PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL was a wonderful example of a Hollywood blockbuster done well. The massively positive audience response led producer Jerry Bruckheimer to adopt the model used for the MATRIX sequels, filming two new motion pictures back to back in order to get them out as close together as possible: DEAD NAN’S CHEST and AT WORLD’S END. Unfortunately, in the process, Bruckheimer recreated many of the faults of the MATRIX follow-ups: taking what worked the first time and redoing it, only bigger and louder – in the process losing all the charm that made the first film so much fun. Consequently, the first PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN sequel, DEAD MAN’S CHEST, is considerably less satisfactory than the original – a bloated, over-long, meandering mess, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Inexplicably, this was not enough to stop the sequel from becoming a record-breaking box office smash in the summer of 2006.
As with CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL, Ted Elliott’s and Terry Rossio’s screenplay for DEAD MAN’S CHEST juggles numerous plots and characters. This time out, however, they drop the ball on numerous occasions, creating sequences (like the early one on the cannibal island) that go on forever to no real point. In the process of letting each and every idea play out at full length, whether it is interesting or not, they leave major characters off-screen for so long that one almost forgets they are even in the movie; then, when they return, they seem so eager to justify their presence that they soon wear out their welcome, making you wish they had stayed missing in action.
The film seems frightened of boring its audience, eager to throw everything imaginable at them in the hope that non-stop action and special effects will cover up the structural weakness of the rambling storyline. It’s strange enough that the script should conflate Davy Jones (Billy Nighy with a tentacle face) and the Flying Dutchman, but DEAD MAN’S CHEST goes even further, supplying Jones with the nautical-mythical equivalent of a very mean attack dog: the Kraken, which sinks an occasional ship for no more reason than to provide the special effects department with something to do.
The beast’s presence only creates further problems for the script. The monster is supposed to be unstoppable, all-powerful, and fast. However, in typical movie fashion, when it sets its tentacles against the ship our heroes are on, it takes much longer, giving them a chance to respond. The response is mostly pointless and confusing – lots of running around and an explosion that seems barely big enough to be the equivalent of pricking a giant’s little finger – but for some reason it is enough to send the monster scurrying to the depths (rather in the fashion that any formidable opponent could be dispatched in an old Disney kiddy flick).
The storyline seems to want to take chances with the characters, which means that they stay true to their own self-interests instead of automatically doing the right thing and cooperating with each other. In this sense, DEAD MAN’S CHEST is even closer than CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL to their obvious inspiration, Sergio Leone’s THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY; in fact, DEAD MAN’S CHEST underlines the point by staging a three-way sword fight as an obvious homage to the Leone film’s climactic three-way shoot out.
Sadly, as interesting as the idea sounds, it creates a convoluted storyline filled with backstabbing and shifting loyalties that dissolve into a hopeless muddle. Where Leone managed a neat three-way triangle that collapsed and realigned according to exigency and circumstances that were always clear to the audience because they were based on a single, common motivation (greed), DEAD MAN’S CHEST relies on dialogue to force situations for the sake creating conflict where none is really necessary.
This might be forgivable if the screenplay served to create opportunities for action so wonderful that we could ignore the story and just go along for the ride. But director Gore Verbinski, who handled the first film so well, here falls into the same trap as the writers, dragging every element past all endurance. Even the three-way sword fight, which should have been a showstopper, becomes just an exercise in excess, lacking the dynamics and flair of the duel between Will Turner and Jack Sparrow in the first film.
With a third film on the way, DEAD MAN’S CHEST feels no obligation to offer up an actual resolution for its deluge of drowning plot lines, preferring to end on a cliff-hanger. Fortunately, this turns out to be one of the film’s few virtues, as it gives Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) an opportunity to “die” a heroic death going mano-a-mano with the Kraken (we know he’ll be back in the sequel, but still the scene works on its own terms). The final shot even pulls a nice rabbit out of the hat, with its surprise revelation of who will be captain of the rescue mission in AT WORLD’S END.
But these tiny fragments are too few and far between. It’s sad when something as fresh and fun as PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL begets a sequel like DEAD MAN’S CHEST, which wallows and revels in all the standard blockbuster nonsense that ruins so many Hollywood films.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN DEAD MAN’S CHEST was released on DVD in two versions: a “2-Disc Special Edition” (ASIN: B00005JP0F) and a widescreen edition (ASIN: B000I0RQVI). Both offer a widescreen image in AC-3 color; Dolby and DTS Surround Sound (English, Spanish and French); Subtitles (Spanish and French); a blooper reel; and an audio commentary with Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. In addition, there is a Blu-ray disc that offers superior sound and picture quality. The two-disc DVD is loaded with bonus features:
- Charting the Return: A preproduction diary
- According to Plan: hour-long production documentary
- Captain Jack: From Head to Toe
- Mastering the Blade
- Meet Davy Jones: Anatomy of a Legend
- Creating the Kraken
- Dead Men Tell New Tales: Re-Imagineering the Attraction
- Fly on the Set: The Bone Cage
- Jerry Buckheimer: A Producer’s Photo Diary
- Pirates on Main Street: The Dead Man’s Chest Premier
- Easter Eggs
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST (2006). Directed by Gore Verbinksi. Screenplay by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, inspired by the Disneyland ride. Cast: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook, Kevin McNally, Tom Hollander, Stella Skarsgard, David Bailie, Naomie Harris
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