Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Pirates 3 Report Card

The characters in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End – scores of them – all look disheveled. They have ratty hair, mottled skin, glazed eyes, scars and wounds, dirt under their fingernails, tears on their clothes – even their eyes are bloodshot. The attention to detail from the makeup artists is staggering. And its time well spent – because more than the plot, the special effects, the characters or their quirks – Pirates 3 gets its mojo from the way everyone looks on film.

The predecessors of Pirates 3 – The Curse of the Black Pearl and Dead Man’s Chest – made billions for Disney. They both ignited the marquee careers of Orland Bloom and Keira Knightley and fulfilled the box office destiny of Johnny Depp. All of this left director Gore Verbinski with a lot of money to make this third part (by most accounts 60% of principal photography was done while filming Part 2). And Verbinski puts that cash to good use – his ambition is impressive. He’ll often stick a 2 minute sequence that probably cost him millions.

As a movie – Pirates 3 is quite a sight to behold. It’s sprawling – subplots appear and magically disappear without propelling the story forward in any way. Mystery, danger, gross-out horror, romance, comedy and tragedy are all passed around – sometimes as Hail Mary passes or in short bursts.

And I think this roiling mass confounds movie critics. They don’t know quite what to make of it. Fortunately I’m not a critic – just someone who watches movies and writes about them. And that allowed me to enjoy Pirates 3 whole heartedly.

In the spirit of full disclosure – I’ve always been a sucker for the Disneyland ride that forms the origins of the movie. It always brings out the child in me whenever I sit in the boat and get past the initial wobble. And Pirates 3, like 1 and 2 before it, will occasionally tilt its very large head to the ride either by replicating an experience or plugging in a wink-wink sequence.

Much has been said of Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the films (Keith Richards, who was one of the inspirations for the characters does a cameo here as Sparrow Sr.). But what’s critical here is that Depp is reunited with his ally – Geoffrey Rush - in mining the camp in the movie. Rush plays undead captain Barbossa as an opportunistic crook who ironically enough lets sanity be his moral compass. He is a delight to watch in the movie – rescuing important, delicate scenes on numerous occasions.

Keira Knightley looks fabulous and wisely plays her role by the numbers. Orlando Bloom looks fabulous and desperately needs help – he is fast becoming a limp noodle who acts by primarily changing the size of his eyes.

To try and keep things fresh, Verbinski pushes the envelope at key junctures in the movie – the riskiest one among them being a sequence that involves multiple Sparrows and a sea of crabs. Yet he’s not afraid to resort to slapstick humor –I can’t recall the last time monkey jokes worked in a movie – or turn to the wonderful Naomie Harris to spout out increasingly chuckle-worthy notifications of impending doom in a broad Jamaican accent.

Pirates 3 will likely polarize its audience – its closeness to Pirates 2 in terms of structure and thrill mechanisms will wear on quite a few moviegoers. But if you went in expecting less – you’d have been disappointed as well. The movie clearly keeps its most enthusiastic fans in its sights and hopes the rest will follow.

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