Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest


Kinda Lies There

Can someone explain this to me? Why are these pirate movies such huge hits? There must be some pirate vibe that I’m just not tuned into. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl racked up over $300 million during its run, and it’s sequel Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest has already surpassed that! I like a popcorn adventure movie just as much as the next guy, but why these films seem to have struck some kind of populous nerve is beyond me. While the first film was sort of fun, this sequel just seems to be more of the same, only lamer.

The marriage of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann has been rudely interrupted. It seem that due to their involvement in the escape of nefarious pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), they are both sentenced to die. While Elizabeth is left to rot in jail, the opportunistic bureaucrat Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) makes Will a proposition. He will be pardoned if he can track down pirate Sparrow and snatch a mysterious compass in his possession. This unique article points to whatever the user truly desires, in this case the “Dead Man’s Chest” and the unusual article within that has the power to control Davy Jones and thus, the sea.

The best thing about this movie is the amazing production design. All the period stuff is convincing in standard Hollywood fashion, but the real treat is the presentation of The Flying Dutchman (Davy Jones’ ship) and it’s crew. All these men have sold their soul to the sea, and are slowly becoming part of it. Some resemble animals found in the ocean, while others are becoming barnacle-infested plant life. The ship itself is even covered in growths and appears to be alive, and can submerge itself like a submarine. All of this is a seamless merging of actors and CGI work, and is very convincing (as far as these things go).

The film is dense with action, but fails on the character level. There is supposed to be a love triangle developing between Will, Elizabeth and Jack, but therein lies a problem. Will and Elizabeth have no chemistry, while Elizabeth and Jack have lots. This leads to some steamy interchanges, but then Liz does something out of character, which puts Jack in a potentially fatal situation. Why would she do that, considering what we just saw happen between them?

Another problem is that Bloom (Elizabethtown) is flat and one-dimensional, and Knightley (Domino) is whiner than normal. There is one scene where she is trying to get the attention of three sword fighting men (“oh, I feel faint”) that is downright embarrassing for her. Depp (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) fares better, continuing his Keith Richards impression, but even he felt tired after awhile.

As mentioned previously, there is a lot of swashbuckling action here, which is mostly well done. The rub is that it doesn’t feel new or fresh. We’ve seen all this before in the first movie, and I didn’t see a whole lot to get excited about. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest feels like its damned characters: something that moves around a lot, but is still just an empty shell.

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