Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
May 2007

End of the line

'At World's End' takes all the fun out of the 'Pirates' franchise

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Gore Verbinski
Screenplay: Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
Starring:Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Naomie Harris, Tom Hollander, Bill Nighy, Stellan Skarsgaard, Kevin McNally and Chow Yun-Fat
Rated PG-13 / 2 hours, 48 minutes
Opened May 25, 2007
(out of four)

Let this be a lesson: It's not a very good idea to start shooting a movie before you even have a script. That seems like it would go without saying, but the absence of a screenplay apparently didn't stop Bruckheimer, Verbinski and Co. from rushing into production on the third installment of their Pirates of the Caribbean juggernaut.

As it turned out, the script of At World's End is a filthy, convoluted mess that completely bogs down an entertaining movie franchise with useless details and exhausting plot explanations. But no matter - they just had to get the movie out by Memorial Day. But why?

Shooting the two sequels back-to-back and releasing them within 10 months of one another seems counter-intuitive, especially given the recent history of similar experiments. I assume the objectives are to make a good movie and make lots of money, but this strategy doesn't help.

Didn't anyone learn anything from the back-to-back Matrix sequels? Not only was the third movie an unforgivable waste, but it didn't make nearly as much at the box office as Reloaded did. Sequels build off anticipation - just look at the record-breaking numbers of the recent Spider-Man and Shrek sequels. At World's End is certainly making a lot of money, but not nearly as much as it would have if the studio and filmmakers had taken the time to not only let the anticipation build, but to actually have a decent story outline in place.

As is, At World's End is a trainwreck of too much decoration, too many characters, too many special effects and too much plot. Instead of emphasizing what made the series work in the first place, the film gives weight to plot points we couldn't possibly care less about. We don't go to these movies for plot - we go to them for the laughs, for the action sequences and, most of all, for Johnny Depp. All three elements are surprisingly weak this time around. At World's End is talky and boring for most of its first two hours until climaxing with a big, extended action setpiece that, even for all its technical and special-effects bravura, comes well beyond the point of caring.

Even during all the action and adventure of the film's third hour, it tries to tie together all the loose plot threads that not only aren't interesting in the slightest, but which we don't really understand anyway. There's something about Davy Jones' locker, about curses and spells, about ... hey why am I even trying to recount this stuff? We don't care, and we don't know what's going on. Neither, I presume, does Gore Verbinski, or even the writers. It's gobbledygook, but instead of using that gobbledygook to serve the movie, the gobbledygook is the movie.

The filmmakers are trying to make At World's End this huge extravaganza - they're going all out, pulling out all the stops. But in doing so they've taken out all the fun. The final chapter of this trilogy is, simply, boring. It's overstuffed nonsense. Even the actors seem lost at sea - more set decorations than characters. Considering that Depp has been the series' meal ticket from the very beginning, you'd think the film would actually pay attention to him. But, while he does a fine job with what little he's given, the film never goes anywhere with the Jack Sparrow. He just kind of floats around amid all the various plot discussions, popping up for a one-liner here and there, once again darting back and forth between good and bad ... still likeable, of course, but no longer the relevant, dynamic lead that he used to be.

The film smartly de-emphasizes Orlando Bloom - that champion coattail-rider - until the last 20 minutes or so, instead putting the focus on Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), as they strategically square off against Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and the key villain, Beckett (Tom Hollander). Returning in a prominent role is the worst character from the second film, Naomie Harris' psychic/witch doctor/whatever, Tia Dalma ... yet another example of something that could have been completely eliminated without the film losing a beat.

And, of course, whenever the film needs a cheap laugh for the kids, the camera cuts to a reaction shot from the monkey. Cute. (Why are dogs and monkeys always used in this way? I wish this tendency would stop.)

Oh, and Chow Yun-Fat is in the movie, too ... for no discernible reason. Seriously, I have no clue as to the significance of his character, or why they would go to the trouble of bringing in an actor of his caliber to play such a small, pointless role. Did the movie really need more star power?

That's all it boils down to - too much. Looking back, The Curse of the Black Pearl was extremely simple. Basic plot, basic conflict, easy to follow - it let the characters, the writing and the action do the work. And all that basic-ness was able to hold up over two-and-a-half hours. As that film and this one prove, in contrasting ways, it's better to do a lot with a little than a little with a lot.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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