When Disney first announced that they were making a movie based on one of their theme park rides, it bemused the film industry. The idea that a film company was so lacking in creativity that they had to draw inspiration from a structure of wood and steel was almost alarming in its idiocy. This, of course, was before movies began being based on board games like Monopoly and Battleship, and children’s gadgets like Viewfinder 3D. Not much was really expected from the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, despite the presence of Johnny Depp, and though they clearly had some belief in the project, Disney could not have predicted the success The Curse of the Black Pearl would enjoy.
Pirates of the Caribbean opened to a reasonable though unspectacular weekend, but those that did see it started spreading the word. It was all about Depp, and his enigmatic Captain Jack Sparrow that inspired this verbal campaign. His performance was as hilarious as it was off the wall. With all the best lines, Sparrow was firmly the hero of the piece despite the ambiguity of his motivations throughout, and the best attempts of Orlando Bloom as the heroic Will Turner.
It was Depp’s brilliance that drew the audience in, but even beneath that Pirates was a snappy, thrilling adventure ride. The pacing was kept tight, the plot simple, and the overall structure of the film was very well thought out. Pirates had come at a good time too. The boom in family movies was just beginning, and to be fair Pirates can probably take some credit for this. Considering all these factors, I don’t think you could criticise Disney for putting into action a sequel project. The handling of the two follow-ups, however, was a different story.
Where Black Pearl had been kept tight and snappy throughout its running time, far less care was given to the subsequent sequel’s scripts. Overlong, overblown, and severely lacking in quality control, Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were an abomination, the result of putting too much of the weight of carrying the movies on the shoulders of Captain Sparrow. The first movie’s storyline really didn’t beg a sequel, it was money that motivated their development. This usually doesn’t bode well.
I posted an article this week about Transformers 3, and how I was willing to give it a chance despite how awful the last installment was. I am not willing to give that same chance to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, released this week. Hypocritical? On the surface it may seem so, but if you read that article, it may provide some clues why. The first Transformers movie, much like Black Pearl, was well received. Though again a sequel was not strictly necessary, there was easily far more scope for one. But for me it is the fact that many of the people involved with Transformers 2 have come out and admitted their mistakes, that it had not lived up to expectations, and have promised better things for the next film that make a difference.
Now, I accept that Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were filmed pretty much back to back, so there was little opportunity to use the feedback from the former to improve the latter. There have, however, been no apologies, no acknowledgment of the fact the last 2 Pirates movies just haven’t worked. Disney have instead just chosen to press on with yet another installment, a follow-up to a trilogy that had really already killed itself off. If a sequel to the original was unnecessary, a fourth movie was just plain unwanted. There was no motivation other than financial for On Stranger Tides, and based on the early reviews that have been released, no attempt has been made to rectify the problems with the series. Bloom and Knightley have been dropped as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, but those these characters were pretty inane, they were not the problem at the heart of the franchise.
The problem with the Pirates series is in fact the same as the element that made it to begin with. Captain Jack Sparrow. What was initially a hilarious and charismatic character has become, due mainly to an over reliance on his schtick to carry the series, a bore. The further adventures of Captain Jack are not enough to make a great and exciting movie, and until Disney accept that, I am uninterested in seeing another Pirates movie. I think the real problem is Disney’s failure to find a franchise that can carry the torch that Pirates lit. Attempts to create franchises from Video Games (Prince of Persia) and movies of yesteryear (Tron: Legacy) have not so far had the desired effect, and the company obviously still sees Pirates as their big live action franchise jewel in the crown, and are reluctant to let go.
I don’t wish any movie failure, but I can’t help but feel if On Stranger Tides tanks at the box office, big time, it may just be what is needed to take the series off of life support. If Disney execs can take their attention away from this terminal franchise, and focus more on the future, they may just find that a new, original concept is sitting under their noses, capable of making the same impact both financially and critically that the first of the Pirates movie managed several years ago. I won’t be contributing to Pirates of the Caribbean 4’s box office gross, whether you do is up to you and your conscience. If you do pay to see it, however, don’t complain when number 5 appears in a couple of short years time.
Bazmann – You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/baz_mann