Pirates of the Caribbean (Trilogy Boxset) 
Blu-ray Action-Adventure
Written by Bill Warren, Darren Gross, Noah Fleming   
Sunday, 14 September 2008

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At hand is “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” the first movie. No one expected a great deal more than a fun movie based on the Disneyland ride, but it unexpectedly turned out to be a treasure trove of eccentric performances, gorgeous location work, superb production design—all adding up to a surprisingly entertaining and intelligent movie.

This Blu-ray has almost too many extras. The second disc includes about 12 hours of them in two primary sections: “An Epic at Sea” consists of a long roster of relatively brief documentaries which feature virtually all of the main cast and principal behind-the-scenes workers. “Becoming Captain Jack” is a clear demonstration of Depp’s strange—and Oscar-nominated—performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. In “Becoming Barbossa,” Geoffrey Rush talks about his approach to the character; Rush is close behind Depp as an eye-catching, nearly-but-not-quite over-the-top scene-grabber, and it’s interesting to see him as just a regular person. (Depp, on or off screen, is NOT a regular person.) “Thar She Blows! From Construction to Destruction” is a piece on the destruction (for the movie) of an elaborate model ship, featuring miniature builders Charlie and Peter Bailey, as well as effects supervisor John Knoll. He’s been on the teams of many major effects films, and deserves to be as well known as effects experts like John Dykstra.

In “The Monkey’s Name Is Jack,” animal wrangler Ursula Brauner tells a fascinating tale of how she got Barbossa’s monkey to do its many tricks. “Sneak Attack” features a pre-visualization (an early CGI version of a major effects sequence, very common these days) of the attack on the British ship by skeletal pirates who walk the sea bottom and clamber aboard the ship. “Pirates Around the World” shows how the movie sounds when dubbed into a variety of languages, including Canadian French, Castilian and Russian. In “Spirit of the Ride,” writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, as well as Johnny Depp, Gore Verbinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and John Knoll talk about how they manifested the park ride in the movie. There is also a group of deleted scenes. In “Dead Men Tell No Tails,” others on the “Pirates” team are heard from, including Bruce Gordon (project director), Marty Sklar, Alice Davis and others. They talk about the creation of the ride at Disneyland.

There are even more documentaries in the “Epic at Sea” section, including featurettes on the actors, the location, the production design, the ships, costumes and makeup, stunts and swords (feature swordmaster Bob Anderson), visual effects, and scenes shot at the premiere at Disneyland.

“Fly on the Set” is a collection of behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the movie, showing the setups for and payoffs for several different sequences, each dated, each give its day of production (40th day of production, for example). This is useful because it demonstrates clearly that for observers not actually involved in what’s going on, movie sets can be rather boring places to visit.

The primary disc includes more extras. If you choose “Scoundrels of the Deep,” you see the entire movie (again, perhaps) with historical notes popping up occasionally. Those marked with gold coins sometimes conjure up a longer comment, announced to you by the scarf-wearing, talking skull that’s a major feature throughout both discs. There are three commentary tracks, one by Verbinski and Depp; it’s moderately interesting, and they sound like people it would be pleasant to talk with. I was not able to access the other commentary tracks; one includes Keira Knightley, another at least one of the writers.

But of course the main feature is the main feature: “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” itself. It’s interesting to return to this after seeing the two sequels, as many elements are established that recur and/or pay off in the later films. Someone even mentions Davy Jones and his locker. But of course, when this movie was made, no one was planning on sequels, so there’s very much a sense of everything being rounded off, finished, concluded. Elliott and Rossio have told interviewers they scoured older pirate movies for ideas (“The Crimson Pirate,” for example), and tried to use them all. Then, whoops, they were told to do it twice more.

This first “Pirates” movie remains the best. There’s a freshness to the conception and a richness of detail that becomes a bit smudged in the sequels. The first shot of Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) presents him as a dashing hero; the second (bailing out his small skiff) brings him down a lot. Soon after arriving at Port Royal, a British stronghold, he’s confronted by newly-minted commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport) with “you’re the worst pirate I ever heard of.” Never-say-die Jack responds, “But you HAVE heard of me….” This sets the tone for his surprising, imaginative and entertaining conception; he claimed he made Jack a combination of Keith Richards (who turns up in the third film) and Warner Bros. cartoon skunk Pepe le Pew.

You can have fun spotting the ride references—well, let’s say you can have fun spotting the references provided you’ve actually been on the ride. These parts of the film played to uproarious laughter in American theaters, dead silence in foreign engagements. Some of them, such as the dog with the keys, turn up in both sequels.

“Curse of the Black Pearl” is a particularly beautiful movie as photographed by Dariusz Wolski. Like all great cinematographers, he’s a master of lighting; in this case, he uses low-key lighting throughout, giving the film a bronzed, burnished look that’s like illustrations from classic children’s books. He works hand in glove with production designer Brian Morris, who effectively echoes and expands on the design of the Disneyland ride.

The movie was especially well cast, and had to be, with powerful, distinctive actors like Depp and Rush on hand. (Both seem to be absolutely loving their jobs.) Orlando Bloom was just on the verge of becoming a star when he made the first “Pirates,” and it’s not hard to see why, even if the script requires him to be the “dork” of the bunch. As Elizabeth, Keira Knightley was 17 when she made this, but already a professional actor of long standing. She easily holds her own with everyone around her and, like the others, is clearly enjoying herself. Jack Davenport is required to be the stuffy, officious representative of law and order, while Jonathan Pryce, playing Elizabeth’s father, was given a little more leeway to be colorful. Even the supporting players have their own moments, particularly Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook (he of the wooden eye), as a pair of particularly scruffy pirates.

Oh, there’s a plot, of course, which to a degree reverses some of the standard pirate movie storylines: Captain Jack has no ship at first, and has to get one in order to retrieve his own ship, the Black Pearl of the title, which was taken over by Barbossa, his mutinous first mate. Also, the treasure hunt aspect is backwards: to lift the curse, which has turned them into walking skeletons (at least in moonlight) who cannot experiences the pleasures that the living can, Barbossa and his crew have had to collect all of the gold coins from a chest of Aztec treasure. (The scene in which Barbossa watches longingly while Elizabeth scarfs down some food is both funny and touching.)

But the plot isn’t all that important. It’s a skein on which to thread all these seafaring adventures, swordfights, sea battles and caves full of golden riches. It’s an especially rich-looking movie, with all this fine cinematography, makeup, production design and special effects work, and surges to life in high definition. The sound is also exceptional, making this similar to a theatrical experience.

Overall Rating: 4.1/5.0
Film Rating: 4.0/5.0
Audio Quality: 4.5/5.0
Video Quality: 4.0/5.0
Bonus Features: 3.5/5.0

To cut to the heart of the matter, the “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” Blu-ray disc is a massive technical accomplishment. The level of clarity, detail and the impressive richness of the colors raises the bar on high definition video releases and pushes the boundaries of what one may have thought the format could really do. It makes me want to go back and knock half a star off of the technical ratings on all my previous disc reviews. Part of this originated in the production itself. The photography is sharp, well-lit and filled with detail, fully capturing the elaborately designed costumes, settings and make-up, allowing the audience to fully appreciate all the physical work put in. The visual effects by ILM have all been executed with extremely high resolution and a level of technical virtuosity that displays the care that went into each pixel. Characters like Davy Jones’s crew members are even more impressive because their artistic execution is so high. The elaborately visualized crew of men who are calcifying and barnacled like the hull of an old foundered sailing vessel, while gradually mutating into half-marine-life creatures feel as if they are accomplishments by the make-up department because they appear so physically tangible, but in actuality many of them are the achievement of the computer effects department.

Set an unspecified amount of time after the events depicted in the first film, “Dead Man’s Chest” opens with Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and fiancée Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) arrested for helping wanted pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) escape at the end of the previous film. The new man in charge, Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) sent to replace Governor Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce), offers Turner a deal. In exchange for his and Elizabeth’s life, he’s to use his acquaintanceship with Captain Jack to track him down and steal the compass he carries and deliver it to Beckett. Will accepts, naturally. At the same time Captain Jack discovers that octopoidal pirate Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) is hot on his trail, eager to have Jack return to his ship of cursed sailors to pay the debt of service he owes him. Eager to avoid the monstrous Kraken that Jones has sent after him, Jack makes for the nearest piece of dry land, which unfortunately is inhabited by hungry cannibals. After Elizabeth escapes and stows away on board a ship, she, Turner and Jack find themselves reunited on Cannibal Island along with Elizabeth’s down-and-out ex-beau Norrington (Jack Davenport).

“Dead Man’s Chest” is a class act— a slick, bountiful and technically adept production, but it’s a bit of a patchwork item In terms of story. While it’s jam-packed with incidents and action set-pieces, there isn’t much plot, and there is feels jumbled and a bit incoherent at times. The cursed undead pirates of the first film were a lone supernatural element, but this film steps completely into the worlds of fantasy and the supernatural and never looks back. The screenwriters feel compelled to include every maritime myth and blend the tale of the Flying Dutchman with that of Davy Jones, which muddles that character a bit. There’s also a great sense that the film is merely treading water, biding its time with incident and ideas, none of which will be resolved until the third film. It’s a feeling common in the second part of trilogies and while it worked somehow for “The Empire Strikes Back,” it works less well here. The writers also employ the “The Empire Strikes Back” rule and reveal who Turner’s father is in this film—not that it was a concern prior to its revelation.

In their (excellent) commentary, screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio explain that they never thought that the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film would be a success and had no concept of sequels or a trilogy when they wrote that film. As such, when they had to come up with the story for films two and three, they tried to build on the events and threads in the first film to make it feel as if a trilogy was planned and that the first film intentionally laid the groundwork and planted seeds for future films. While it’s a solid conceit, it doesn’t really come off. Instead of feeling that the story naturally grows from the first film, one is constantly thinking, “When was this event supposed to happen?” “When does this scene take place?” “Was this shown in the first film?” and trying to make sense of the back story and dialogue references.

On the positive side, director Gore Verbinski is adept at large-scale action scenes resulting in several terrific set-pieces. Jack’s escape from the cannibals while tied to a long wooden shish-kebab skewer is enjoyably goofy. In one standout sequence, Jack’s crew attempt to escape from a giant spherical cage made of human bones. It’s a scene with an odd, almost surreal absurdity to it. A duel that takes place on top of (and inside) a runaway waterwheel, which has broken loose from an abandoned mill and is rolling across the land is accomplished with surprising verisimilitude, considering how ridiculous the concept is. All of the set-pieces showcase a Warner Bros. cartoon aesthetic of mayhem that is certainly a sight to behold. Despite these highlights, the film is a bit of a letdown in the comedy department. It’s amusing in parts, and cute, but with the caliber of talent involved, you’d expect the entire film to be much funnier.

“Dead Man’s Chest” is a typical summer movie—big, loud and a bit hollow. At 150 minutes, it’s also a bit overlong. While it’s never boring, the level of constant, unvarying bombast and chaos becomes a bit wearying and ultimately overbearing.

The uncompressed PCM track is crisp and clean with frequent thunderous LFE usage and a fully utilized surround soundscape. Dialogue is always intelligible, sound effects are richly detailed and the mix level is fine, if a tad on the loud side. The flawless transfer shows rock-solid stability and pin-point sharp detail. Blacks are dense and shinier elements like glass and water have a tangible, nearly 3-D tangibility.

There are supposed to be around 7 hours of bonus features in this 2-disc set, though by my math, it’s closer to 6. It’s a substantial package with some solid content. Apart from the game, none of the bonus features are in high-definition. The standout features are the documentaries “Charting the Return” and “According to Plan” which total just under 90 minutes and are essential viewing. The first is a revealing look at the pre-production work. It’s particularly surprising to learn how close to pulling the plug the studio came when the budget’s numbers were found to be inaccurate. Also refreshing is the candor on display, as it’s shown that sets and locations were being designed and built and the production well on its way when the script and story were still being worked out. “According to Plan” is also in fine fettle, and it chronologically relates the story of the film’s production, moving from Los Angeles to Dominica and beyond, showcasing the thrills, dangers, weather disasters and snafu’d watertank crises that the production was beset with. While both “At World’s End,” the third in the series, began production before Dead Man’s Chest” wrapped, the bonus feature producers do an admirable job of keeping material related to the next film out of this featurette. The only element missing from the bonus features is a piece on the editing and scoring, which unfortunately go virtually unmentioned.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5.0
Film Rating: 3.0/5.0
Audio Quality: 5.0/5.0
Video Quality: 5.0/5.0
Bonus Features: 4.0/5.0

The pirate adventure continues in the third film of this, as of now, trilogy. "At World's End" bests "Dead Man's Chest", but falls short of living up to "Curse of the Black Pearl" or the lore of Pirates of the Caribbean.

"At World's End" opens with a shot of a noose and the mass genocide of apparent pirate co-conspirators. Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) seeks to take over the seas and control all trade across the high seas. After capturing the heart, literally, of Davy Jones, courtesy of James Norrington (Jack Davenport), Beckett is able to take command of the Flying Dutchman vessel and its crew, including Davy Jones (Bill Nighy).

"At World's End" resumes where "Dead Man's Chest" left off in regards to the status of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Last we saw, our more than eccentric hero is lost to the way of Davy Jones' locker. With the return of Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and the almighty seer of the swamp, Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris), the crew of the now sunken Black Pearl set out to rescue Jack. First, the crew must find a new ship, so they turn to Singapore's pirate lord, Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat). After a brief battle between no less than three different sides, Captain Barbossa and Miss Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) are given a ship to sail to the World's End.

Meanwhile, a despaired Jack Sparrow is seemingly doomed to be the captain of the Black Pearl for eternity. The catch is, that the Black Pearl is stuck out in the middle of a desert on solid rock. Through a miraculous turn of events, and a scene that you must see to believe, the Black Pearl makes its way from the desert to the ocean, where his crew has come to rescue him.

This is where the doldrums of the film set in. The cast bounces from set to set and characters flip flop sides and ships, all to end up in the same place for a final showdown. With a running time of 2 hours and 48 minutes, it is difficult to imagine this film being an attention grabber all the way through. In fact, taking about 10 minutes from about 25 minutes in to the film, and about the last 45 minutes of the film would have sufficed to tell this segment of the trilogy. Still, for a Pirate-loving fan, one can find some other interesting tidbits along the way. Meeting Jack Sparrow's father (Keith Richards) was a treat (however brief it may have been).

This film lacked the strange but comical wit of Captain Jack Sparrow that was ever present in the first film. The wit was there, but only to a very small degree. It was even less than that present in the second movie. It was the absence of this humor that made the film feel like it drug on and on.

The video quality of the first two films was outstanding. With the third film being shot at the same time as the second, one would expect nothing less for the video presentation of the "At World's End". Sadly, this is not the case. While I would recommend the first two films as video demo reference material, "At World's End" falls short. The black levels are a bit crushed. The details lost in the deep black scenes are more than noticeable. This is problematic for the film as dark scenes are its most popular. There is also a fair amount of grain present in the bright scenes that take place in the desert. On the plus side, there is no evidence of motion artifacts or macroblocking in the fluid motion of the water sequences. The colors are not bold, but they are accurate. While still a decent image, it is not the best I have seen on Blu-ray.

The audio quality however, is outstanding. The dynamic range is vast, which may be problematic for those of you who live in an apartment complex, as the volume level changes drastically between quite dialogue scenes and loud sudden explosions. The film makes great use of the surround channels, although I thought there was room for some more discreet sound effects placement in the rear channels. The bass is nice and tight, although the torrential rainstorm and sea waves sequences lacked some punch.

The special features are presented on two discs in this collection. The first disc only contains the feature and a blooper reel. The bloopers are in 1080i, but lack any real funny sequences. This was a real let down as I expected there to be a great deal of humorous Johnny Depp moments.

The second disc is where the bulk of the extra goodies lie. There are seven featurettes. In what is a pretty common feature for action/adventure films, "Anatomy of a Scene: The Maelstrom" provides in-depth details about the editing and visual effects of the storm sequence. "Masters of Design" covers, in five parts, different aspects of the film's production design, from set design to costumes. "The Tale of the Many Jack" takes you on a tour of the multiple Jack Sparrow CGI creations. "The World of Chow Yun Fat" is a tribute to the self-titled actor. "Keith & the Captain: On Set with Johnny and the Rock Legend" is a brief feature on Keith Richard's role as Jack's father. "The Pirate Maestro: The Music of Hans Zimmer" gives the composer and crew a chance to speak about the music score of the film. And finally, "Hoist the Colors" is an expansion of the music score featurette, specifically focusing on the opening song. The final two special features, presented in 1080i but not exclusive to the Blu-ray format, are two deleted scenes and a collection of Disney theatrical trailers.

Exclusive to the high-definition Blu-ray disc are a couple of special features. First, there is a short featurette called "Inside the Maelstrom". This feature shows a time-elapsed view of the building of the giant set. There is also an interactive part to this feature, which allows you to watch documentaries about other aspects of the sequence, for example visual effects and audio. The other exclusive Blu-ray feature is the standard Movie Showcase, which provides instant access to the film's most demo worthy video/audio sequences.

While not a favorite film of mine, or absolutely stunning in video detail, "At World's End" does deserve a place in your collection. The story is legendary, and this third film does get the original storylines back on track. If for nothing else, this film should be in your collection for the stunning, last 45 minutes of the film. It will blow your home theater system away.

Overall Rating: 3.9/5.0
Film Rating: 3.0/5.0
Audio Quality: 4.5/5.0
Video Quality: 4.0/5.0
Bonus Features: 3.0/5.0
Studio Walt Disney Home Entertainment
MPAA Rating PG-13
Starring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook, Kevin R. McNally, Stellan Skarsgard, Naomie Harris
Director Gore Verbinski
Film Release Year 2003, 2006, 2007
Release Year 2008
Resolution(s) 1080p (main feature) • 1080p (supplements)
Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Running Time 2 hr. 23 mins., 2 hr. 30 mins., 2 hr. 48 mins.
Sound Formats English PCM 5.1 • English Dolby Digital 5.1 • French Dolby Digital 5.1 • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles English SDH • French • Spanish
Special Features Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl -
"An Epic at Sea: The Making of Pirates"; "Fly on the Set" (behind-the-scenes sequences of scenes being filmed). Blooper reel, Trailers, Deleted Scenes, Audio Commentaries, Still Gallery. A great deal more-this 2-disc set has 13 hours of extras

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest -
Commentary with screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, Liar's Dice game, Charting the return, According to plan, Captain Jack: from head to toe, Meet Davy Jones: anatomy of a legend, Creating the Kraken, Dead men tell no tales: re-imagineering the attraction, Fly on the set: the bone cage, Jerry Bruckheimer: a producer's photo diary, Pirates on main street: The Dead Man's Chest premiere, Stills from the set, Bloopers of the Caribbean, Mastering the blade: Keira Knightly, Orlando Bloom, Jack Davenport, Cannibal Island, Tortuga bar brawl, Pirate lore, Locations & sets, Story & characters, Theatrical Trailers, Teaser trailers

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End -
Bloopers, "Anatomy of a Scene: The Maelstrom", "Masters of Design", "The Tale of the Many Jack", "The World of Chow Yun Fat", "Keith & the Captain: On Set with Johnny and the Rock Legend", "Thie Pirate Maestro: The Music of Hans Zimmer", Hoist the Colors", Deleted Scenes, Trailers, Inside the Maelstrom, Movie Showcase
Forum Link http://www.avrevforum.com
Reviewer Bill Warren, Darren Gros, Noah Fleming

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