Saturday, May 28, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB (A-II) Roger Ebert (2 stars) Fr. Dennis (3 stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB Review -
Roger Ebert's Review -

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (directed by Rob Marshall, co-written by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, et al) is the fourth in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which was famously born of a popular Disney theme-park attraction.  As such, part of the attraction of these films always been wondering if their creators could “pull it off” or with each sequel continue to do so.   Like many others, I personally believe that the first Pirates of the Caribbean (The Curse for the Black Pearl) movie was a wonder and the subsequent ones, less so.  I don’t believe that On Stranger Tides was the worst of the four movies in this series.  That dubious honor I believe goes to the the third movie At World’s End.  The second movie, Dead Man’s Chest, was okay as I believe was On Stranger Tides

My single biggest criticism of the series since the original, Curse for the Black Pearl, has been _terrible_ editing.  The creators of this series could learn a bit or two from the Silvester Stalone Rocky series, which also extended an initially unlikely but then enormously successful original movie into a series with five sequels.  The stories were often very thin and predictable, but the editing was often the best in the business keeping the films on pace and every scene in them having a clear purpose.   In contrast, the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels had often circled and meandered seemingly forever (I believe the worst in this regard was the third film, At World’s End, where I honestly was wishing “would they _just get there_” already). 

Additionally, the ligthing in this movies has often been very dark.  I do realize that half the day is night, often there is fog on the sea, and often the most action on the sea happens during storms but I’ve found the persistent dark lighting most of these films, especially in the sequels to be very burdensome.  And anecdotally I can report that not a negligible amount of viewers end up falling asleep during parts of these films.

More positively, I do believe that the films’ creators have mined well the “lore of the seas” for their stories – ghost ships, sea monsters, voodoo priestesses, cannibal tribes (in previous episodes) as well as mermaids and the search for “the fountain of youth” in this one.  I just wish the stories could be told with better lighting and with tighter scripts ;-).

In this episode then of the series, On Stranger Tides, Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp) finds himself back in England about to be tried (and hanged) for piracy while a rival Barbossa (played by Geoffrey Rush) holds a piece of paper declaring himself “legit” as a “Privateer for the Crown” rather than a pirate anymore :-).  Yes, that was true!  England did hire private captains in those years to attack Spanish shipping on behalf of the English crown and the main difference between such “privateers” and pirates was simply that they had a “piece of paper” (a contract) allowing them to do so and that they limited the targets of their raiding to enemies of the English crown (ie left English shipping alone...).

Anyway, as always, Jack Sparrow finds a way to weasel out of his legal predicament and soon both he and Barbossa find themselves on quest – for the Fountain of Youth – that they discovered that the Spanish (archenemies of the English at the time) were on.  Barbossa actually appears mostly after Blackbeard (played by Ian Shane) who he finds is on this quest already.  Jack Sparrow initially all that interested as meeting-up with Blackbeard would be awkward for him as he seemed to have had an earlier fling with his ½ Spanish daughter Angelica Malon (played by Penelope Cruz), worse just days before she was going to take her vows to enter the convent. 

Much ensues.  Many of the characters from the previous Pirates of the Caribbean movies are not present in this film, notably Elizabeth Swann (played by Keira Knightly) and Will Turner (played by Orlando Bloom).  However, I do believe that addition of Penelope Cruz’ Angelica was not a bad one.  Then there was also the mermaid Syrena (played by Astrid Berges-Frisbey) as well as a young hunky English protestant missionary Philip (played by Sam Claflin).

Regarding the PG-13 rating.  I think that the movie’s rating was appropriate to probably a little overly conservative.  Yes, the mermaid was topless, but she’s _always_ discreetly covered.   Compare this to other recent PG-13 fare like Suckerpunch (set in a brothel/insane asylum where all the female protagonists dressed in provocative/slutty costuming throughout) and Limitless (which glorified the use of performance enhancing drugs even to the point of graphically portrayed addiction to them).  In comparison, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides runs like a somewhat dark/rainy Little House on the Prairie episode.

All in all, the elements for yet another good story are present in On Stranger Tides and I do believe it basically works.  I just wish that lighting was brighter and the script had been tighter and we could have gotten out of the theater in 2 hours rather than, with the inevitable 20 minutes of advertisements for upcoming attractions, nearly three.

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