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Friday, July 21, 2006

Sparrow series walks plank

Ever since the late 1980s or so, the absolute, number-one goal of Hollywood spectacle cinema has been to be like an amusement park ride. For quite some time, the most coveted review for any blockbuster was "a real roller-coaster ride!" Certainly that was the goal cinematically, to take the viewer and toss him around, using explosions, apocalyptic special effects, hyperspeed cutting, and a pounding, spin-cycle score to render him senseless.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Rating: (2 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
News photo
Johnny Depp (left) and Orlando Bloom (right) in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" (C) DISNEY ENTERPRISES, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Director: Gore Verbinski
Running time: 151 minutes
Language: English
Opens July 22, 2006
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Some of these films were so good at what they did, they actually became theme-park rides (Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park). But the logical conclusion to this trend came when Disney made "Pirates of the Caribbean," a film that reversed the process by being based on a ride. Of course, the plotless, characterless nature of the ride made for low expectations for the movie, which somehow were wildly exceeded thanks to a winning performance by Johnny Depp. Neither Depp, flouncing along in dazed Keith Richards mode, nor the film took themselves too seriously, which along with the boy/girl eye-candy of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley made for a decent, lighthearted popcorn flick.

Somewhere along the way, however, someone decided that this throwaway smorgasbord of B-movie pirate imagery was the next "Lord Of The Rings," and presto! -- what was a fun, campy one-off, looks set to become a ponderous, over-cooked trilogy. Clocking in at a mind-numbing two and a half hours, "Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" takes what little plot it has and stretches it like so much pasta dough, pulling and kneading it to somehow cover the film's bloated running time.

Alfred Hitchcock had a term he called a "McGuffin," which was an otherwise pointless piece of something you could employ to keep a plot ticking along. (Think of the briefcase in "Pulp Fiction," for one example). "Dead Man's Chest" may be the first film to consist of nothing but McGuffins! Young swashbuckler Will (Bloom) has to get a compass (McGuffin No. 1) for slimy English Adm. Beckett (Tom Hollander), but the owner of said compass, pirate captain Jack Sparrow (Depp), won't give it up, because he needs it to find a key (McGuffin No. 2.).

Once in possession of said key, Sparrow can use it to open a chest (McGuffin No. 3), which contains the heart of Davey Jones (McGuffin No. 4). And Davey Jones, a ghoulie from the deep (played by Bill Nighy under the CG tentacles), has ordered the Kraken, a giant ship-eating squid -- seemingly on loan from Disney's "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" ride -- to take out Captain Jack, so needless to say he has some incentive to find these things.

But as is the case with McGuffins, once Captain Jack has all these items in his possession, they're somehow irrelevant to actually ending this movie, which squelches along for another 30 minutes before leaving us with an ending that says only "come back for Part Three."

The entire movie consists of people chasing after things, and then being unable to find satisfaction once they have them. This may be some kind of sly commentary on consumer culture by director Gore Verbinski, but I wouldn't bet on it. Since the plot makes so little sense on its own terms, it's more fun to read it on a Freudian level: Jack's desire for the key (a classic phallic symbol) to open the chest (need I say?), represents Jack's sublimated desire to make it with Elizabeth (Knightley). Most pirates were given to rape and plunder, but PG-rated Jack? The heart indicates the romantic love that he has long suppressed, while the compass symbolizes his wanton life, and need for a mother figure to guide him.

Will, meanwhile, spends much of his time climbing masts, indicative of his desire to have an erection, i.e. be a "real-man" like Jack/Depp instead of the boy-man he/Bloom clearly is. His near drowning in the ocean underneath Davey Jones' boat suggests a return to the womb that befits his infantile, impotent state. Hopefully this rebirth will see him, um, find the key to Liz's chest in the next chapter.

This recycled Luke-Leia-Han Solo love-triangle is about the only plot worth mentioning, other than the endless chasing after things, battling off hordes of cannibals and Davey Jones' ghost sailors, who seem to be fishy remixes of Peter Jackson's orcs in "Lord Of The Rings."

The humor of the previous film is almost nowhere to be found, while entire bits of plot -- the 100 souls Jack has to deliver to Davey Jones -- are just discarded without explanation. Typical is the film's money shot, which has that big squid tearing apart Jack's ship in an orgy of screaming, crashing, multitentacled destruction, with Hans Zimmer doing his best orchestral imitation of a jackhammer. How this man's migraine-inducing soundtracks continue to win Oscar nominations year after year is a mystery greater than the location of Davey Jones' locker. Only a bottle of rum will have you "yo-ho-ho"-ing to this unfunny, suspenseless, mess of a sequel.

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