“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”
There have been few original characters created for the screen in the last decade that have been memorable enough to be welcomed back for at least an encore. The exception could well be Captain Jack Sparrow, with Johnny Depp taking the stereotypical pirate imagery and turning it on its head with a madcap performance that is brilliant. I still delight in the first film which had yet to be crusted with barnacles of backstory, mythology, and larger-than-life special effects. Its unexpected success required those to be affixed to the Black Pearl for the sequel and then it became a trilogy. Screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott were required to go back and fill in the gaps they unwittingly created, resulting in a somewhat convoluted mess.
The third film in the [[[Pirates of the Caribbean]]] series, At World’s End, nicely tied off several threads and gave Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner a bittersweet ending to their story. Freed from complications created in the bloated trilogy, Rossio and Elliott could have told us a nice new pirate story in On Stranger Tides, showing us new sides to Sparrow or the world of pirates in which he is but one of many such plunderers. After all, it was largely taken from a far stronger novel by Tim Powers. Instead, we get more magic and mythology robbing the fourth installment of any sense of fresh beginnings. And while I adore Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa, he was not required for the film.
Instead, the story could easily have been King George II dispatching Sparrow in search of the Fountain of Youth while encountering the feared Blackbeard and see what happens when legends confront one another. That core notion is lost within layers of other events (the missionary and the mermaid for example) and the screenwriters are mostly at fault, although producer Jerry Bruckheimer never knows when to leave well enough alone. Director Rob Marshall, joining the franchise for this film, brought none of the dazzle he used in adapting Chicago to the screen.
So, the movie, out today from Walt Disney Home Entertainment in a variety of disc packages, is good, not great, popcorn entertainment. Ian McShane is inspired casting as the villainous Blackbeard and he makes the most of the part while Penélope Cruz as his daughter is certainly pretty to watch but doesn’t sparkle against Depp’s Sparrow. I keep thinking this was a missed opportunity. Sam Clafin and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey are attractive-looking but tacked on additions, dragging the story and replicating the Swann/Tuner sub-plot. Everything fresh from the first film has been retained, making it smell like day-old fish.
The film was released in 3-D, a format I couldn’t care less about, and is also available as a 3-D Blu-ray, enticing purchasers with a bonus Blu-ray disc of extras. The movie was wonderfully transferred to the standard Blu-ray, but I’ve come to expect no less from Disney. The sound is as matchless. The 3-D package offers you the extra disc, plus the film on standard Blu-ray and standard DVD plus a digital edition so it’s all Depp all the time.
The 2D Blu-ray release does come with an audio commentary (interesting to hear Marshall admit how in over his head he was), a fairly amusing but typical blooper reel and an animated Lego short. For those interested in the five-disc extravaganza, you also get Disney Second Screen, Legends of On Stranger Tides (36 minutes) where Bruckheimer, Rossio, Depp, and Marshall try to justify how wonderful this movie is but it’s a stock package of interviews; In Search of the Fountain (11 minutes), important background on the Fountain of Youth’s legend; Last Sail, First Voyage (8 minutes): McShane and the filmmakers take you aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge with some background on Blackbeard; Under the Scene: Bringing Mermaids to Life (9 minutes) on the visual effects of the unnecessary denizens of the deep; Deleted and Extended Scenes (9 minutes); Johnny Vs. Geoffrey (3 minutes), a fluffy featurette; Lego Pirates of the Caribbean (5 minutes); and, Bloopers of the Caribbean (3 minutes).