Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Review
After the phenomenal success of the first three Pirates Of The Caribbean movies, it was inevitable that a fourth would follow sooner or later. Jerry Bruckheimer once again produced, the directorial reigns having been handed over to Rob Marshall, and Johnny Depp returned to the role that has made him one of the most bankable movie stars in modern history: the loveable rogue that is Captain Jack Sparrow. The end of the third film put Sparrow on the trail of the Black Pearl and the Fountain of Youth, and On Stranger Tides follows up on both those threads.
The story starts in London, with Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally) standing trial for piracy. After the familiar-looking judge commutes Gibb's death sentence, Sparrow's plan to rescue his old friend soon falls apart - but not before Gibbs tells him that someone calling themselves Jack Sparrow is assembling a crew. Jack is brought before the King, accompanied by his old adversary Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Barbossa is minus a leg, but he's now a privateer in the service of the Crown. The need to chase after the MacGuffin is spelled out by King George, who doesn't want the Spanish to get the Fountain of Youth, and Sparrow promptly escapes in a lengthy action sequence.
He confronts the imposter who's putting together a crew in his name, who turns out to be Angelica Teach, an old flame who's not best pleased to see Jack again. She also happens to be the daughter of Blackbeard (Ian McShane), one of the most feared pirates who is himself afraid of a prophecy: he will soon die at the hand of a one-legged man, so he needs to find himself some immortality. Gibbs, having memorised the fancy map thingy from the last film, is enlisted by Barbossa and they all set off to find the fabled Fountain of Youth. Cue a search for mystical chalices, mermaids, missionaries and more stuff that doesn't make a lick of sense.
There really isn't any need to cover the story in more detail because the more it gets looked at, the more it falls apart, and plenty of the film's twists and turns are baffling. On Stranger Tides is not a good film, but it is competently staged and anyone with a soft spot for Depp's schtick will get plenty of value out of it. Penelope Cruz does what she needs to do - look beautiful - and Ian McShane is surprisingly restrained. I thought his Blackbeard would be a scenery chewing villain, but (in one of the movie's few saving graces) he's quietly determined rather than maniacally evil. Kevin McNally and Geoffrey Rush are going through the motions as they reprise their roles.
The action scenes feel a bit flat, because even though there's lots of technical savvy on display it's nothing we haven't seen before, not least a swordfight in the rafters which rips off the first Pirates movie. Even though this film cost a boatload (heh) of money to make, it didn't have the insane budget of the last two and the visuals in general just don't reach those giddy heights, either in imagination or execution. Oh, and the ending is a thinly-veiled reworking of Indy saving his dad in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. The music is very samey too, Hans Zimmer reeling off his traditional Pirates repertoire, which is still catchy enough to have me humming it for days afterwards (damn you Zimmer!).
On Stranger Tides feels like Pirates by numbers, the studio ticking boxes in order to get Jack Sparrow back on screen again. To their credit it worked like gangbusters, this latest installment taking much less domestic coinage than the last one (even with the 3D boost) but it absolutely ransacked the international box office. One billion dollars later (just try saying that without sounding like Dr. Evil), we're surely going to set sail with the Pirates Of The Caribbean once again. Let's hope that they can get some of that old magic back.
The movie was shot in stereo using the Red ONE and Red EPIC digital cameras (the latter for pickups) at a resolution of 4K and 5K respectively, and it's framed at 2.40:1 for this 2D Blu-ray. In keeping with the other Pirates movies, a lot of scenes take place in dark and murky locations, so it doesn't give the movie a lot of visual punch but I can hardly fault the encode for its technical ability. Fine detail and colour tend to get swallowed up by the gloom - one scene is practically monochromatic - but in the brighter scenes there's vibrant colour (with skin tones appropriate for the locales, e.g. white and pasty for old London town and golden brown for the scenes at sea) and deliciously crisp detail. There's no edge enhancement to spoil the show. This AVC encode handles darkness and smoke with ease, with only the slightest hint of banding appearing in one shot, which is just as well given the constant murk. Thanks to the high-resolution photography there's no grain to speak of, which gives the movie a cleaner visual texture than its celluloid predecessors.
The movie was originally mixed in Dolby's theatrical 7.1 format, and that layout has been preserved here with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 presentation (no idea if it's the theatrical master though). I found the dialogue to be just a little bit low in the third Pirates movie, but there's no such problem here with clear speech that's never lost in the mix, which is vital if we're to hear every last mumble from Jack Sparrow. The extended sound field is nice and active, with lots of atmospheric support during the quiter moments and plenty of directional effects during the action scenes. Bass never quite plumbs the depths though; your subwoofer will certainly make itself heard, but I doubt that the neighbours will notice. The identikit music score is ever-present in the mix, sounding as big and bolshy as ever.
The audio commentary features director Rob Marshall and executive producer John DeLuca. The two are constantly chattering away, but it's all a bit self-congratulatory, blathering on about how this actor is so giving, that actor was great, this scene looks great, we loved shooting in Hawaii, and so on. Rob Marshall says the word "great" a lot, and loves to wibble on about great the 3D looks.
The other features are hardly worth bothering with. Bloopers Of The Caribbean is a typical collection of incredibly unfunny outtakes, presented in HD and lasting a whole 3 minutes. There are two adverts for Lego Pirates Of The Caribbean, again in HD and again they're a total of 3 minutes long. Last up is a 4 minute Discover Blu-ray 3D with Timon & Pumbaa feature, which is all about shilling 3D to the kiddies.
Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a disappointing return for Captain Jack. The movie certainly looks lush on 2D Blu-ray and it sounds great in 7.1 DTS-HD, but with a greater focus on Sparrow it loses sight of what made him such a great character in the first place: he was used sparingly, which gave his ramblings all the more comedic impact. Fingers crossed that the balance is restored for the next film. The sparse Blu-ray extras are a meagre haul of booty, and don't do anything to enrich the experience. This one's for fans only.