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Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007) Print E-mail
Friday, 25 May 2007
This colossal adventure, stuffed to the scuppers with special effects, weird makeups, bizarre sights and unlikely story elements, has much in the common with its central character, the peculiar Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). On land, his gait is uncertain: he tilts from side to side, sometimes walking slowly, sometimes rapidly. So it is with the movie: the pace is wildly uneven. At the climax, which seems to go on for an hour—and yet doesn’t exhaust the audience—it’s breezy, fast-paced fun. At other points, it’s ponderous, wearisome and slow. But it’s like the say about the weather in Hawaii: you don’t like what’s happening right now, wait a few minutes.

At nearly three hours, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” has enough running time to make two regular movies, and enough plot for five or six. It’s also likely to be nearly incomprehensible to those who didn’t see “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.” Even if you DID see them and paid close attention, you’re not likely to recognize every character who returns from one or both of the previous movies, or to remember what all the issues were so far. Of course, the movie adds even more issues, so if you do enjoy it, you’re likely to want to see it again just to sort everything out.

At the end of the last movie, Jack Sparrow heroically faced the kraken—a huge, squid-like cephalopod—all alone, and was swallowed up by the beast. His friends, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), turned to voodoo queen Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) for help. She reveals they have to go to Davy Jones’ Locker (which I always thought was simply the bottom of the sea) to retrieve Jack. And for assistance, she brings Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) back from the dead where he was left at the end of the first movie. Also lurking around the edges is squid-faced Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) himself; he is now the captain of The Flying Dutchman, the phantom ship that ferries those who die at sea to the afterlife. Although we never see the ship actually DO that.

You need to know all this going in. But it won’t help you understand the opening scene, which I still haven’t deciphered: under the direction of East India Company official, the wicked Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), a long, long, LONG line of raggedy people, including women and children, are hanged in small groups. But a boy about to dangle from the gibbet starts singing a song—no, not the “A Pirate’s Life for Me” song from the Disneyland ride that gave birth to this trilogy, but something I don’t recall hearing before. It’s vaguely defiant, and everyone in line joins in, but the hangings go on while Beckett calls an end to all civil liberties, including the writ of habeas corpus. But we never hear the song again, and never learn why it meant so much to those doomed people. Whom we also never see again.
We’re suddenly in Singapore, where Will, Elizabeth and Barbossa confront pirate leader Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) in his baroque, gaudy lair. There’s something about nine pieces of eight in the possession of the nine pirate lords, including Jack Sparrow. There’s a big fight with dozens of extras on very crowded, ill-lit sets. Lots of amazing things happen, with swords leaping out of floors which soon collapse, everyone running madly here and there, sword fights, etc. The upshot, though, is that the pirate lords will convene at Shipwreck Cove.

Our trio of heroes sails forth in a large Chinese junk (ship), first through frozen wastelands, then literally off what looks like the literal edge of the world: a gigantic waterfall. And now, almost an hour into the movie, we finally meet Captain Jack Sparrow again. Actually, we meet a lot of Captain Jack Sparrows. He’s the captain, first mate and entire crew of a ship, his Black Pearl, in fact, providing Depp with the opportunity to bee many times as colorful as he was in the first two movies, which is saying a lot.

Evidently all but one are hallucinations of that remaining Jack, though just why he would imagine this is unclear. The ship isn’t at sea; it’s on a vast, featureless plain of white, not ice but simply white. Jack finds a rock that turns out to be a small crab. Then there’s another rock which turns into another crab. Then lots of rocks. Then millions of rocks turn into crabs which carry the ship away. This is one of this bizarre movie’s most bizarre sights.

Jack does eventually meet up with Barbossa, Will and Elizabeth and the crew of the junk, who were the crew of The Black Pearl, so there are lots of familiar faces, including the skinny guy with a wooden eye and his filthy friend. The script by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, who wrote the first two movies, is rich with incident and detail, but also sometimes a bit foggy. I don’t know why Jack suddenly realizes he has to turn a ship completely over to get out of (I guess) Davy Jones’ Locker and back to the (more or less) real world, but that’s what happens.

Eventually, they sail to Shipwreck Island, where Shipwreck Cove is located near the village of Shipwreck; Jack points out that pirates aren’t very imaginative when it comes to naming things. On the way, there are many strange sights, such as ghostly women borne away on sea currents just below the surface, and a flotilla of small skiffs, each carrying one man and a light. These are apparently bound for the afterlife. We also get a fifty-foot woman who turns into a tower of yet more crabs.

Shipwreck Cove is a fabulous, very Disney-esque sight—a bay so full of tall ships that it looks like a convention of Christmas Trees. One of the great mostly unsung heroes of these “Pirates” movies is production designer Rick Heinrichs, whose work is simply phenomenal—truly spectacular, and so grim and grimy at times that it’s funny. But the most wondrous sequence is the climax, when the crew of the Black Pearl has a cannon-and-sword battle with the crew of The Flying Dutchman—but it’s not just your standard, everyday battle between heavily-armed sailing ships, it’s a battle between two such ships as they circle around the vast whirlpool known as the Maelstrom. The wide-screen cinematography by Dariusz Wolski is as rich and detailed as before, and Hans Zimmer’s score is, if anything, even more lavish and lush than for the first two “Pirates.” The music under the end credits is especially well done.

The movie overextends itself somewhat by having a climax beyond the climax. And if you patiently wait through the very long end credits, there’s another little scene that romantically, if wistfully, wraps up one of these movies’ tangled skeins of plot.

With all these special effects, stunts (Jack zips through the air at the ends of ropes several times), action and huge set pieces, there’s not as much room for the actors as there was in the first movie. Depp is still an amazing sight and does have the character well in hand; Jack isn’t a hero, though he occasionally (if reluctantly) acts like one, but he is his own peculiar rapscallion and rogue. He’s egotistical and tries to be commanding, even when he’s not sure what’s going on. But he’s a true survivor, and it’s entirely appropriate that the movie ends with him again alone in a skiff, much the way the first one opened.

But this time, as with the first one, his scene-stealing is parried deftly by Geoffrey Rush, who’s a pirate’s pirate—a scabby blackguard with a sharp tongue and a ready wit. I suspect it would be entertaining to watch Barbossa and Jack Sparrow argue for half an hour. One small throwaway bit involving dueling telescopes is an echo of a gag seen in “City Heat,” and looks refreshingly improvised. Rush is one of the great scene grabbers in movies today—but he meets his match in Johnny Depp.

The movie has so many plots going on that some of them get lost for a while. For example, Will’s goal this time is to try to free is embarnacled father Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) from an eternity as the crew—and part of the hull—of The Flying Dutchman. But there’s also his romance with Elizabeth to deal with, another complication; at the whirlpool of a climax, director Verbinski tries to deal with both these threads at the same time.

And yet meanwhile there’s the East India Company and Beckett to deal with, plus Norrington (Jack Davenport) is on hand, still in love with Elizabeth himself, but now working for Beckett. There’s also Davy Jones himself; Nighy’s powerful performance comes right through all the CGI that hides him (even his CLOTHES are CGI), but he’s rewarded by gaining his own face, however briefly. By the way, did you know that he and Tia Dalma used to be sweeties? Or maybe it was the sea goddess Calypso who was his sweetie, but then again, she seems to BE Tia Dalma. Or something like that.

Chow Yun-Fat looks great with his head shaved, a huge scar on his face and Fu Manchu-like beard and mustache, but he isn’t given much to do. When the nine pirate lords finally get together, they’re all so enthusiastically colorful that none of them makes much of an impression. Including Keith Richards, who does turn up briefly (twice—keep watching) as Jack Sparrow’s father. Naomie Harris has a grand time in her dreadlocks, facial tattoos and truly ugly teeth, but we don’t see as much of her this time around as in the second movie. This is partly because almost everyone who had a speaking line in the first or second movie seems to be granted their own moment in the third—one reason it runs almost three hours.

But it’s not too likely you’re going to glance at your watch. Even if what’s going on right now isn’t all that swell, it’s still interesting enough for you to stay put and wait for the next swell stuff—and you know it’s coming. This isn’t a pirate movies, it’s practically ALL pirate movies swept up into a gigantic sea tale not quite like anything you’ve seen before, including the first two “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Though this subtitle is “At World’s End,” don’t expect this to be the end of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. For one thing, evidently on the set, Johnny Depp, who LOVES playing Jack Sparrow, blithely refers to what he might do in the seventh or twelfth “Pirates” movie. Also, these movies have been gigantic moneymakers for the Disney company, which really NEEDS gigantic moneymakers just now. Even though I felt somewhat enervated at the end of “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” the audience burst into applause. As long, ragged and confusing as “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” is, it can be denied that for at least two of its three hours, it’s a lot of fun.

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