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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 November 2007

Image 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.

When released, both this disc and the first film had major compatibility issues with Blu-ray players, particularly the Samsung, which were unable to load the disc without the installation of fresh firmware upgrades. Make sure you have installed the latest before trying to play the disc. Even with the latest upgrade, it took several tries to get the exceedingly lame “Liar’s Dice” game to load properly. While an imperfect film, “Dead Man’s Chest” is a perfect Blu-ray release and worth experiencing if only to see how high the standards in HD software can be.

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