Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

This next sentence is probably more enjoyable to you, the reader, if you imagine it spoken the way I do; that is, as if I were in a drunken stupor of some sort.

I have a lot of things to say about On Stranger Tides.

Okay, don't read the rest of this review in that same voice; I am catagorically sober for this review (and for the movie).  Since there be spoilers in these waters, I will hide them from the main page behind a handy little page break.  Maybe read some of the review in a pirate voice.

Full disclosure: I saw this film on Sunday, so I'm a little removed from it for this review.  However I remember most of my points, and since they don't really rely on having a photographic memory of the movie, you can trust this review (or not, if you don't trust me personally).

On Stranger Tides (to be further referenced as OST) is, in the large scheme of things, a movie about giving Jack Sparrow opportunities to come up with "improvised" grandiose escape attempts and say something witty along the way.  On a superficial level, this is Indiana Jones and the Pirates of the Caribbean, complete with face melting at the end.

My analogy is solid.  Don't believe me?  Let's review:
Indiana Jones
Indiana Jones & Company search for an ancient, often mythical object that often actually does exist.  They race against the Nazis (or the Russians) in an effort to be the first to retrieve said object.
Jack Sparrow & Company search for an ancient, mythical object (that actually does exist!).  They race against the Spanish and the English in an effort to be the first to retrieve said object.
Indiana Jones
In The Last Crusade, Indiana is on a quest to find the Cup of Life.  One drink from the cup heals you!  Apparently though, it does not give you immortality.  An attempt to bring the Cup from its home results in the cave being destroyed, and the Cup lost forever.
Jack is pressed into service aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge (Blackbeard's ship) to find the Fountain of Youth.  The twist here is that there are two cups: one takes life, the other gives it.  You only get as many years as the person giving life would have lived had they been healthy.  Or something.  So no immortal life here either.
Indiana Jones
At the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Nazi leader's face melts off in a glorious display of stop-motion animation.
Blackbeard's face (and entire body) is melted to bones by the fountain's waters in a pretty neat display of CGI animation (but nothing "glorious").

There ARE some other comparisons, but those are the most obvious and direct.  I'm not saying that in a bad way - these probably made for a more entertaining movie than if they weren't there at all.  And actually, these really are just conventions of the Adventure genre itself - it's just that they bare a remarkable similarity in particular to Indiana Jones.

I could say more about the elaborate Jackescape moments in the film (almost every scene involving Jack is, in some way, a large set-up for him to perform a grand escape), but I'd rather talk about the good things - of which there are actually quite a few.  First good thing: this movie is loads better than Pirates 2 or 3 (though still not as good as the original).

Captain Barbossa, I think, is just about everybody's actual favourite character (I'm not talking about the fans who are kids, mind you).  This guy is given a huge depth of character that Jack never gets.  Consider: Barbossa, rather than let himself be taken along with his ship by Blackbeard, cuts off his own leg to escape.  Branded by most as a coward, he joins the winning side - the Imperial Navy - and gains command of another ship.  A ship that he wants primarily as a vessel (pardon the pun) for his revenge.  He doesn't care at all about the Fountain of Youth, or anybody else - his goal is to kill Blackbeard.

That seems shallow, but remember what I said - he gave up his life of piracy to join the Imperial Navy.  You could argue that he only did so to preserve his life, but he also shows that he follows the rules (for the most part).  A lot of why he wants to be a pirate has to do with the freedom to do whatever the hell he wants.  Only once he is away from the King's court does he show his true colours as a fierce Captain (who is still loyal to his crew, Navy or otherwise).

What history does Jack get?  Nothing solid or concrete.  Jack is definitely a coward, though no one has the guts to say so.  Consider: it's revealed in Pirates 2 (or 3?) that the only reason he ever had the Black Pearl was because he exchanged a life of servitude for 10 years of captaining the Black Pearl.  Jack may appear smart, but he's not captain material.  He is often shown as clumsy and dim-witted, and the only reason it looks like it's all a ruse is because he's written that way.  He's just clever and charismatic - and yet, not quite good enough to keep a hold of his boats.

Watch all four movies, and tell me which character is a true captain - Jack, or Barbossa?  True, Jack is more fun to watch, but Barbossa seems to be the only one who actually knows what he's doing.

Oh look at the time - I've spent too much of it talking about one subject.  This means the review is too long.  Okay - the other good thing is Hanz Zimmer doing another wonderful score.  Very consistent, and familiar.  Exactly what you need for a franchise.

Lastly, I discovered that the movie was based "loosely" on a fantasy novel from the 1980s, On Stranger Tides.  I fully intend to read this at some point this year, and will report back on similarities beyond the title character (who adopts the name Jack Shandy).

In closing: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides doesn't hold a candle to the first movie, but is an improvement upon the other two films.  Worth watching on the big screen, but probably not until it hits the discount theatres (if you're on the fence about it).  A fun romp through the world of pirates.  And the world of Pirates, I suppose.  Be warned though: there are clear set ups for sequels at the end and plenty of callbacks to earlier movies.  If you don't like that sort of thing, that is.

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