Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Pirates of the Carribean: Part I

I took a bit of a break since I looked at A Scanner Darkly. During that break, I saw the next big blockbuster, and I think it's worth discussing. That blockbuster, ladies and gentlemen, is the new Pirates of the Carribean.

In the spirit of trilogies, I'm going to write two more entries on this movie. The next will be on Tia Dalma, the brilliant voodoo witch character and black archetypes in contemporary cinema, and the second will be on the connection between Pirates II and H.P. Lovecraft. First, though, I'm giving a general overview of Pirates II, along with a response to the most common criticisms that have been leveled at it.

I'd like to lead off with a lovely quote from Tom Long of the Detroit News:

"Yes, it's brightly colored carnival fun. But this ride, in the end, only goes round and round and round. Which is ultimately more ho-hum than ho-ho-ho."

It's more "ho-hum than ho-ho-ho"? First of all, Mr. Long, you're reviewing a Pirate movie, not a Santa Clause movie. If you put a "Yo" at the beginning of your colloquialism, it would make a little more sense. Aside from that, though: unfortunately, Long's review is no less fluffy than the movie he's reviewing. He repeatedly points out that Pirates II is "one whale of an amusement ride" with stunts and effects that are "crazy cool." Then, without explaining what he was looking for in this movie, he goes on to tell us that we may find ourselves "missing certain things."

Obviously, Tom Long doesn't know me very well.

When you've got a two-hour summer movie that ends on a total cliffhanger, the last thing you want is the drag of emotional exchange. Somehow, after this monster of a movie, I was still feeling fresh and ready for the third chapter, and that's what you get when you keep things moving in a film like this.

So here are a few things I liked, and one in particular (a minor point) I didn't like:

PRO #1: As much as Long would like to portray this movie as a high-seas action movie romp, it had some compellingly dark edges. The dead sailors in the shipwrecks were mad and creepy, the pathos of Bootstrap Bill was genuinely tragic, the mayhem wrought by the Kraken was extensive, and Davey's heart was gut-wrenchingly realistic.

PRO #2: Pintel and Ragetti. These goofballs conducted a mockingly philosophic sideshow that I genuinely enjoyed. They were among those resurrected from the original Pirates with a strikingly different role to play: in their case, it was a "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern" dialouge that paid homage to the lack of deep thought in pirate-land.

PRO #3: Character design. Despite all Depp's interesting roles (Once Upon a Time in Mexico comes to mind), he's never looked cooler than he did with eyes painted on his eyelids. The Hammerhead and Puffer Fish pirates were pure gold, and Tia Dalma's black teeth and red eyes... well... tune in later for more commentary.

CON: There WAS one place where this movie lost me: one of the primary conflicts was Jack Sparrow's challenge to prove his moral worth. I'm all for this type of conflict of character, but Disney never convinced me that Sparrow was all that bad in the first place. Whether in this film or in its predecessor, I was never too concerned about Jack's moral character. He's a rogue, but he's no villain, so the film sputtered as it was trying to build up his big moral moment (which will presumably come in the third film).

As per its middle-stage status? Pirates worked as a "popcorn flick," and its quick, almost subliminal pace made it work well as a transitional movie. Tom Long makes the jump of comparing it negatively with The Matrix Reloaded, which I thought was another great middle-child movie. I'll have to comment on Reloaded in another blog post, because I think it more than deserves a strong voice in its defense. At any rate, the sudden ending of Pirates II was ballsy, and it took me right off guard. I actually wasn't aware that Disney was planning a trilogy, so when the credit screen jumped up I practically passed out. This film made me more than ready for a third, and I hope the next one concludes this series the way it should be: as another two hours of "brightly colored carnival fun."

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