There are to my way of thinking four categories of movies.
The first category is for movies that are art -- excellent stories, well told, and the medium (film) is used expertly to further the telling of the tale. In this category you find films like Citizen Kane, Shakespeare in Love, and Empire of the Sun, which I used to consider to be the finest movie ever made, and it still might be except for film's crowning achievement, The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
In the second category are films that may not be all that good, but they succeed in presenting a unique vision or represent some evolution in film-making. In this category are some of the stop motion masterpieces like the 1933 version of King Kong, or the modern day masterpiece of stop motion, Chicken Run. Star Wars would fall in this cateory. Not a great film, but one that set the movie industry on end and permanently altered how movies are made.
You also may find in this category some quirky movies, like Tim Burton's films. Burton has provided us with a number of spectacular and odd pictures. Just watch Beetle Juice, Big Fish, or The Corpse Bride, and you see a very different reality, remarkably presented to the point of at times being unsettling.
The third category is for films that are just plain fun. Don't worry too much about a moral, don't expect social significance, don't expect to gain wisdom from these movies. These films are just for fun. The only thing that they have in common is that they are well made movies. In this category you have the Pink Panther movies, or the Indiana Jones movies. Horror movies (Alien), sci-fi films (The Fifth Element) and all the well made comic book movies (Superman Returns) fall in this category.
There is a fourth category, the largest by far, of films that are pointless, tasteless, or just plain stink. Sideways, last year's trendy movie that with one line shot a hole in the sales of Merlot wines, falls in this category under both pointless and tasteless. As does 1999's Oscar winning Best Picture American Beauty.
But I want to talk about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. This movie falls squarely and grandly into category three -- just plain fun. It is a well-made movie that doesn't take itself too seriously. The first Pirates movie was a little ground-breaking, especially with Johnny Depp's franchise-making depiction of Jack Sparrow. This movie doesn't offer anything new, although the depiction of Davy Jones and his crew as men more fish than human is spectacular. But everyone is back! Depp with his Sparrow, Orlando Bloom as Will Turner, Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann, the whole bloody crew, aarrrh.
If you liked the first Pirates, you'll love this one. It's big, it's fun, and it delivers a lot of entertainment for the money. Don't wait for the DVD on this one guys, go enjoy movie makin' magic on the big screen.
Here are a few observations to get started. We walked into the theater, and along with the big concession counter, there were vendors with trays selling popcorn, candy, and drinks walking around wearing Pirates of the Caribbean T-shirts. The theater was doing this because patrons were more interested in getting a seat than buying snacks. Therefore, the vendors took the snacks to the patrons. Verrrrry unusual. Secondly, although we arrived fifteen minutes before the start of the film, we got the last two empty seats together in the stadium seating of the theater. Thirdly, in order to maximize the number of times the film could be shown in a day, the theater ran no advertisements or previews; the lights dimmed, and off to Port Royal we went.
Now that's a blockbuster movie.
Of course I knew it was The Summer Movie this year. People have been slobbering to see it since Disney announced that there would be a sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, me included. But I know that many have wondered, me included, if it would be a stinko sequel (like the legendarily stinko Star Wars "prequels"): would Dead Man's Chest be a dumbed-down, candy-coated, kiddie lunchbox movie? Would the plot simply be a rehash of the first movie? Would we suddenly find a pirate's life to be boring? And most of all, would Johnny Depp remember how to play Captain Jack Sparrow as artfully as he did before?
No, no, no, yes!
The movie began, I saw Depp appear on the screen, watched to see if he played his former character convincingly ... and then forgot there was anyone named Johnny Depp for the rest of the movie. He wasn't there. Only Captain Jack was there, as entrancingly boneless and conniving as ever.
The story: Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) of the East India Trading Company wants what Captain Jack Sparrow has -- his seemingly broken compass. He arrests Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and blackmails Will into tracking down Captain Jack to get it from him. Will sets sail. Elizabeth's father springs her from her jail cell, and she stows away on a ship to try to find Will. Jack has a mission of his own: to find a mysterious key that unlocks a secret chest of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), Master of the Sea ... who just happens, like almost everyone else, to have unresolved issues with Captain Jack Sparrow. Oh, and he has a really uber-nasty sea monster at his beck and call, also.
Special effects were fabulous, especially the treatment of Davy Jones' crew and his ship, The Flying Dutchman. The pacing was excellent -- at no point was I fidgeting and thinking, "Come on, get on with it." Though this movie was a bit darker and more callous than its predecessor, it was funny enough that I'm going to have to see it again to catch the bits I missed while laughing harder than I have at a movie for many, many years. (The chase scenes were classic banana-peel and run-into-an-overhanging branch style humor, which I find irresistible if the timing is done correctly, and it was.) And through the humor and the visuals, there was an exploration of morality that was interesting. What do you desire most in life at this time, and what would you do to get it? Is there an element of good in hearts that seem wicked? Who would you be willing to betray in order to serve your own ends? If everyone seeks vengeance, is there any other result than death?
Now, speaking of the story, is it another Gone With the Wind or Pride and Prejudice? No, of course not, this is a movie about crazy pirates. It's a story so outrageous that at times, the characters themselves stop and look around themselves in bewilderment at the depth of the outlandish predicament into which they've been plunged.
I loved the movie, and as I've said, I will be going to see it in the theater again. There were some elements in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest that really appealed to me. Shooting Undead Monkeys as a therapeutic activity? I'm there, Jack, right with ya.
P.S. Stay through all the long credits (don't worry, the music was good) for the very last visual joke to the film.
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