MOVIE ANALYSIS: Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man's Chest
This summer, Therese and I let our brain cells take a break to go see the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Our writers' minds got to working on how director Gore Verbinski and crew took a classic genre movie, updated it, and made this unlikely story a box-office juggernaut. Therese and I loved the first Pirates movie, and that love had nothing to do with Johnny Depp or Orlando Bloom. It was the storytelling that hooked us.
TW: Yeah, right.
KB: What was that?
TW: Oh, nothin'. Carry on, carry on.
KB: Ahem. I saw PotC II when it released mostly because there was nothing else playing that weekend, fully expecting it was going to be a dog. Instead I was delightfully surprised. It's a wacky story that's frankly a little garbled, but I didn't care because I fell in love with all the characters, from the lead protagonists to the most minor pirates. In fact, I was very impressed with the way the secondary characters were handled with such care. What about you, what did it for you?
TW: I almost always use Rotten Tomatoes to gauge whether or not a movie is going to be worthwhile, and this one was riding at about 60% for the good so I took the chance. I'm so glad I did. Though I wouldn't say the movie was fresh, it was definitely entertaining (and I love Johnny Depp's Capt. Jack Sparrow). I wondered how they were going to open the movie up, get the tension rolling. Their answer: delete the Happily Ever After implicit in
the last movie ASAP via an interrupted wedding, a pirate on the run (again), a threatened jail sentence and a little blackmail thrown in for good measure. The character goals were firmly in place within about ten minutes. What did you think of the plot?
KB: Truthfully, I thought the plot was stupid. Davey Jones wants
Jack's soul? Dudes, couldn't they have gone with Blackbeard or something less preposterous? But I didn't care because I loved the characters so much. Using Davey Jones signaled that the movie was going to be High Camp Pirate. If one wants to think of the Davey Jones plot device critically, it does what it's supposed to. Stakes are high. The antagonist is almost impossible to overcome. Scary pirate-squids. Gross-outs for the PG-13 teeneyboppers. What did you think?
TW: Yeah, you had to buy into that whole thing. Great special effects for Davey Jones, though! You’re right about the high stakes: they couldn’t get much higher. Jack’s going to lose his life? Will’s father is in purgatory? The wedding is off? Maybe for good? Elizabeth and Will might both be jailed? Gasp! The evolution of the plot reminded me of an Indiana Jones flick – one goal (retrieve Jack’s compass) that walks the entire plot. Several threads that could’ve been developed fell into storytelling oblivion, and there was a lot of suspension of belief. Like, whatever happened to Jack needing to cull 100 souls to save his own? We didn’t see Jack even try after his one attempt at some port, though we picked up a character at that port, so maybe that was the sole goal of that plot point. I hope not; it seems they should’ve done something more with that. Maybe the next movie? And how was it that Will was able to find Jack in about 30 seconds when the antagonists hadn’t had any luck at all?
KB: LOL, I was thinking the same thing! But I guess if you're turning into a barnacle or octopus, it'd be hard to find your hands on the ends of your arms let alone a wiley pirate like Jack! Snorf. One thing that was a plus about the Davey Jones thread was that Will got to meet his father. This is what I mean about the production team paying attention to the secondary characters...I was really intrigued with the subplot of Will and his father Bootstrap. I cared about them, I wanted them to come to an understanding. I did NOT have any emotional investment in Davey Jones' heart being taken away from him. Why? With the single exception of a pained look from Bill Nighy, there really wasn't any emotional connection for the audience over his lost love. They could have given us a brief scene about Davey at the moment of his loss. We would have connected his humanity to his goal of keeping his heart close--why was it in the box again? So I think they blew it there. I definitely would have traded a little character development for less of Johnny Depp mugging the screen. Thoughts?
TW: I loved Bootstrap Bill, too, and it was great/bittersweet that he and Will were reunited. On your point about Davey Jones’ heart, I read a super article the other day about developing empathy for characters called “Save the Cat!” by Blake Snyder. It’s gold, truly. Anyway, I think the screenwriters will probably bump up the Davey-in-love part of the tale in part 3…because you know there’s going to be a Pirates III next summer. Which brings up another point: the writers did a great job with the cliffhangers. Not as bad as Han Solo being left in the deep freeze, but still! I can hang on for a year and wonder whether or not Will and company will find Jack on the other side of the world, whether they'll save him and Will's father, whether Davey finds his heart (and whether we begin to care), whether Will wins back the love of his wayward fiancé, etc… Also, I’m interested to learn what the deal is with the East India Trading Company. Notice how Jack sprinkled his armpits with spices before he was almost roasted by the natives? What was the spice doing with a bunch of natives anyway? Interesting story questions still hanging out there. What did you think?
KB: That was a killer last scene, I'll admit. My main curiosity is how they're going to explain how Captain Barbossa has returned from the dead. Voodoo? Davey Jones didn't want him? And what about Jack? He'll have to live in the belly of the Kraken for part three. They've left lots of threads dangling for the next installment, setting up the evil 18th century corporate villain, the East India Company, Norrington's revenge, and Elizabeth and Will's happiness. Very smart.
TW: My children squealed when Barbossa came on screen. That was brilliant! Everyone left the theatre with a smile.
Tomorrow we dish more on the importance of secondary characters, cliffhangers, freshening up stereotypes for a modern audience, balance and more!