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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Damn, Man

I took my 13-year-old son Zander to see "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" a few nights ago. He thought it was "okay, but not as good as the first one," so I was cool with going. But as an entertainment experience, looked at in isolation, I have to say that it was one of the worst movies I've ever seen in my life and pretty much embodies everything I hate about blockbuster movies specifically and modern pop-cultural pasturized processed art-product in general: weak, literally "junky" plot in that the screenwriters threw in everything they could think of; unmodulated, unrelenting special effects, many only marginally justified; tired trope after tired trope borrowed from other movies and from the various reductio-ad-absurdum pop conceptions of pirate lore and symbolism; truly "wretched excess" in every aspect of the production; and extreme, almost alarming levels of mannerism and exaggeration. The Johnny Depp character, "Captain Jack Sparrow," despite persistent attempts at resonance-building, is a weak character whose appeal to the other characters and the audience is a mystery. (I can only assume the audience learned to love him in the first movie, which I didn't see.) To top it all off, there's not even any real suspense, since the dangers never seem real and we pretty much know how things are going to progress anyway. Captain Sparrow is supposedly dead, for instance, having been swallowed by "Kraaken" the monster, but only small children and simpletons could be persuaded that he actually might not show up in the second sequel (that is, movie #3).

I rather liked "Davey Jones," though, with his mobile face and religious-revival intonations.

Verdict, poor by any standard, F as an adventure flick, D as mindless fun, and F as a cultural experience, and discouraging (even disgusting) if regarded as any sort of a bellwether of popular taste. I squirmed, I really did. I couldn't wait for it to end. It was painful to sit through. Except, as I said, for the fact that I was sitting next to my cool kid.

Oh, and the cinematography wasn't even much good. Damn, man.


Featured Comment by Dan: The best, if not simply the funniest, review of the movie is given at Ask A Ninja.

Funny, and very accurate. He covered a lot of critical points I didn't. For instance, the shotgun. And the part about even body parts getting their own plot line, and the last line of the movie being a new plot line—all very true. Thanks for this, Dan! —Mike

Postscript to the critics of the criticism: Hey, I did give it a passing grade as mindless fun.


Blogger Ted Kostek said...


Be sure to check out Roger Ebert's review of the original. Ebert's writing is worth the effort alone.

Re: the current movie, yeah, it stunk.

I was reminded of Ebert's theory that Hollywood never stopped making B movies; they just pumped up the budget and pass them off as A movies.

I enjoyed the witch doctor scenes, though.

7:22 PM  
Blogger stevierose said...

Ummm....I can't say that I'm surprised. After all, the first movie (and this one) is based upon a Disney theme park ride. Not a whole lot of material to mine there.

8:23 PM  
Blogger Don said...

So Mike, tell us how you really feel about this movie!

9:31 PM  
Blogger pbizarro said...

I suppose it depends on the expectations of the viewer and the objectives of the film makers. I never expect too much from this sort of movies, besides "being entertained". And I was.

The objectives of the film makers were to further exploit a successful plot, or recipe. According to box office records, I suppose they are happy.

11:30 PM  
Blogger Dierk Haasis said...

First off let me say that I concur with the overall theme of your post. Second, my opinion is based upon the first [i]Pirates of the Caribbean[/i], which many regard as a good movie (mostly on the sheer fun it provides, just like a theme park ride).

And although I agree in general with you, you entirely missed the premise of this series, hence the fun of it:

[i][...] the various reductio-ad-absurdum pop conceptions of pirate lore and symbolism; truly "wretched excess" in every aspect of the production; and extreme, almost alarming levels of mannerism and exaggeration.[/i]

This is what [i]Pirates[/i] is about, making it a worthy successor of [i]The Crimson Pirate[/i], which has a short introduction by Burt Lancaster (or his role?) that the following is a fairy tale much more than a realistic take on piracy.

Actually most pirate movies ever made, particularly those we all regard as such, have been fairy tales, most acknowledged it openly, only very few took themselves serious and didn't work well because of it.

All critics dwelled on Johnny Depp's proclamation, Keith Richards has been his inspiration, but whoever knows his pirate movie history should be aware of Depp's Jack Sparrow standing in the long tradition of douglas Fairbanks, Douglas Fairbanks, jr., Errol Flynn, Burt Lancaster, and several others. All full of mannerisms, annoying theatrics - and all out fun.

[i]Pirates[/i] are the kind of movies anybody witha keen eye, a little bit of style and an expectation of characters, plot, story and dialogue in a movie will agree are bad. But they still provide a lot of fun upon watching it for the first time. Just like a theme park ride - nothing lasting, nothing of matter, no gravitas, only gravity.

1:43 AM  
Blogger Supasnapper said...

As stevierose said, it's based on a theme park ride! Time was when it worked the other way round, movie - then the ride. What does that say about our world?

3:14 AM  
Blogger chris said...

I agree that it was pretty lacklustre, although I didn't hate it quite as you seems to. My personal highlight was being able to identify the actor playing Davey Jones under all that prosthetics!

5:17 AM  
Blogger Svein-Frode said...

It was as interesting artistically as landscape photos from Antelope Canyon, though much more entertaining. Still, YAWN! I think though that one has to admit the facts: It's kitsch, it's a mass market product, it's for children. It's all about money, not about art!

5:49 AM  
Blogger Brambor said...

hmm. Mike. One advice for going to movies with kids: Go when you're really tired and need a nap. Nap. It works! I hope you don't snore.

7:45 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

I have to strenuously disagree. I know fun movies--I like fun movies--and that was not a fun movie. Peter Sellers' "The Party" was a fun movie. "The Iron Giant" was a fun movie. I enjoyed bits and pieces of Pirates II here and there, but there's such a thing as fun done right and fun forced and botched, and this drek was BOTCHED--IMHO.

Have a look at the "Ask A Ninja" review linked in "Featured Comments"--he nailed it for me.


9:20 AM  
Blogger Just Plain Hugh said...

I think the first movie was (sort of) good , or at least fun, because nobody at Disney expected anything other than another "country bears jamboree". Johnny Depp comes in and hijacks it with a performance more affected than Boy George and Keith Richards combined. The whole thing worked in a Monte Python "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition" sort of way.

It's not the sort of thing that usually happens on purpose, much less twice , no matter how much money you spend, and the sequel shows it.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Hey Brambor,
Good advice, but unfortunately I do snore. I don't actually have anything against kid's movies if they're well done. I enjoyed "The Iron Giant" and I thought "The Incredibles" was charming and funny and very enjoyable.

There was also a period in Dinsey films when they made some real masterpieces--I'm not thinking of the true classics but a period in the '60s or '70s that seem to have been made with much of the same team--the same voice actors and artists. "Robin Hood" and "Jungle Book" are both of that era. I like those a lot. Great songs, great animation, great voices, just very well-done kids' movies altogether.


9:58 AM  
Blogger Max said...

The long scene of the monkeys dancing in "The Jungle Book" is the best of that kind there is. The characters are so human it's incredible. They seem to be the real performers. Nothing these days comes close to that kind of animation.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Dave New said...

Check out the first "Pirates" movie, if your experience from the 2nd one hasn't ruined your taste for it.

I enjoyed the first one, as it just clicked as being really fun and scary in an odd sort of way. The special effects are seen their for the first time, and don't seem to overwhelm the characters.

I saw the reviews for the 2nd movie, and purposefully stayed away. I presume that we will eventually end up with it on DVD (we have the grandkids here each weekend, so we have the *entire* Disney collection, believe you me), so I'll get a chance eventually to turn my nose up at it.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Brambor said...

yep. there were kids movies I did not sleep through. Lately, Monster House kept me awake although I think it scared the crap out of the kids in the theatre. Not me being awake. The movie.

Incredibles was decent. I only slept for 10 minutes.

9:54 AM  

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