Friday, June 10, 2011

Pirates of the Missed Opportunity

The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is an interesting phenomenon. Who would have predicted that a movie based on an amusement park ride would have spawned so much success? Of course, it isn’t really based on the ride, is it? Inspired by maybe. The fact is that the ride merely supplied the atmosphere, and that isn’t even really unique to the ride either.

The first film was such a huge success due to the combined elements of great production values, wonderful performances and direction, and most importantly a solid story. It is a story that is not only entertaining, but it also deals with issues like rebellion, the consequences of betrayal, and redemption. Most people see the film as a vehicle for the character of Jack Sparrow. The truth is that, while the main characters are ostensibly Will Turner and Liz Swann, the film is an ensemble piece. Sparrow is a fun but almost secondary character. In fact he is so fun because he doesn’t have to carry any serious parts of the storyline.

The next two films suffer from a story line that is far too sprawling. Or perhaps the best way of looking at these films is that they attempt to be epic without having enough ideas or even enough to say about the ideas they bring up.

However, the latest entry, “On Stranger Tides” has the opposite problem. It has a whole lot of interesting ideas and concepts that it presents, but it fails to deal with any of the ideas in a satisfactory or interesting manner. As in the first three films, there is a romantic couple in this story. However, instead of carrying the most important plotlines, they are at best third tier characters. This is unfortunate, because the themes of the story—the Fountain of Youth and its metaphysical and religious implications—could have best been served by making the missionary character the focus of the story. Instead, Jack is made the main character and in doing that the character is damaged as he has to carry serious, emotional beats of the story for which the character is not suited.

As a ride, the fourth film is entertaining—if you don’t stop to think about anything going on in the story.

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