Our third movie marathon and we seem to be going backwards. Our first marathon was the six part LOTR journey, whilst our second was the five film X-Men trek. For our third expedition we were tackling just four films, the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Was our movie viewing fortitude sinking to the depths?
Our voyage set sail with Gore Verbinski’s 2003 surprise hit. It was a genuine shock at the time that a movie based on a theme park ride which looked to follow closely in the footsteps of super flop Cutthroat Island (1995) turned out to be such a good film. The success was due in large part to Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush’s wonderfully camp theatrics. Disney execs thought Depp was drunk when they first viewed his Jack Sparrow test footage. Thank the movie Gods that Verbinski convinced them to let Depp continue. Our viewing marathon also highlighted the other talents around the central golden pair that made Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) a success; the sharp script, the eye catching set design and the brilliant supporting cast of ever watchable characters.
Smashed in the face with the ugly stick before leaving port
Disney never intended for Pirates to become a trilogy but seeing the trove of treasure Curse of the Black Pearl managed to haul in at the box office they gave word for two more films to be made, shot back-to-back to complete a cobbled together trilogy. This is where the series hit slightly rough waters. Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio’s scripts for parts two and three were so convoluted only MENSA level movie goers were able to follow the triple crossing character arcs without succumbing to migraines and scurvy. Thankfully the films used their extended running times to flesh out the superb supporting cast (the likes of Gibbs, Norrington, Pintel and Ragetti getting deserved screen time) and to add some brilliant new salty seadogs to the story, the spluttering Davy Jones in particular.
Attempting to eat a whole bushel
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) ended with that great Barbossa twist and in high spirits we sailed straight into Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007). Even though the plot turns got even more crazy, in retrospect the third film trumps the second. We have Rush and Depp having far too much fun, their verbal sparring "What arrrr you doing?” a highlight of the series, Keith Richards splendid guitar twanging cameo, the Pirate Lords coming together, and a climax which wasn’t afraid to jettison a full-on happy ending for something much more bittersweet. Most surprising of all was Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. Their performances in the first film were more wooden than the Pearl but two films later they are essential and much loved additions to one of the best ensemble casts of all time.
Surely the best entrance in Hollywood history
And so we came to the final leg of our voyage, and for once we hadn’t saved the best for last; we’d saved the worst. Rob Marshall replaced Verbinski in the director’s chair but retained Elliott and Rossio’s for writing duties. Early word was encouraging on Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) with Ian McShane perfectly cast as the infamous Blackbeard. That his villain paled in comparison to Davy Jones and Captain Barbossa was more the fault of the script than anything the former Lovejoy did. Barbossa himself had been transformed into a foppish dandy, while Depp was lumbered with former flame Penelope Cruz, the two accomplished actors somehow managing to create zero chemistry. A priest-mermaid love story subplot was painfully overwrought, the Flying Dutchman flamethrowers and zombie crew were pointless, and the central Macguffin (the Fountain of Youth) was a boring excuse for more brain straining double crossing. The only thing that saves Marshall’s film from becoming Cutthroat Island II is Depp’s ever reliable Sparrow performance. Oddly enough, it was Bloom and Knightley that we missed the most.
Reaching the end at 10.30pm with plenty of timbers shivered
Much like Will and Elizabeth’s finale, the end of our third marathon at 10.30pm was met with mixed feelings. We’d breezed to the end of the journey, four films presenting little challenge in the face of previous treks. Watching the first trio of films back-to-back created a pleasing whole, even more so given the ad-hoc nature of a three part story thrown together at the behest of the studio. But the fourth part was a slog, and the series should have been left in dry dock with the conclusion of World’s End. Never one to leave a cash-cow alone though, Disney have now announced a fifth film. Another stand alone story, filming is set to start in the fall of 2012. Depp is onboard and Bloom has also said he’d be happy to dust off his eye-patch. Lets hope this time they deliver a film worthy of closing a Pirates movie marathon.