May 26, 2007

Pirates Of The Caribbean 3: At World's End (5/26/07)

Lettergrade: B

I know I'm in the minority on this, but I'm one of the few who thought that Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest, was a better, more dynamic movie than the first one. I've been crankier and more cynical toward big summer blockbusters over the last couple years, but have found both Dead Man's Chest and this new one, Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End, to be imaginative and terribly exciting. Like its two predecessors, At World's End is pretty damn long with some remarkably dense plotting. Fortunately, it's also quite entertaining.

The story is a direct continuation of the events of Dead Man's Chest. If you haven't seen it, you won't know what the hell is going on in this one. Even if you have, you might be at a loss at times to explain what exactly is happening. This is a movie where pretty much each character has his / her own objective, and is constantly telling vague partial-truths, making side-deals with enemies (and then deals upon those deals), and double crossing everyone else. I have spent a good deal of time talking with Laura about who was trying to do what to whom during which part of the film over the last couple days, and I'm still not convinced I have it all figured out.

The spoiler-free synopsis is that East India Trading Company sales-rep Lord Cutler Beckett -- the evil asshole who set the events of part 2 in motion by busting up Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley's wedding -- continues to round up and eradicate pirate-kind from the face of the earth. Thanks to the climax of Dead Man's Chest, he now has the disembodied heart of Davy Jones, and can make Jones (voiced by a scenery gnawing Bill Nighy) and his ship of damned-sailors-mutated-into-supernatural-sea-life help him do it. Meanwhile, Knightley, Bloom, and Geoffrey Rush (as Captain Barbosa, who died in the first movie) stage an expedition to rescue Johnny Depp from Davy Jones' Locker (which is sort of like Hell / Purgatory / Utah). Assuming they are successful and make it back to the Land of the Living, they then must find a way to save their people from extermination and kick the collective ass of the East India Trading Company. A good deal of the pleasure of watching this movie comes from seeing how the characters and plot threads from Dead Man's Chest payoff, so I won't divulge much more.

The remarkable thing is that somehow the Pirates of the Caribbean flicks have managed to capture more of the feeling of the classic Star Wars movies than the new Star Wars movies did. The big difference is that Pirates gives Han Solo and Boba Fett more attention than Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, which I certainly won't complain about.

Two key things, however, have somewhat hurt all three movies in the series for me: The first is that the screenplays are written as if every single character is memorable and vitally important. I saw part 2 with my friend Tom, who leaned over to me part way through and asked who the hell some of the people in the movie are and if we, the audience, are supposed to know them. Although I had the benefit of having watched part 1 again recently, I had a bit of trouble recalling who everyone was myself.

The second drag is flair for excess. At World's End is nearly 3 hours, and much like parts 1 and 2 there are sequences that are a bit more bulky than they probably need to be. I was sort of hoping that there would be something in part 3 that would explain why we needed the 25 minute sequence on Cannibal Island in part 2, but nope. The filmmakers seem to be staunch believers in the more-is-more philosophy of filmmaking, which I suppose is fine is you have the time and money, but I really do believe that there's a diminishing returns theory that comes into play when movies get this lengthy. You don't enjoy the end as much because you're so wiped out from the middle. More often than not, I feel it is more effective to pace things on the modest side and let the audience walk away wanting more. But then, no one's paying me to make these things, so maybe I should keep my yap shut.

The movie was directed by Gore Verbinski, who in addition to making the other two pictures, was responsible for Mousehunt, The Mexican, The Ring, and those commercials from years back featuring alcoholic frogs who promote Budweiser products. While he undeniably has great skill for staging elaborate scenes and getting pretty images on film, I'm still not convinced he has the best story sense. All the films mentioned above (as well as Pirates of the Caribbean 1: The Curse of the Black Pearl) have really suffered from the same overindulgence issues that I think have harmed these last two movies.

When it comes down to it, though, it's hard to deny how well-made these things are, and how pleasurable they are to watch. At its heart, At World's End is a classic Hollywood spectacle; an amazing achievement in set design, visual effects artistry, elaborate staging, and popcorn moviemaking. Pacing issues aside, it's rare for a movie to try to do something so elaborate these days, and to pull it off as well as it is done here.

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