Saturday, May 21, 2011

Film Fest Outing - Pirates!

A film review in two parts of the latest Pirates of the Caribbean - On Stranger Tides.

PART ONE, AS TICKET BUYER - Fun!  It's got Jack Sparrow and Barbosa and Mr. Gibbs and Penelope Cruse as a pirate; it's got exciting chases and sword fights; it's got as much plot as needed and more clarity than the last Pirates flicks; and some wonderful new ideas, like the fate of the Pearl and the way mermaids are envisioned.  Oh, I'd absolutely recommend buying a ticket for a couple amusing hours in the cool and dark of your nearest movie theater...


(MILD SPOILERS)  I think the film's creators made one terrible omission: they left out most of the comedy.  No humorous pairs of pirates (that wooden eye!) no pairs of Laurel-N-Hardy soldiers.  No really comic side-kicks, few really characterful character actors - and those were serious-ish.  Less funny talk, fewer quips, less ridiculousness all around.  I hadn't quite realized this, but it's the quirky background world I enjoyed - as much as the adventure - in the first three movies.

New characters in this film (like a mermaid and a religious junior-romantic-lead) are well done, but they're serious folk with serious problems.  Blackbeard and his daughter are serious-minded.  Mr. Gibbs is subdued this time - even the monkey has a one-note part.  And Jack Sparrow?  He's himself, bless 'im, but not as loony as before, or so it seems, because there's not a single character who's properly exasperated by him.   Bugs Bunny without Elmer Fudd.
Ponce de Leon at the Fountain of Youth - believed public domain

PART TWO, AS A DESIGNER - My overall feeling is of opportunities missed.

The zombie idea was hardly used: mentioned, but no zombie jokes, not even a handshake with a hand left behind, nothin'!  (Go watch Shaun of the Dead.)  The mermaid idea is more developed (lovely special effects), but after the first minutes they are treated as mundane.  The logistics of coping with a mermaid prisoner on a hike are... well, cheated, I think.  So much opportunity for complications and comedy!  Only a couple of these were used - resolved in a mundane way.  Heck, we didn't even see anybody turn youthful!  As a designer, I just itch to step in (years ago) and point this out to the film's creators.

The production design effects me this way too.  The ropes on Blackbeard's ship are cool - otherwise it's standard issue pirate ship.  (Standard for this world - it's beautifully done, of course.)  London is wonderfully period, but not heightened or quirky...  Where are Florida's swamps?  Is it not Florida?  The swamp as we approached Tia Dalma's hut and then her hut, held a LOT more visual and story interest than anything in this film, including the Fountain of Youth.  Mind you, I have no idea how you'd improve this setting... but it's The Fountain of Youth!  It's given a nice environ, but the Fountain looked corporate-plaza-plop-art to me.  I tell you, my fingers itch - Itch! - to correct this.

But I'll watch the next flick.

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