Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Review
As with The Curse of the Black Pearl, I decided to look at Kevin O’Reilly’s theatrical review of the sequel prior to revisiting it on Blu-ray Disc. In general I find myself in agreement with what he wrote, so for a more detailed look at the film and its numerous faults I would advise you go back and have a read also. Sitting down to watch both films back to back did if anything, highlight the faults of the second even more. While it’s not a grossly inept film – indeed it is essentially more of the same – I did find it to be lacking in direction. The plot is relatively straight-forward, as per the original, but here they’ve separated the main trio of characters giving them each their own individual adventure to follow, crossing paths at various points and all the while meeting additional characters which only add to the load. While this should provide for a more structured film with added depth, none of the separate plotlines amounts to anything more than aiming for the same goal. This approach also requires an additional villain, a rather faceless representative of the East India Trading Company, an element to the world Dead Man’s Chest features that is mentioned numerous times but ultimately amounts to very little. Even Davy Jones, the true villain here fails to bring as much to the proceedings as the wonderful Captain Barbosa of the original did, and it takes nearly a full hour before his introduction. The majority of that hour also seems to serve merely as a reminder of who the central characters are, bringing them back together and putting them into the first of many outrageous action set-pieces that attempt to go bigger and better than the first but end up proving to be quite unsatisfying, large in scale but lacking in tension and purpose.
What this all amounts to is an adventure film severely lacking a sense of adventure, something the first delivered so consistently but is never built upon here. Even the characters lack the same energy they had in the original, with Knightley and Bloom forced to do more than simply try to survive, and instead asked to question and struggle with their feelings in times of crisis. This becomes uncomfortable to watch, as they’re simply not up to the task and neither is the script. The latter even fails at matching the original’s dialogue for Jack, a character who is just as strong here in terms of the performance by Depp, but like every other aspect of the film is made bigger and bolder than the first, with his convoluted sentences doubled in length and halved in effectiveness while the physical touches in his performance are diminished by placing him in more elaborate physical situations. This effectively drowns the film of the many incidental laughs and hearty banter found in the original, heavily weighing it down as the story slowly kicks into gear over the 150-minutes.
Like the first movie Dead Man’s Chest excels in terms of spectacle, though the direction is also “bigger and bolder” but at the same time unrelenting and unable to find any of the smaller character moments. Quite often I found myself picking up on the many references and call backs to aspects of the original, something this film does particularly well is maintain the world and artistic design built in the first, but in scenes which revisit settings from The Curse of the Black Pearl its quite obvious Verbinski is simply unable (or maybe unwilling) to recapture the same sense of fun. What Dead Man’s Chest does get absolutely right however are the special effects, which once again truly manage to impress from both artistic and technical points of view. They may not be quite as seamless as those in the first, but they are many times more ambitious and at all times just as successful in their execution and integration into the film.
Amongst all these glaring problems there is one running theme which runs true throughout. Dead Man’s Chest is simply not as fun as the original, a film that was fresh upon its release and remains so today, whereas the sequel merely tries too hard and doesn’t achieve the same level of entertainment with what are ultimately the same basic elements. Despite my issues with the film though I still found myself mildly entertained (particularly once I got past the first hour), just not quite as consistently which left me with much more time to sit there and pick holes in the production. Even the ending doesn’t bother me…much. After-all we knew this was intended to be the first part of a larger story so the cliff-hanger comes as no surprise. That’s not to say they shouldn’t have done more in the generous running time…
In the same fashion as the first movie, this Blu-ray Disc release is coded for all regions (A, B and C) and places the film on a dual-layer 50GB disc and the numerous extras on a second, single-layer 25GB disc. Inserting the film disc into your player results in the same order of play with a language select screen (English, German or Italian), a loading screen, warning screen, Disney logo, Buena Vista Blu-ray Disc Promo reel, At World’s End trailer and finally the main menu! You can skip all of these by pressing the chapter forward button on your remote, so that’s something. The packaging is also the same, only this time the cardboard slipcase has a lenticular style almost holographic design which is really quite nice.
Picture and Sound
Once again everything you may have read about the quality of the transfer here is absolutely true. This 1080P MPEG4 AVC encode is simply stunning, probably even more visually impressive than the first if only because the colour palette and detail in the character make-up and special effects are so much richer here. Indeed, the crew of the Flying Dutchman are a sight to behold in this transfer, with every barnacle and crustacean visible in perfect clarity while textures throughout impress. The frequent night time sequences which are littered with fog and smoke effects hold up just as well as they did in the first, with black levels spot on and colour gradients well rendered. The only fault in another otherwise beautiful transfer is edge enhancement, something I also picked up on in The Curse of the Black Pearl and is just as visible here (albeit intermittently). Whether or not the edge enhancement is an aspect of post production tinkering I cannot say, but even with it this still remains one of the best high-definition transfers I’ve seen on either format.
The sound too is equally superb, with both the English PCM 5.1 (Uncompressed, 48kHz, 4.6Mbps) and Dolby Digital 5.1 (640kbps) tracks shaking the room and causing your neighbours all manner of distress as the film’s frequent and loud action set-pieces play out. Surrounds are very active though I never noticed anything quite as well placed as the bullets whizzing past your head in the first, much like the film everything is just very loud but also very clear and well separated.
German and Italian viewers are also catered for, in this case with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (Lossless) and Dolby Digital 5.1 (640kbps) options. The former I was only able to access in its legacy “core” mix, a 1.5Mbps DTS track so I’m basing the “Master Audio” claims on the back cover information.
Subtitles are included in English, German and Italian.
On the first disc you will find two Blu-ray Disc exclusive features, though just like The Curse of the Black Pearl the audio commentary option found on the US Blu-ray Disc release is not included. I can only assume that along with the slight downgrade to the PCM audio mix (4.6Mbps compared to 6.9Mbps on the US release) the commentary was dropped to make way for the additional lossless audio mixes found on the disc.
The main Blu-ray Disc exclusive extra is an interactive game based upon the dice game you see Will, his father and Davy Jones play in the film. Instructions are provided via an insert found in the packaging while the pirate hosts who you play the game with also offer to explain before you play. I have to confess, the scene in the film where the characters played this game held absolutely no tension whatsoever for me as I had no clue what was going on, and while the game seems simple enough here it doesn’t really hold any value to this viewer. Half of the point seems to be bluffing, which you can’t really do when you’re playing against pre-recorded characters following pre-programmed rules. The presentation too fails to impress, with the intermittent video clips and audio prompts by characters from the film (most prominently Pintel and Marty, portrayed by Lee Arenberg and Martin Klebba) harking back to the Philips CDi and Sega Mega CD days of videogames, only the various video clips are in 1080P this time around.
Also on the first disc is the Movie Showcase extra, a regular on Buena Vista Blu-ray Disc releases it simply allows you to skip directly to the film’s most cinematic and visually impressive moments.
On to the second disc, the language select screen you’re initially prompted with covers a wide variety of dialects (15 in total) of which all but English are available as subtitle options on the disc. These are detailed in the side panel to the right. The disc features the usual warnings, both copyright and disclaimers before presenting a simple but clean menu screen that details the many features included here.
Sadly, despite a full 25GB to play with, all extras are presented in standard definition.
Charting the Return (25:41mins) – Appropriately the extras start off with this pre-production diary, charting the conception of the second and third in the trilogy and taking us from October 2004 to the first day of shooting in February 2005. It says a lot that we often find tension and conflict more entertaining and interesting to watch in comparison to the usual happy, everything is so wonderful approach most featurettes take, and this piece is no exception. The complete lack of a script and the sheer scale of the production they’re working towards makes for a lot of problems in the run-up to the principal photography, even budgetary problems arise and this mini-documentary shows both the good and the bad through a series of fly-on-the-wall moments and on-camera interviews with director, writers and various members of the production team. It also manages to say a lot about the end-product, particularly if you share the viewpoint that it simply doesn’t live up to the original, with the conception of the films coming across as entirely manufactured to print money (if it was ever in doubt!).
According to Plan (63:01mins) – Next up is a production diary, put together in a similar fashion it takes us from St. Vincent to Dominica to the huge tank they built in the Caribbean to shoot the majority of the ship based action. Equally fascinating as the pre-production piece, there is a good sense of narrative here with the focus between specific locations, scenes and problems faced all well balanced and detailed without ever dragging on with needless waffle. Another key to the success of these pieces, I feel, is the minimal interview footage with the actors, leaving the majority to be said by various crew members which helps a great deal in terms of making what is being said feel authentic. With the actors there is always a sense they’re talking with promotional publicity in mind, but even here their minimal contributions tend to be more interesting and honest than usual.
Captain Jack: From Head to Toe (26:15mins) - An interactive artist’s rendition of Captain Jack Sparrow can be navigated by the user, selecting various parts of his outfit and make-up which take you to brief video segments with the costume designers and make-up artists outlining inspiration and how the design was brought to life. Complete with comments from Johnny who had a sizeable input to the design, these are interesting snippets that I preferred to watch via the Play-All function rather than mess about with the interactive nonsense.
Meet Davy Jones: Anatomy of a Legend (12:33mins) – Another excellent piece, this one sees the guys at Industrial Light and Magic take us through the animation process on Bill Nighy’s character, Davy Jones. Various scenes from the film are shown to us at many different stages of animation, from the untouched principal photography with the actors in their motion capture suits through to basic animation and then a fully textured and lit final pass there is a great deal to admire here as the information is divulged via effective visual aids. There is also plenty of input from Bill Nighy, who seems to have taken the effects work in his stride and to his and ILM’s credit together they brought a very effective CGI character to the screen.
Creating the Kraken (9:57mins) – Another post-production mini-featurette with ILM and the on-set effects crew, this one looks at the work involved to bring the Kraken to life complete with how they destroyed one of the ships on set. Not quite as engaging as the previous piece, mainly because it’s less about creating a character and more about creating a spectacle on the screen, this is still pretty interesting and well put together complete with multiple stage progression shots showing the various plates used to bring the final scene together.
Dead Men Tell No Tales: Re-Imagineering the Attraction (13:01mins) – This featurette looks at how elements from the first movie were integrated into the updated Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland. Taking us through the work involved updating this famous ride is relatively interesting, though I find having no first-hand experience of the attraction dampens my overall intrigue in the work that is presented.
Fly on the Set: The Bone Cage (3:48mins) – Some on-set production footage as they shoot the scene in the bone cage where the characters swing it back and forth over the ravine (or blue screen as was the case). The actors all seem to be having a lot of fun, expect for one who is sick. That’s about it, just some excised material from the main production documentary I suspect but worthwhile taking a peek at.
Jerry Bruckheimer: A Producer’s Photo Diary (4:42mins) – A regular feature on Bruckheimer productions, the producer offers up several of his photographs from the set complete with commentary.
Pirates on Main Street: Dead Man’s Chest Premiere (3:59mins) – Lots of screaming fans mob the actors as they walk down the red carpet for the film’s premiere.
Stills from the Set - No explanation required, more photos from the production.
Bloopers of the Caribbean (3:39mins) – Another blooper reel, fun for some, not so much for others.
Mastering the Blade - Here we have three mini-featurettes on Orlando Bloom (5:37mins), Keira Knightley (5:06mins) and Jack Davenport (5:17mins) where they take us through their work involving swords in the film. With plenty of rehearsal footage and insight also provided by the stunt team and stunt doubles, these are an entertaining trio of featurettes. My favourite would have to be the one with Keira Knightley, not only is she probably the most impressive to watch during the rehearsals (if anything the bar fight looks better here, unedited, than it does in the final film) but she’s also in her gym outfit mucking in with the boys. What more could you want?
Pirates on Location - Two featurettes, Cannibal Island (8:16mins) and Tortuga Bar Brawl (3:36mins), these are essentially more of what we’ve already seen in the production documentary with on-set footage focusing on two specific portions of the film. In this case we have the cannibal island sequence, only taken from the perspective of Jack Sparrow’s character and his run-in with the natives and then the bar-room brawl on Tortuga. Both also seem to involve the director and crew showering the actors in food.
Inside Dead Man’s Chest - Three featurettes, Pirate Lore (2:33mins), Locations & Sets (4:17mins) and Story & Characters (2:37mins), these are of a promotional nature highlighting various aspects of the films with behind-the-scenes footage, clips from the film and plenty of quotable interview snippets from the actors. Quite insignificant compared to the production diaries and other featurettes on the disc, I’d guess these were produced for the internet around the time of the film’s theatrical release.
Pirates Around The World - In this section you’ll find the original Theatrical Trailer in English, French, Italian, German and Portuguese versions, and the original Teaser Trailer in English, Italian, Spanish and German versions.
Easter Eggs - There are additional bonus featurettes to be found on the Hat Trick Catering team (2:09mins), the “Coconut Man” (1:36mins), “Chopper” the dog (1:46mins), the stand-by painter (1:07mins) and finally the “Twin Pirates” Chris and Mike (1:04mins). As per those found on the first film’s Blu-ray Disc release, these are also a pain in the arse to find and access (I cheated and looked them up elsewhere) while none are exactly worth the hassle. If however you enjoy the hunt then to get you started, from the main menu highlight the “According to Plan” extra and then push left and up on your remote. This will light up the skull’s eyes at the top of the screen, whereupon hitting enter will take you to a sub-menu with an interactive skull and crossbones. To access the hidden extras you must navigate around pushing the right button sequences to find each extra (it’s all grid based, every time you hit the wrong direction you are reset to the “Back” option so with patience it’s easy enough to work out the right sequence of button pushes).
While the film may not live up to the original the AV presentation on this Blu-ray Disc release certainly does, looking spectacular and sounding just as good Dead Man’s Chest can also boast a far superior set of special features that offer more depth and consistency when compared to the large quantity of bite size featurettes found on The Curse of the Black Pearl. Sadly this UK release is once again lacking the commentary options of the US alternative, so if that bothers you then importing is the way to go, but this is an otherwise excellent release that I can’t really fault.