Movie review: “Batten down the hatches!; Pirates a tale of battles, barnacles, betrayals” (The Province, May 24, 2007)

Batten down the hatches!; Pirates a tale of battles, barnacles, betrayals

by Gillian Burnett

I’m exhausted. Bone-tired, really, still reeling from the demanding business of watching the third — and possibly, though not probably, the final — instalment of the ludicrously lucrative Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. Clocking in at two hours and 49 minutes and costing a rumoured $200 million US (that’s about $1,183,000 per minute), At World’s End may just be the movie that forever redefines what constitutes “bang for your buck.”

At the press screening I was handed a typewritten memo from the organizers pleading with reviewers not to reveal the “many plot resolutions that occur.” They need not have bothered. While there are many plots, and many resolutions that don’t bear scrutiny, I couldn’t begin to recount them here. At World’s End is a seething, bubbling bouillabaisse of battles, bombs, boat-boardings, barnacles, beating hearts, betrothal and betrayals — above all, betrayals — where characters switch allegiances more often than your average cast of Survivor.

It was a dark and stormy opening sequence. A noose hangs starkly in silhouette. Row upon row of prisoners march to their deaths at the hands of the British. A lone shadowy figure poles a skiff through the murky, steaming waters of an underground Singaporean pirate hangout, where the rats run rampant and the air of menace is thick. Piercing the gloom are Keira Knightley’s teeth — brilliant Chiclets that have inexplicably escaped the makeup artists’ palette of pirate grime.

Enter Chow Yun-Fat, the scar-faced, treacherous Sao Feng, one of nine pirate lords being summoned to “the brethren court” to reunite the legendary Pieces of Eight to combat the mercenary and merciless East India Trading Company. But first, they must join forces to rescue Jack at world’s end.

And we’re off. One huge waterfall, a few betrayals and a land of the dead later, the pirates are reunited against their common enemy, who have harnessed the power of the Flying Dutchman for ill, if you consider ridding the high seas of pirates a bad thing.

Favourite characters are all back in force: the dashing Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), the bossy, squinting Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), the squid-faced Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). But the star of the show, the centrifugal force around which the action swirls, is the lurching, eye-rolling Jack Sparrow, played with cockeyed abandon by Johnny Depp. The few scenes in which he doesn’t appear seem flat and poorly paced.

And it’s the humour (which is, predictably, in the my-spyglass-is-bigger-than-your-spyglass vein) that carries this empress of excess into port. In a highlight cameo by Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards — whose costume, as Jack’s pirate dad, appears no different from his stage clothes — Jack asks, “How’s Mum?” In answer, the man who famously joked about snorting his own father’s ashes holds up a grey, shrunken head.

Now that shivered my timbers.

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