great. And for at least some payoff, the finale is one hell of a finale. Yes, yes, we seemed to have been promised an armada-scaled battle between the East India Trading Co. and the Pirate Lords, that just doesn't happen. However the standoff between the Flying Dutchman and the Black Pearl was really amazing to me and I marvel at any director who could pull off as much as what was going on. Also the odd but operatic demise of Lord Cutler Beckett was a phenomenal visual which I can't say I've seen before.

My wish list aside, I actually liked World's End. I like alot of story and I'm already attached to the pirate characters so I wanted to see it played out. There are alot of good laughs and some great lines ("What, you think we should have called them the 'Nine pieces of things we happened to be carrying at the time?'") Ultimately the story was not what it should have been (not to be confused with what it could have been), but there was enough there for me to see it through. It is the weakest of the three Pirates films, tho there is hope for a better, tighter sequel to come, unburdened by a giant ensemble and multitude of plots. In fact I'm all for a whole new pirate adventure, completely recast and ready to explore the corners of pirate lore. For Pete's sake, what does a guy have to do to see some sea turtles??

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