Monday, July 24, 2006

Film: Yo Ho!

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly, Written by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, Directed by Gore Verbinski.

So I spent most of the hellishly hot weekend writing, a very pleasant experience that involved minimal movement while still allowing me to sweat like a hog. But we did make an excursion out to the new Pirates film, which is now more than just a movie and is now a franchise. The theater was packed by others escaping the heat, and I would like to know how much the recent boom in film attendance is due to the heat than the quality of the movies.

Spoilers abound within this review, but you really have to have be working at it to remain in the dark about the secrets of the film. Indeed, I had two parts of the film spoiled by toys for god's sake. About a week before release, a friend of mine picked up the "Jack Swallow figure with escape coffin" and the "Davy Jones figure with heart box". Way to telegraph the plot, folks. And indeed, even US Today and the other mags loved to show off Davy Jones' octopoid face (pity he has gone downhill from the Monkees) and the special effects.

But how was it as a movie? It was the middle bit of the film trilogy, created after you realized that the first one was a hit and stretching its way to the third one. It has a collection of action scenes, some good lines, and a return of familiar characters. It spends the bulk of the film getting the characters together, and involves a continual passaround of various McGuiffins - the key, the box, the jar full of dirt. It also seems to operate in a strange zone where the mysteries and magic of the previous movie are taken for granted, and the idea of Davy Jones is known to both pirates and to representatives of the Crown safely in port.

There are also a plethora of characters, old and new. I recommend the would-be viewer watch the first movie, just so you can catch up on who's who right off the bat. Not only for things like the undead monkey, but the big reveal at the end of the film that sets up the final movie.

But what about the film? It reminds me of Empire Strikes Back and suffers in comparison. There the characters were advanced, new figures were introduced, there was a stunning revelation, someone meets his father, and the most interesting character was apparently removed from the series. But Empire was primarily about Luke, and the others were supportive. Here, the weight of the lead seems to be Knightly's Elizabeth Swann as far as character development, but the action seems to be carried equally by Depp's glamrock Swallow and Bloom's stalwart Turner. Swann's sudden development at the end should have elicited gasps and/or cheers, but instead was duly noted as a plot point by the audience as they moved to the Cthuloid finish.

And the audience was strange. Packed house, but you almost feel that they were there for the air conditioning, not the film. They weren't bad-tempered by any means - if fact they were the opposite. Quiet. Too Quiet. There were only a few chuckles of amusement and a gasp or two, but for the bulk of it they were just glad to be out of the heat and non-responsive. They went to this film because they were meaning to eventually and boy is it hot today.

The audience could react - they were into the trailers - hooted for Taledega Knights, cheered for Invincible. For the movie? Polite attention. Which I suppose was better than they reacted for the Transformers trailer, which was met with dead silence. If I were on that movie, I would be concerned.

So final review on the Pirates film? Good reason to get out of the heat, but not a lot more. It has the trouble of secrets that the magic of the world has been revealed, and now its just a matter of living in that world. Empire turned out to be the best of the Star Wars films, but I doubt that this will rank up there. The excitement of the first film is replaced with a lot of chasing around as characters had to meet their destiny with various set pieces and props and special effects. Good, but not great.

More later,