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THAR BE PIRATES 'ERE

19 January 2008

Last weekend I saw the two sequels to Pirates of the Caribbean, which in all honesty form a single movie. Dead Man's Chest and At World's End. As everyone else on the globe, I had been pleasantly surprised by the first movie when it came out, though I thought it was a trifle too long. It had given me the impression of entering the finale at around 3/4th of the ride, so it became a bit jarring when it continued without proper cause.

For the two sequels I had prepared myself for this, and furthermore had adjusted my expectations so that I wasn't expecting anything more than lighthearted, entertaining, swashbuckling adventures with two unlikeable dolts and one charming pirate in the lead. And as such, I had a whale of a time. The second movie fell a bit flat -the characters never really took off until somewhere near the end, and Davy Jones was by far not the villain Barbossa had been (which wasn't by any means the fault of the wonderful Bill Nighy, but simply the poor writing). The third movie, however, was absolutely wonderful. The first half at least. With Jack trapped in the Locker and the others needing to solve a magical puzzle and infiltrating Singapore... just fantastic. Over the top and wacky, but with the right amount of mysticism and depth to pull it off. Afterwards, the plot gets mightily confused, forgets half of its lines and takes the easy way out by pushing loads of spectacle on us but not giving us any real gratification. But it does it with such style (and how can you be anything but enraptured with Barbossa's monstrously widebrimmed hat?) that it's easy to forgive.

It remains a shame, however, that we never learn what happened to the Kraken, what the Hell the deal was with Calypso, that Davy Jones' arc is never fulfilled, we never discover the secret history between Jack Sparrow and the East India Company guy (who should by all accounts have been Dutch! Now he seemed like just another governer-type instead of a ruthless tradesman!) and other small things. That's just sloppy writing. But the trilogy gets huge bonus points for using literally every pirate myth and icon in existence. From a watery grave to the Black Spot, from Pieces o' Eight to Antarctic waters. It makes for a much sounder mythos than, say, Cutthroat Island ever managed to establish. At the same time, the parallels with Monkey Island skyrocket in the sequels. The Voodoo Lady? An undead who was once in love with a woman who told him to drop dead -which he did? And don't tell me that Jack Sparrow as the unlikely bucanneer doesn't at least vaguely remind one of Guybrush Threepwood. Then again, the writer's insistence of never having heard of Monkey Island (though hugely unlikely because of the age and renown of the series) might be true. After all, the games themselves took heavily from Disney's amusement park ride, pirate lore and basic storytelling devices with anti-heroes and love triangles.

There's a lot of disappointment and anger at the sequels to Curse of the Black Pearl. Understandably; because that was a solid movie and the sequels took in more than they could chew. I don't think those viewers had any clear idea on what was coming, however, or they'd never have allowed the huge expectations they must have had. From any reasonable standpoint it was obvious we'd get shallow, but hugely entertaining romps across the seven seas. Honestly, Curse of the Black Pearl was fun, but it didn't exactly justify expectations that it would spawn Citizen Kane-levels of quality drama in its wake. In that respect, the disappointment was partly people's own fault.

And major props for the barnacle crew of Davy Jones. That's just great design.

Roderick.