Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End: Special Edition (2 Disc Set) Review
It was a sorrowful end to Dead Man's Chest, one that saw the crew of the Black Pearl mourn the loss of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to the Kraken. Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) had declared Sparrow's debt to him settled and as the Flying Dutchman made its way beneath the waters once more and Norrington (Jack Davenport) brought Jones' heart to Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) of the East India Trading Company, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) sought refuge with Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris). She offered them hope, would they be willing to save Jack Sparrow from Davy Jones' Locker? Each one said, "Aye!" in turn and with a renewed sense of optimism, they set off to the World's End.
First they need a ship and charts to show them the route to Davy Jones' Locker. It is to Singapore they travel, sneaking in under cover of night to meet with pirate lord Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat), who is, at first, less than welcoming of another pirate lord to his part of the world. As the gunshots of the troops of the East India Trading Company sound out in Singapore and their bullets cut down Sao Feng's pirates, Barbossa makes off with all that he requires, sailing through seas of ice to the end of the world, where Captain Jack Sparrow waits in Davy Jones' Locker, the sun beating down on the Black Pearl as it rests in a desert. But will Sparrow be welcoming to those who tried to kill him? Even the one who succeeded?
I was reading very recently about how humanity is evolving faster now than it has ever done. No doubt there's much talk of greater mental capacity, of talented sportsmen and women lifting the bar somewhat or of us developing more nimble thumbs to cope with text messaging on tiny little mobile phone keypads. That may well be but the extended running time of films is probably causing the increase in the number of big plush bums, necessary to keep us comfortable during the two-and-a-half-hours of Spider-Man 3, the 154 minutes of Superman Returns and the near-three hours of Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End. Should this series keep on going, and, financially, there's no reason that it should end here, I suspect that by the time we have a tenth installment, which will last for seven hours or thereabouts, we'll have evolved to meet all of our nutritional requirements from popcorn, pick'n'mix, hot dogs and gallons of soft drinks and will be well-suited, like the creatures of The Descent, to spending half our waking lives in the darkness of a cinema.
It's with good reason that the running time of this film is highlighted. In the opening minutes of this film, I checked the back of the DVD cover and did a double take on realising that this film ran to 170 minutes. That's almost three hours! As long as Curse Of The Black Pearl and Dead Man's Chest were, 153 and 151 minutes respectively, this trumps them effortlessly to approach the territory marked out for epics like Gone With The Wind, the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and Titanic. In the case of those films, the running time was probably justified. Peter Jackson, after all, had a thousand-page book to work from but during the promotion of this film, I picked up a Disney magazine with a free cover mount of the book of Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End, one that does a fine job of telling the story in a mere sixty-four pages. That book's more of a pamphlet than an actual novel, given that it includes almost as many pictures as it does words but it's instructive to see just how much unnecessary material was dragged into this film to stretch it out to nearly three hours. And you do have to sit through all three hours of it as director Verbinski has included a sweet little coda that might be one of the highlights of the three films.
Those hours might have passed by rather more quickly had Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End been an easier film to watch, had it not tried to dazzle its audience with effects and had it not twisted and turned with all the grace of a hippopotamus. Like it's prequel, Dead Man's Chest, At World's End never allows the ranks of heroes and villains to quite settle. There is always the suspicion that everything will come good in the end but long before the film resolves itself, Jack Sparrow, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann make deals with all parties, be they the East India Trading Company, the nine Pirate Lords, Davy Jones and the volatile goddess Calypso. All of this comes together in an epic sea battle on the verges of a maelstrom spun into form by Calypso in which the crews of the Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman pummel one another in a lashing rain. The once-cursed crew of the Pearl cross swords with the fish-faced-and-bodied men of the Flying Dutchman in a sequence that is not only expensive but pointlessly so, the vast amount of CG drowning out the characters, story and what little comedy there is. George Lucas has been criticised for frittering away his films with computer generated odds and ends but any one of the Star Wars films appear to be rather meagre when viewed next to Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End. Lucas has his moments of excess but he's so far avoided drawing one of his films to a close in a battle between two space cruisers circling a black hole. Gore Verbinski has a good deal less restraint.
Those, however, are still not the film's main failing. Rather it's that the action and comedy keep one another at a distance, looking to Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Depp for its laughs and to Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly for its drama. Mull those words over a little and you realise just how crippled At World's End is, depending on Knightly and Bloom to carry it. Bloom is as wooden as the beams that hold the Black Pearl together but it's Knightly who drags the film down the most, her rousing speech on the eve of battle sounding less like she's leading pirates to their deaths than appearing to be rather upset at having laddered her stockings. But at least when she does, you sense that the end of the film, if still three-quarters of an hour away, is coming, which, like the cameo by Keith Richard, the quiet sail through the ice to the world's end and the brief little coda, is one of those rare moments to savour. All else in Pirates Of The Caribbean is too long, told in such a way that not only does one not remember what happened in Dead Man's Chest but one doesn't care much either. Pirates Of The Caribbean has offered us over five-and-a-half hours of sequel when two would have more than sufficed. They've been generous to a fault.
On one of the bonus features, ILM bemoan the amount of rain in the final sea battle, noting that with the blue screen now looking to be more a shade of grey, their CG efforts have been made much more difficult. They needn't really have complained, at least not as regards the DVD release as the wash of digital processing has drained what little life there was in At World's End almost completely out of the film. The picture is soft, blurry and often looks washed out. The lowest point comes late in the film with the sea battle between two ships perched on the edge of the maelstrom. At that point, the picture is a series of dull greys, greens and browns and the background CG fidgeting combines with a low bitrate to make for a very poor looking DVD. To be fair, At World's End isn't that bad throughout. The sight of Jack Sparrow in Davy Jones' Locker is bright, sharp and, though lacking in colour, still looks impressive. However, that's a rare moment in an otherwise average transfer.
The DD5.1 is altogether better. The film opens well with a bleak scene of the East India Trading Company hanging pirates, in which the soundtrack is crisp and clear, as it is in Davy Jones' Locker, but remains so even with the cannon blasts that sound between the ships. There's heavy swirls of noise from the sea and the rear speakers do much to bring the viewer into the action with the splash of water, the hiss of the rain and the clash of swords. Even Keith Richards sounds clear, with the few quiet scenes having a warmth about them that stands in contrast to the film's usual bombast but which generally sounds pretty good throughout.
Bloopers of the Caribbean (5m23s): As funny as the main film, which is no recommendation.
Keith And The Captain (4m41s): Should it not be Keef And The Captain? The Human Riff has a small cameo in At World's End and appears backstage in this feature alongside Johnny Depp, the two of them appearing with knives, skulls, ribbons and other old bits of tat in their dreadlocks. Jerry Bruckheimer tells us that, "Keith Richards is an icon to all of us." Had they propped up the corpse of his late movie-making partner, Don Simpson, to say those words, I might have believed him but not Bruckheimer who looks as though his mother still irons his jeans. Keef plays guitar, laughs that breathless giggle that he does and says something that might be about Captain Teague but is so vague that it could also be about Mick Jagger. He doesn't play She's A Rainbow though.
Anatomy Of A Scene: The Maelstrom (19m31s): Standing inside an enormous, Gore Verbinski talks about the filming of this action finale as being the biggest ever filmed. Various people talk about smoke and debris, about supplying a thousand gallons of oil a minute to lubricate the machinery controlling the Black Pearl, of needing enough wattage to power a small city and of needing more lighting than any other movie ever, making it sound less like the making of a movie than an environmental disaster. It does look quite incredible to see it coming together but, then again, this is probably more interesting than actually seeing the maelstrom scene in the film. ILM worries about there being too much rain for them to work with - the blue screen turns grey - while revealing just how little of the scene was filmed in-camera. Without ILM, there wouldn't have been very much to talk about on this feature or to look at in the scene.
Tale Of The Many Jacks (4m49s): More talk of getting into the record books feature in this look at how multiple camera passes and ten stand-ins aided the making of this film with its ship sailed by a whole crew of Jack Sparrows. The Jacks get their moment on the screen as do the massive dreadlocks that the little Jacks hide behind. "I'm Spartacus!" arrives with such predictability that even my DVD player groaned.
Deleted Scenes: You mean they actually cut something out of this film? And it's still three hours long? There are only two such scenes here, one with Pintel and Ragetti, I Like Riddles (56s), and another with Barbossa and Sparrow, Two Captains. One Ship (1m30s). There is an optional commentary from Gore Verbinski for these.
The World of Chow Yun Fat (4m14s): At only a shade over four minutes, this is a very small world. After describing the background to piracy in the Far East, this goes on to talk about Chow Yun Fat, how different his style of working is - he brought his own action double with him - and how much he enjoys clowning around on the set. It's a pity there's more slapstick comedy in these four minutes than there is in the three hours of At World's End.
The Pirate Maestro: The Music of Hans Zimmer (10m31s): They missed a trick by not using the theme to Captain Pugwash for these films, which would have made for a lighter tone than the dreary and leaden score that Zimmer wrote for them. He's shown here working on that score, recording it with an orchestra and using various odd instruments to add to the movie's themes. And Gore Verbinsi plays guitar, which is explained away by having to save costs. Losing thirty minutes off the running time would have been a better idea.
Inside The Brethren Court (55s): This shy-of-a-minute feature is only the introduction to a menu wherein the viewer can watch a short film on each of the pirate lords who attend the Brethern Court. Barbossa, Sao Feng and Jack Sparrow all have their moment, each one done and dusted in less than a minute.
Hoist The Colors (4m41s): Hans Zimmer is back to talk about the theme for the pirate song that opens the film, written by Gore Verbinski and Zimmer over an online session.
Masters Of Design: There are five individual documentaries in this section, each one looking at a particular aspect of the design of the film. The first features Jim Byrkit and the Chinese Map (6m19s), which is followed by Crash McCreary and the Cursed Crew (5m24s) and Rick Heinrichs' Singapore (5m13s). Costume Designer Penny Rose is next talking about the Captain Teague Outfit (3m37s) before finishing off with Chris Peck and the Code Book (5m20s). If listening to designers talk about their thing is of interest then these aren't bad.
Easter Eggs: There are three of these on the second disc, the first of which (2m37s) follows the crew to the Bonneville Salt Flats, which are famous for the land speed record attempts, but which feature here as the backdrop to Jack Sparrow's own version of Davy Jones' Locker. The second (2m48s) features a short animatic sequence of Sao Feng's ship sailing through icy waters to the world's end to close this disc off. The third (1m12s) sees the dressing of the Singapore set, the fourth has actor Martin Klebba talk the viewer around this custom-built Pirates Of The Caribbean motorbike (1m06s) before the last one (2m08s) sees drummer Simon Philips working with Hans Zimmer on the score. There might be another one or two but I did give up on them at that point.
Did I mention it's a long film? I think that point has been made but it's worth making again. In their making two films back to back, Disney have taken one film, stretched it out to over five hours and then broken it in half. It didn't work for Back To The Future II/III, The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions and Kill Bill 1/2 and doesn't here either. I don't doubt that we'll return to Pirates Of The Caribbean some day but it may be worth waiting a while until some of the goodwill from the first film is reflected onto its sequels.