Sunday, June 10, 2007

At Wits' End After Recent "Pirates" Movie

I feel like I’ve been cast adrift in a dinghy with minimal provisions after watching the latest Disney “Pirates” movie.
It was one of the popcorn films I knew I’d end up seeing this summer at some point, not because it was at the top of my to-see list, but because my wife was looking forward to it. I enjoyed “Curse of the Black Pearl” immensely, but “Dead Man’s Chest” left me singing “ho-hum” instead of “yo-ho”, so I wasn’t itching like a sailor who’s been at sea too long to see “At World’s End”.
Admittedly, the third installment in the “Pirates” franchise (based on the Disney theme park ride) had its moments. The special effects were top-notch, the stunts and fight sequences were cool, and the humour lubricated the film enough to help me get past the armada of things that didn’t work.
And there were many.
Worst of all was the convoluted story: betrayals, defections, misunderstandings, secrets and strange mythologies were flying around like deck and hull fragments in a naval battle. Why bring sea goddesses, pirate lords, pirate kings, pirate code keepers and the like into the mix? Why begin the film with the main characters skulking around Asia, leaving out so much backstory that I spent the first 15 minutes of the movie trying to piece together what had supposedly happened between the end of “Dead Man’s Chest” and the beginning of “At World’s End”? If the writers, directors and producers had kept the story simple – how to get Jack Sparrow back from the dead, eliminate the threat of Davy Jones and the East India Company boss and arrange for Will and Elizabeth to finally tie the knot – the movie would have been on par with the first installment. It’s almost like they were afraid the audience was tired of the franchise and that they had to cram all the “cool” ideas they had for another four or five films into this one, just in case they didn’t get the chance to make any more (despite some rumours that more films are potentially in the works).
All of that was manageable until the final battle sequence, when all logic was forced to walk the plank and I followed it, bailing on any further enjoyment of the movie. Now, I’m just like most of you out there: I have very little patience for weasely little fanboys who sit there and use technicalities to bitch about a movie and tear it to pieces when said presentation is a work of fantasy. BUT (there’s always a but, and in my case, it’s fairly large) what I do want to see, what is a true hallmark of skill in writing a fantasy film, is that the film is logically consistent within itself.
For example, during “Curse of the Black Pearl”, when Sparrow and Turner decide to steal a Royal Navy ship to pursue the Black Pearl, they have their choice of two vessels and, quite rationally, they make off with the smaller one. Why? Because they can’t manage a large ship-of-the-line with only two men, and because the smaller ship, being smaller, was much faster. The film, though a fantasy (how many undead pirates have you seen stomping around your local harbour these days?), generally stuck with reason when it came to this aspect of seamanship. At another point in the film, those listening to the tale of Sparrow’s escape from an island were quick to question the believability of a man lashing two sea turtles together with his own hair and riding them to port.
But in the final act of “At World’s End”, all logic is forgotten. They’re not even trying any more. Case in point: the slugfest where Sparrow and Turner, each in command of a ship, take on Endeavour, presumably a Royal Navy vessel (but let’s just say British from now on, in case someone wants to take issue with me and claim the ship, even of that size and firepower, was privately owned by the East India Company), that would appear to be first rate, maybe second rate in its line position. Initially, the two pirate vessels are running perpendicular to Endeavour – okay, that would be a prudent navel tactic a smart captain would be aware of and, in fact, prefer: “crossing the T”. It would allow both pirate vessels to fire off broadsides, using maximum firepower, against Endeavour’s bow, allowing the British vessel to use only the minimal weaponry in the bow against both ships. The Brits would have taken a brutal beating. Something that would sit well with any pirate. Did they do it? Nope. They came about, flanking Endeavour and went broadside-to-broadside. Why is this so dumb? Because Endeavour’s broadside firepower so clearly (just look at the side of the ship) massively overmatches either the Black Pearl or Turner’s ship, that both pirate vessels would have been torn to pieces. Doesn’t happen though. Our merry band of seagoing scofflaws must triumph. We also see Endeavour quite literally blown to pieces after just one pass by the two attacking pirate ships. Now, I’m no historical naval expert, but I have read a little about warships of the time, and they were built fairly tough. Even after a beating like that, Endeavour should have at least been afloat, if not battleworthy. Oh, and why did it take such a pounding? Because it’s captain/admiral/whatever, stood around waiting for the East India Company bad guy to give the order to fire. Odds of a senior naval officer, no matter how incompetent, allowing that to happen: almost, if not, zero. But the pirates must have their day. And then, when the flagship goes down, the fleet of several dozen British vessels turns tail and flees from the much smaller pirate fleet. Uh-huh. But if the boats full of robbers, rapists and murderers don’t win, it’s not an American summer blockbuster. Again, I really don’t like to be one of those technical fanboys pissing on a fantasy movie’s campfire, but really, this film could’ve been saved if it would have kept some reason. Instead of a whole fleet of British ships, why not just one? Why not a smaller one? Why not have the sea goddess damage it in her storm? (the storm and whirlpool, helping neither side, being about the only thing she did besides belatedly claiming to be mighty honked-off at both the pirates and Davy Jones – you’d think a tetchy deity would be able to inflict just a tad more directed wrath and smite a few specific people instead of making it rain and stirring the sea like a martini without actually destroying any ships) Something, anything that would justify the British vessel going down so easily.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” is not a bad movie. I don’t think I would have regretted renting it. I just felt like I’d wasted my theatre time and money on it when I probably could have been in the cinema next door seeing a more enjoyable fantasy popcorn flick. If Disney, Bruckheimer, Verbinski and co decide to launch more “Pirates” movies in the future, I hope they come to their senses, forget about the last two installments, and look back to “Curse of the Black Pearl” for inspiration.
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