Pirates of the Caribbean: at World's End is a hearty, bumpy sea marathon. For some, it will be a fun ride; for others, it will be an ordeal. I'm somewhere in between.
It's surely an endurance test. At the length of two hours and 47 minutes, it's very lengthy. Some people can eat popcorn for two hours and 47 minutes. I can't. After a while one thinks -- die, pirate, die! And, please, PLEASE, stay dead. But the rambunctious buccaneers keep coming back for more. And more. And more.
Where the second Pirates (Dead Man's Chest, 2006), which was shot at the same time as part three, seemed haphazard and gimmicky, Pirates of the Caribbean: at World's End is more robust and substantial. Its effects don't seem watery CGI -- they often are sumptuous and imaginative. But there's still too much that is precious and indulgent -- remember it's produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. It struts, but it also limps.
Pirates is a hodgepodge of vignettes. Captain Jack Sparrow has to be rescued from Davy Jones's locker. Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann struggle romantically. Lord Cutler Beckett is at war with the pirates, and so on and on.
And you have to have a checklist to try to keep up with the betrayals. Scenes are interrupted and distended and pumped full of the helium of high-pitched action.
I've tried to promote staying until the end of the credits when one goes to a movie, but usually I'm the only person left in the theater. Sometimes, as in X-Men: the Last Stand, there's an important revelation after the credits.
If ever there was a movie where the audience should remain through the credits, it's Pirates of the Caribbean: at World's End. It's a different movie if you stay an extra five minutes.
After the credits, there is a sequence that changes the tone and meaning of the film. If one stays until the end of the credits, he leaves more uplifted than if he hadn't. Please stay.
Pirates is well-acted. Johnny Depp is his usual antic, provocative self as Captain Jack Sparrow, although a monkey comes close to outacting him. Keira Knightley is brash and alluring as Elizabeth, as is Orlando Bloom as Will Turner. Keith Richards is nicely low-key as Jack's father. But Pirates depends most on the power of Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa. He is the film's ballast. (Sparrow doesn't appear until more than a half-hour has passed.)
The direction by Gore Verbinski is competent. The script by Ted Elliott and Terry Russio has some nice throwaway lines. It has moments of drama, humor and social comment. There's also a clever use of Spaghetti Western music and staging.
Pirates of the Caribbean: at World's End is part of a pre-summer phenomenon -- and not a good one - that threatens movies. Studios are now in fierce competition, not for quality, or actors or stories. The overwhelming competition now is for a box office record opening.
Spider-Man 3 broke the all-time record -- that's all-time -- for an opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada with $148 million. Spidey also set a new worldwide opening with $382 million. Then Shrek the Third smashed the all-time box office record for an animated feature with $122 million.
Ironically -- thanks for irony -- both Spidey and Shrek suffered from so-so word of mouth and their earnings fell off more than 50 percent the second week in the U.S. and Canada.
The third record-setting opening in less than a month is Pirates of the Caribbean: at World's End, which set a record as the highest four-day Memorial Day opening ever. It played in the most theaters ever: 4,362. Ouch!
Spidey set a worldwide record for a six-day opening; three weeks later Pirates broke that record and set a new one with $401 million.
Records. Records. Records. Money is pouring off the screens. Studios now are like Barry Bonds on steroids. The game suffers. The outrageous battle for supremacy of opening box office does not bode well for the movie game. But in Pirates of the Caribbean: at World's End, as Lord Cutler Beckett, says of war (and movies): "It's just good business."
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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