Friday, July 07, 2006


Let me state for the record that I loved the original PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie. From the very beginning, when we see Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow sailing into Port on a sinking ship and bribing the guard, I knew I was in for a good time. A summary of the film reads like the memorable description of The Princess Bride: pirates, duels, fear, death, true love... In short, there was swash and there was buckle and there was rum. A good time was had by all. If you take all these characteristics and negate them, you have the essentials of the sequel, Dead Man’s Chest.

But first, let’s glory for a moment in the good parts of the film. First off, the production design is lavish and glorious. Pirates are grimy, locals are exotic, ships creak, waves roar, and the un-dead morph into sea-beasties. It’s everything we expect from a big-budget summer crowd-pleaser. The second good thing is the casting, which is at worst good and at best brilliant.
Keira Knightley is a good sport and brings her usual vim to the role of Elizabeth Swann – the Governor’s daughter who secretly wants to be a pirate. Admittedly, she is wearing less realistic hair extensions than in the first film(!) but I rather liked the development of her character into a horny teenager tempted by the scoundrelous Sparrow. Who wouldn’t find the flaccid goody-two-shoes, Will Turner, a turn-off? Poor Orlando Bloom reprises his role as the Elizabeth’s fiancé. His acting role is reduced to looking put-upon and being the good guy, cuckolded in spirit if not in fact. But he does his best. Indeed, all the British character actors - Tom Hollander, Jonathan Pryce and Jack Davenport, Mackenzie Crook - turn out sterling performances in what are often cameo roles with limited potential. Special praise must go to Bill Nighy and Naomi Harris. Nighy manages to be almost sympathetic as the villain of the piece, Davy Jones, despite looking like an octopus. And Naomi Harris is utterly convincing and captivating as the witch, Tia Dalma. Finally, of course, we have Johnny Depp reprising his role as Captain Jack – the scoundrelous pirate.

Okay, so now on to the manifold problems. To summarise: the film is too long; the narrative arc is confused; the movie rips off Star Wars; there is too much angst and too little piracy.

At two and a half hours, DEAD MAN’S CHEST is longer than any summer block-buster should ever be and could happily lose an hour. It’s full of little segments which while full of spectacular CGI do not advance the plot one iota. For instance, we spend about 15 minutes early on the movie on a segment where Will Turner is searching for Jack Sparrow on a tropical island. Will is captured by natives who are straight out of Peter Jackson’s
KING KONG. But the blatant rip-off doesn’t stop there. Turner is roped to a wooden pole, Luke Skywalker-style and taken before the natives new god-incarnate – Jack Sparrow. Now Jack, who is also a captive, must decide Will’s fate, clearly ripping off the C3PO and the Ewok’s plot strand in STAR WARS EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI. The whole segment is meant to be fun, and there is the odd frame of visual humour. But apart from being a blatant rip-off, it doesn’t take the audience any further along the story.

And believe me, a bit of obvious plot signalling would have been nice, because this is one of the most confused and bloated narratives I have seen. The basic idea is that a lot of different people are after Davy Jones’ chest. Davy Jones is the un-dead spirit of the sea who captains a ship of the damned and commands the vicious sea-beast – the Cracken. The chest represents bargaining power over Davy – whether to rescue a loved-one, repay a debt or open up the Atlantic to trade(!) So we see people run after Jack’s compass, which will direct them to the key to the chest, or straightforwardly to the key, or indeed the chest, or its contents. The movie hasn’t just got one
MacGuffin – it’s got four! The sad part is that the characters don’t just get on with chasing after this stuff but get side-tracked doing other stuff, like ripping off King Kong. This leaves no time for anything as obvious as, say, hijacking a ship or being hunted down by the British navy. In short, there is not much actual piracy in the second movie.

But let’s get back to the blatant rip-off of Star Wars. The blatant stealing from Star Wars goes beyond the C3PO and the Ewoks segment. While on Davy Jones’ ship, Will meets his father, played brilliantly Stellan Skarsgård. Papa Turner has been condemned to servitude to the evil Davy Jones for staging the mutiny against Jack. Although he abandoned Will to go pirating, Will still sees “good in him” and vows to rescue him. Do you see where we are going with this? An evil slave master controlling the father who must be redeemed by the son. I swear that at the point where Davy Jones makes Bootstrap Bill Turner scourge his own son, Will, all I could think of was the Emperor telling Vader to destroy Luke on the Death Star. And it doesn’t end there. In the climactic scene, the Black Pearl is under attack from the Cracken and Captain Jack has abandoned his crew-mates to their fate. However, it classic Han Solo in Episode IV style he returns to the ship just in time to help Will and Elizabeth blow up the Death Star kill the Cracken. Could it get any cheesier than the bullet-time shot of his decisive stroke?!

Which brings me to my general point that there is too much angst and not enough swashbuckling. The original movie succeeded because Captain Jack was a devil-may-care rogue. Turning him into a nice guy subverts the pleasure of the franchise. There is too much soul-searching and not enough humour! Yes, humour. The humour, where it exists, relies on Captain Jack being ambushed my baddies and uttering “Oh, bugger” in a mockney accent. It’s funny the first time, less so the fifth, and anyway, haven’t we done that to death with

So to summarise, this movie combines a bloated and over-complicated plot with a subversion of the roguish nature of Captain Jack Sparrow. What we get is a beautifully rendered series of spectacles with no narrative drive and little emotional impact. I didn’t laugh. I was not entertained. I want my money back.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST is on release in the US, UK, France and Australia. It goes on release in Finland, Sweden and Israel on July 12th. It opens in Brazil on July 21st, Austria and Germany on July 27th and Spain on August 11th 2006.


  1. Bit harsh there Bina? DMC is flawed for sure and way too long but if you've invested in the characters (especially one as great as Sparrow) then I think you can take some enjoyment of their antics in this movie...
    or not - obvioulsy

  2. Seriously, I cannot describe to you how much I felt disappointed by this movie. I had so much invested in Sparrow it became all the more tragic to see his balls chopped off.

  3. The funniest thing that happened in this film was gravity. Utter shite. You should have panned it more, not less.

  4. I was thoroughly dissapointed by the movie. What a waste of $215 Million. But it was a good business product, totally focused on the pre and early teens (and I have seen them go to the theater in droves )