MOVIE ANALYSIS: PotC, Dead Man's Chest, Part 2
Yar! Yesterday Therese and I dished about the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie. We agreed that the plot was preposterous, but that we didn't care because we loved the humor and the characters. We continue our discussion below.
KB: Let's talk about that last scene in DMC, the one where Captain Barbossa shows up crunching into an apple (which I guess means he's human again), and he goes from being an antagonist into a protagonist in one fell swoop because now he's the only one who can save Captain Jack Sparrow from the Kraken. It got me thinking about character reversals and how Gore Verbinski and his confederates of mayhem take our characters from the first movie and spin them 180 to make them fresh for the second movie. Elizabeth Swan's a bit of a hussy now. Shipshape Commodore Norrington is a puking drunk. Will's become the thing he hated most in the last movie: a pirate. Now there's a whole new cast of fresh characters familiar enough that they don't have to spend a lot of time setting them up. These guys are pretty fearless when it comes to mixing up expectations. What did you think?
TW: I loved that antagonists in Pirates I were protagonists here--friends of Jack, and in the end Will and Elizabeth, and willing to fight against Davey Jones and company. I think the fresh spin on character was essential to making this movie work. We saw them–Norrington, Elizabeth—evolve like real people do when tested in new ways. It made the movie more believable to me, despite the campy fantasy elements, and it gave the whole thing a richer flavor. It's intriguing that Elizabeth wanted a taste of piracy (literally) and that really no one in the film came off as one-dimensional. I guess the only thing the writers did in the name of being fearless that I question is their playing with the life-death stuff. When someone dies, shouldn't they stay dead? I mean, Pirates isn’t supposed to play like As the World Turns, is it? Kind of makes it impossible for the protagonists to ever succeed--at least in this kind of setting. Oh, wait. There's death, and then there's REAL death, naturally. Heh. Oh, yeah, and no one in my party understood that dice game. Thoughts?
KB: I didn't get the dice game either, but that was one of the many kooky asides I brushed off. Maybe they'll explain it in the extended DVD version. But you bring up a good point. If people get killed or come back to life with impunity, it undercuts the tension. Why worry that Jack Sparrow gets eaten by a Kraken if he's just going to be voodoo'd back to life? As much as I loved Captain Barbossa, dead should be dead.
TW: Right. And, hey, his monkey is about the funniest undead monkey I’ve ever seen, and perhaps the most interesting secondary character.
KB: I LOVED the monkey, though I wondered how it was that he remained a zombie when the others became human again. I guess that's just another one of those pesky loose threads :-) I wanted to talk about the Norrington character for a moment. In the first movie, I was impressed the way the writers steered clear of cliches (he's Will's rival for the affections of Elizabeth Swan) and made him a decent man who was trying to do his job of ridding the world of pirates. In the second movie we see him punished for an act of mercy, his career's in the toilet and he's become a drunk. Basically he's running the darker edge of Will Turner's dilemma, forced to become the thing he despises--a pirate. By the end of Part Two, we don't know if he's going to turn on pirates or become one. I'm more invested in this thread than even the "save Jack from the Kraken" plot because what's at stake for Norrington is a universal human desire: redemption. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Jack Davenport looks strangely hot covered in vomit.
TW: Ewwwww! LOL! I suddenly feel the need to shower for four hours! But that’s a great analysis of Norrington. It’ll be interesting to see how his character evolves in part III; he seems close to the edge of his humanity as it is. It brings up another point: stretching characters to their limits. The writers are testing Norrington’s, and it makes for great drama. They’re testing Boostrap’s character, too—how much is he willing to sacrifice for his son? They’re testing Will’s love for his fiancé. They’re testing Elizabeth; Will with a little Jack on the side, or vice versa? What a quandary! And then there’s Jack. A man who can choose to do the right thing…sometimes. “I love those moments,” he says. “I like to wave at them as they pass by.”
KB: Hee. Luuurve Jack Sparrow.
TW: Ditto! Anyway, I think the movie definitely benefited from the stretch treatment. In a way, doing it took the characters out of the box created in flick #1.
KB: YES! The writers really are fearless when it comes to playing with our expectations. What will be the limits of Davy Jones' character? Barbossa's? The new villain (Cutler Beckett)? And therein lies the success of these movies, IMO. We care about these characters to the point where we'll tolerate any stupid plot device just to see what they'll do when pushed to their limits. Good storytelling always boils down to good characterization.
TW: You just reminded me of a fun side note to add. Did you notice that Cutler Beckett was played by Tom Hollander, the same man who played Lizzy's cousin Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice? It was funny to see Keira staring down her nose at him again.
KB: I kept thinking that too! Though this time it was fun to watch Hollander put her in her place. I think that guy's adorable even when he's being evil. Speaking of, one of the great things about the movie is the way they took stereotypes and freshened them for modern audiences. For example, Jack Sparrow. He's the classic pirate who could have easily teetered into boring stereotype. But Johnny Depp freshened him with a weird accent and the writer's freshened his motivation by making him the Trickster archetype (they talk about this in the extended DVD version, for those interested) and playing with expectation. One never knows if Sparrow's an idiot or a genius, or just a lucky bastard, but whenever he's on the screen I hold my breath because I never know what he's going to do next. Another character stereotype they freshened: Barbossa. The writers give this character the classic pirate lingo but it's done with a wink so we know that they're getting the joke too. It's a fiendishly hard line to walk, but they pull it off.
TW: Speaking of turned-on-head stereotypes, Elizabeth was acting--and looking--as much a pirate as the boyz this time around, and it played so well because really we didn't know what she would do next. Her motivations are a mystery to me at this point.
KB: I admit, I was a little repelled by that face-sucking scene with Johnny Depp.
TW: Yeah, I'm a little pissed at Liz. I mean, c'mon! Orlando. Orlando. Orlando.
KB: I didn't think they needed to go there. But it did add conflict. And of course, Will's eyes puddled an adorable pain-filled brown.
TW: Ah, conflict, yes. I guess the last thing I want to touch on is the great balance the film had. There were loads of comic moments (“I don’t give an at’s rass…”) and poignant ones (Will’s pain as he watched his fiancé suck face with a pirate – and then later decide to put her life on the line in order to retrieve said pirate). There was plenty of action (three-way sword fight anyone? In a mill wheel?) and devious plottery (mostly involving Davey Jones). And everyone had a unique motivation, it seemed--fighting for your father, lover, soul, honor, guilt or the fear of a lost love—which kept the pace clicking away beautifully. What did you think?
KB: The pace was blistering manic. It rolled onward like a Mac truck until we got to the end of the cliff--to the cliffhanger. Speaking of, we touched a little bit about cliffhangers yesterday, but really, these guys did one heck of a cliffhanger. Almost Peter Jackson-esque, if you will. So there's a lesson for writers who want to do series: leave the protagonists in peril, and make it unexpected. I never thought they'd bring back Barbossa. But I was never privy to the laws of voodoo magic, so it came out of left field for me. But I loved it because I loved the character.
TW: Leave 'em wanting more. They definitely did that. By the way, I'm typing this while listening to a great Pirate CD called Pegleg Tango by Captain Bogg and Salty. It's a lot of fun, and a recommended listen for lovers of all-things-pirate. Like my children. Ahem. Anywhoo, it's time to go swab some decks here and check to be sure my crew isn't trashing the ship. Final words?
KB: Nope, there's a little turbulence on my end as well. Till next time, me heartie! Yar!