Monday, July 09, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End -- Really?

Let me start with some choice quotes about PotC: AWE from Nathan Lee's Village Voice review:

"Long before the third, fourth, or fifth climax in this endless, obligatory summer diversion, I slunk into my seat in a passive, inattentive stupor, fully submitting to the fact that I hadn’t the slightest idea what the hell was going on."

"When Depp freaked his funk in The Curse of the Black Pearl, it seemed a sneak attack—the deployment of frisky, flamboyant, softly subversive shenanigans across the cold, impersonal grain of corporate entertainment. Dead Man’s Chest put him in the spotlight and he withered; blooms of such mincing, mascara’d rarity depend on nooks and shadows to flourish. At World’s End is even more aggressive in flaunting and defanging his spectacle, resorting more than once to the multiplication conceit. Give ‘em what they want has never been so literal, to such diminishing returns."

"Of all movies, this is the last you’d expect to talk and talk and talk and talk, but on it goes, everybody yapping about what they just did, what they’re about to do, what they should be doing, what it will mean if they do X instead of Y. Dude, just fucking do it."

In his Onion AV Club review Scott Tobias wrote: "Should the franchise warrant still another sequel, the dialogue might as well be in Esperanto."

When I read this I believed it, but last night I saw the movie anyway, in part because I had some free time, and some friends figured it would be a fun distraction, and I did not want to seem like a spoil-sport. Around the time the film, in a single scene, alluded to the penultimate scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey AND the Matrix I fell into that stupor Lee describes, and got to thinking. Where does the obligatory come from in Lee's phrase "obligatory summer diversion"?

My own list of complaints about the third Pirates film would have to include things like keeping the death of the Kraken off screen -- time taken discussing everything could have been used for a key, and probably visually interesting, scene. Lots of new pirates were introduced who seemed like they might do something, but their major role was to sit round and the cheer at the end. Elizabeth went through a number of changes in this film, but in the end she was just left stranded with nohting to do, and no direction. And, appallingly, the film expects you to remember things from the first film while throwing NEW incomprehensible mythology at you: the sword, the heart (old stories and new rules), the compass, the coins, the map, the objects for the bowl, gods, phasing through solid objects, the land of the dead, the pirate rules (does anyone else here watch Fairy Odd Parents?). I say "throwing" but I mean "talking about." Just one example: why can Barbosa and Depp can come back from the dead, but Elizabeth's father cannot? Because the writers want to write for Depp and Barbosa, but not for Elizabeth's father. I have seen movies make no sense in the past, but they were things like Charlie's Angels 2, or even Ocean's 12, where it was part of how the film is supposed to work -- these movies have no plot like ice cream has not nutrients, you are just supposed to enjoy the patter and the visuals. I do not know how much fun Pirates 3 would have to be to justify its incoherence, but I think, at the least, it would have to be the most charismatic, pure fun, energetic film ever made, for starters. They would also have to serve me some kind of free, excellent dinner during the film.

This is not the first film I saw in the theaters that I knew would be bad beyond belief: Spiderman 3, Terminator 3, Matrix: Revolutions, Johnny English, Star Wars 2 and 3, Daredevil, Hulk, Titanic, Identity. Pearl Harbor is, to date, the only film I have ever just walked out of -- Sara and I left the theater on December 4, 1941.

Social pressure gets me into the theater a lot of the time -- I feel like I have to see these films sometimes, to talk about them, and there are always some people I know who go and invite me along. Also I do get the occasional surprise: I enjoyed Live Free Die Hard for the most part, and Alien vs Predator was actually kind of fun. In some ways these films are the worst of all, because they lure me back into thinking that the critics and my instincts may be wrong. Why is seeing summer movies so much like being addicted to something that is clearly bad for you? I did avoid both Fantastic Four movies, but that is not enough.

The thing that kills me is the hours spent on Pirates 3 -- four, including travel time. I have so much unwatched stuff available on DVD I have so much more confidence in: I could have seen four episodes of 24, Battlestar Galactica, the Wire, or Deadwood. Not to mention all the things I only saw once that deserve a reviewing, like Lost and Samurai Jack. (I know I am comparing TV to movies, but I see the good movies as well as the bad; it is TV I am behind on).

Instead of seeing Transformers -- with its reportedly stupid jokes and awful pacing, and baffling visuals -- I will be at home, watching Avatar. Maybe later I will rent Transformers, and just watch the action sequences. Only I can stop myself from hitting my head against a brick wall.


Pat Moler said...

It's called the Fairly Odd Parents, and I often watch it.

Eric (APredator) Bloxsom said...

I think it is safe to say i've seen pretty much everything you have listed on this post from the tv shows to the movies. I will say as a transformers fan it was really good in my eye. I just wonder when i read your posts the angle you view these things from. Maybe it is the fact that i understand that there is no more originality out there and i just try to enjoy what is given to me even if i know exactly what is coming. It has gotten to the point where there is about one movie a year that ends with me thinking, "i didn't see that coming". I continue to read your posts though because i feel i'm not seeing something you know that i don't and as a field i'm looking to get into, i'm willing to learn. I will say this though, no matter who wants to see it, don't go watch the Fantastic Four movies.

Dante Kleinberg said...

I don't think I have any hope of predicting your tastes, but I felt Live Free or Die Hard and Transformers were around the same level quality-wise.

Transformers was funnier and had more unnecessary side-trips to WTF-ever land, but the level of Whoa! That was a crazy explosion! was around the same.

And I suspect that if anyone were sober enough to watch all three Pirates movies in a row, they would pull together into some kind of cohesive unit. But I couldn't do it. Still, I didn't think the story in #3 was hard to follow and I enjoyed a lot of it.

Mitch said...

Here is the link to my Transformers movie review at Silver Bullet Comics. I'm sure it confirms what you had heard, Geoff. The quality of the review ended up a little rough... there are still editorial brackets in it for some reason...Anyway, there it is.

Geoff Klock said...

Eric: thanks for posting. It is not originality. It is solid plotting that I want. Lost is solidly plotted -- you understand everything you are supposed to when you are supposed to. Spiderman is terribly plotted: coincidence runs the whole film, which is terrible.

Dante: Davy Jones cut out his heart because Calypso hurt his feeling and he did not want to feel the pain anymore? Then he burried it far away from him. Now he can be controlled by anyone who has his heart, because they can kill him whenever they want, by remote? Isn't that seperate from the fact that he Captains the flying dutchman -- which was a curse for something? And doesn't he have the tenticle face because he shirked his duties taking the souls of the dead? And didn't his cutting his heart out make him a monster -- cruel enough to kill Will? Isn't that why Depp hesitates to stab the heart -- because he does not want to turn into this creature?

How come he can't phase and take the heart back and burry it somewhere else? And won't people not kill him by remote because they will have to captain the Duchman, which is a curse and a bad thing (or is it) -- though not to Depp? I understand when Will stabs the heart he now captains the duchman, but it seems pretty good. Why does he ALSO have to cut his heart out? And I get that he can only come on shore every ten years but can't she go on his boat -- lots of normal people where on that boat and got off fine.

Geoff Klock said...

Mitch: thanks

Dante: I don't really mean for you to answer all those questions -- here is my big point. Forgetting the fact that I am a pretty smart guy, I was sitting in a dark theater with no distractions looking directly at the screen. Why are the answers to the questions I asked not completely clear? If I am supposed to forget about it and treat it as an excuse for a flashy fun show -- like having a huge party for because it is Arbor Day (arbor day is not the point, the party is) -- then why was so much time spent in the film just TALKING about this kind of thing? You say I could go back and watch all 3 and it would make sense (which I doubt) -- but where does this fluffy summer blockbuster get off asking me to rewatch 463 minutes of this kind of thing. I have things to do and cannot be expected to rewatch that much of a not-that-great-in-the-first-place movie just to follow the plot.

sara d. reiss said...

I think, for me, the crux between if this was a *good* movie or a *bad* (and for here I mean *good fun summer action flick with lots of swashbuckling and blowing up of stuff*) is that the movie EXPECTED you to both follow it's convoluted dream logic and rules (which they changed at will from movie to movie and, most annoyingly, within this one movie itself). And not only were to you follow it, there were many moments that functioned as a pop quiz for the audience (and actual line "Sorry, Jack, I know you expected me to follow our bargain" spoken by Becket, refenencing some long talky scene from nearly an hour or more before, had me racking my brains: what bargain??? wait, no, WHICH bargain???)

So, if this movie had said: screw the logic, make it big, make it loud, make it fun, I might've enjoyed myself. But it didn't. Therein is my complaint, when commenters on such sites as AVClub get all up in the reviewer's or other naysayers who complained of the bloated time and convoluted plot, saying they are pompous eggheads who can't have fun, my point is the movie didn't LET me have fun. Instead it left me with a very large headache and a feeling like someone stuck an immersion blender in my head and set it to liquify. And all I wanted was to see J.Depp and effin' keith richards chewing up my movie screen

sara d. reiss said...

dammit. in that last paragraph it's supposed to be "all up in the review's etc..." faces. Or grillz. Whichever.

Jason Powell said...

"And I suspect that if anyone were sober enough to watch all three Pirates movies in a row, they would pull together into some kind of cohesive unit."

I did that, and yeah, I found it to be a solid block of entertainment. It certainly isn't hard to follow. Geoff's comment about having to remember every little detail of the first film while following a new mythology is something that bugged me when watching the second. But once I understood that that's what was expected, I was happy to re-rent and watch the first two before heading to the theatre to see the third. And I enjoyed it pretty much from start to finish.

I confess though that I did not spot any of the logic-flaws that Geoff has pointed out. (Although regarding Elizabeth's father ... my memory is that it was something to do with the fact that her father's spirit was fairly sanguine about going into the afterlife. In spite of having been murdered, his spirit seemed ready to move on -- I remember a line about his looking forward to joining Elizabeth's mother. In other words, they couldn't bring him back because he didn't want to go back. Which, frankly, was fine with me, because I didn't really like his character much in the first two movies.)

I thought killing the Kraken offscreen was a nice subversion of expectations, and felt that all the new pirates were just a fun way to fill the screen. (I wondered if maybe they weren't allusions to famous pirate characters from history? Alan Moore has a bit in the back-matter of the second "Extraordinary Gentlemen" series about a big pirate conference in which all the famous fictional pirates gather every year. At least one of the "Caribbean" screenwriters, Terry Rossio, is an avowed Alan Moore fan. Hmmm ...)

Good point about Will's heart, though.

Jason Powell said...

And wow, you think "Hulk" is bad beyond belief? That's interesting ... it's one of the only Marvel movies I think is any good.

Jason Powell said...

What the heck, I'll just dive all the way in and argue for this movie (and franchise) to the best of my ability.

Geoff: "not-that-great-in-the-first-place movie" Perhaps the problem is that you shouldn't be going to see two sequels to a movie if that's your opinion of the first. And also, you're wrong. The first one is great. :)


"there were many moments that functioned as a pop quiz for the audience (and actual line "Sorry, Jack, I know you expected me to follow our bargain" spoken by Becket, refenencing some long talky scene from nearly an hour or more before, had me racking my brains: what bargain???"

So referencing a conversation from earlier in the film makes it a pop quiz? I don't follow the logic. If you had remembered it, would it still have been a pop quiz? And would it have been easier to remember had it been a *short* talky scene?

No review I've read calling the film "incomprehensible" has really convinced me, since I found it all rather easy to follow. There were a lot of double-dealings and bargains being struck, but tracking them was -- for me -- part of the fun.

Dante Kleinberg said...

I don't want to be seen as a defender of the Pirates trilogy, necessarily. I thought #1 was great, #2 was good, and #3 was decent.

And Geoff: You make good points about plotholes in the Davy Jones storyline. My understanding is that Davy Jones agreed to ferry the dead so he could live forever and stay with Calypso, though he could only see her every 10 years. Then she flaked and didn't show because that's just how women be, y'all -- and he kind of flipped out, convinced the Pirate Council to imprison her, and then gave up on his "job." So Sparrow wanted to become the new Davy Jones because then he'd never die, and that was his biggest fear, but he "gave" it to Bloom's character (what was his name?) in his first ever truly selfless act, showing his character growth. This is from memory so it might be messed up. I don't know why Elizabeth couldn't go on his boat or why he cut out his heart. Maybe the heart thing was always part of the deal, but the cutting out for a lost love was just a legend? Okay, now I'm reaching.

The first one was great, and they never expected to make more. I liked in the second one when they all fought on the wheel.

Marc Caputo said...

Are you telling us that you have UNWATCHED episodes of 24 and Galactica where you live and still do things like eat and sleep? How do you do it? Galactica could be one of the best shows ever and the first 5 seasons of 24 outdid each other (until 6 - which SUCKED)

Madd_Hadder said...

Going in to the third Pirates I felt confident because I knew it could not possibly be worse than the second one. Sadly, I was wrong. The third Pirates is one of the 5 worst movies I have ever seen, which gives Johnny Depp 3 entries on that list. (the other two being From Hell and The Astronaut's wife)

fraction. said...

how many pirates does Chow Yun Fat play? 1.

how many asses does pirate Chow Yun Fat kick? 0.

I repeat:

ZERO. The end.


fraction. said...


Pirates 2 made me say the three words I never, ever thought I'd say:

Too much Kraken.

stupid. stupid stupid.

Geoff Klock said...

Jason Powell: Sara and I are surprised at the number of people defending this film. We are going to back off, and try to learn from this odd experience. I thought this was going to be an easy preaching to the choir thing.

Dante: the wheel scene was what got me to see Pirates 3. I loved that.

Marc: yeah, that is what I am saying. And like an idiot I tell myself I do not have time. Madness.

Astronauts Wife -- I rented it with Nick of Time and Secret Window to round out my Suicide Sunday. People need to stop saying Depp is so great he can make anything watchable.

fraction: god bless you and everything you stand for. Sara says: Chow Yun Fat, I know, right?

I wanted to see Chow Yun Fat jump down a staircase backwards shooting double FLINTLOCK pistols.

troy wilson said...

"People need to stop saying Depp is so great he can make anything watchable."

Agreed. A) As you point out, Depp's been in plenty of movies he couldn't save. And B) No one is so great s/he can make anything watchable. No one.

As for Pirates, the first one was passable, the second was bloated, and the third ...well... haven't seen it and nothing I've read, seen, or heard encourages me to do so.

Mikey said...

First off - I'm with Fraction there. Who didn't at least look forward to the idea of Chow Yun Fat kicking ass AS A PIRATE when this was first announced? Wasteful.

Looked at in another way - Geoff, you read Henry Jenkins's post on Pirates and world building as new means of considering the summer bb? It at least made me consider the movie in a different light, having initially come away with pretty similar criticisms as your own.

(Of course, 'world building' shouldn't necessarily negate 'sense building' or 'cool scene building', but there you go. Would be curious as to your thoughts on this tho.)

Kenney said...

I refuse to watch Pirates 3 because of how terrible Pirates 2 was. The first movie was a great surprise, but it's like they took everything that was great about the first movie...everything but the charm.

Pirates 2 was one of the most tedious movies I've ever watched. When I heard 3 was more of the same I stayed my ass home.

Transformers on the other hand was awesome in it's ridiculousness. Perfect example of big dumb fun.

Coligo said...

I'm with Geoff and his cohorts on this one, Pirates 3 was very broken.

Aside from the complete lack of fun throughout I was also annoyed by the constant rule changing/introduction.

Chow Yun-Fat. Well, Fraction pretty much sums it up, but I will say I thought his final scene was well executed. It's just a shame he seemed to have been put in the movie solely for the sub-Jabba's palace opening.

Similarly wasted was the two massive fleets that gathered for a mighty show down at the end. Looks like these guys are going to have some Battle of Endor style mega-combat. Oh, right, we see no ships in action except for the ones we already saw in Pirates 2. And they only fight against each other. Well I'm glad I was introduced a load of pointless pirates earlier in the movie then.

Also, how were Jack and Barbosa both on the pirate council in the first place seeing as you need to be a captain and Barbosa is only captain after he gets rid of Jack?

Mitch said...

I have note seen any of the Pirates movies and I don't feel like my life is any worse for it. :)

Mitch said...

Oh and PS, but sort of off topic:

I saw a great documentary about "Z Channel" and it's programmer Jerry Harvey the other night. Boy do I wish there was still a channel like that.

Jason Powell said...

Eh, I am backing off too. In the light of the morning, I realize there's no reason for you or anyone else to care what I think about the "Pirates" trilogy. I am happy to love the movies in silence!

Marc Caputo said...

Mitch: did you see that on TV or on DVD? I saw it a year or so ago on IFC and was floored - it's like the best video store mixed with the 24/7 of an MTV (well, the EARLY years). Supposedly, there's a DVD with bonus stuff, but I haven't gotten to it yet.

Anonymous said...

Dude, see if I ever go to a sucky movie with you again! LOL. -J

Mitch said...

Marc: I rented the DVD and I was similarly floored. Z Channel seems like it was really a case of one guy making decisions versus a board of directors making decisions- the end result being an AWESOME channel that didn't just show "Erin Brockvich" and "Real Sex 11" on repeat.

I haven't watched the bonus stuff, but I literally took down a list of all the cool movies mentioned in it that I need to see.

troy wilson said...

"In the light of the morning, I realize there's no reason for you or anyone else to care what I think about the "Pirates" trilogy."

*I* care what you think about the Pirates trilogy, Jason. And I care what everyone else here thinks too. Healthy, intelligent debate is a big part of why I come here (even though I stay on the sidelines much of the time).

But I also respect your decision - and Geoff's - to back off. Everyone has to decide for themselves when they're pouring energy somewhere they shouldn't.

Geoff Klock said...

Mikey: thanks for posting -- keep it up -- and thanks for the link. But no. That guy is just wrong. World-building relies on internal coherence -- it's why lord of the rings fans all have little maps, and why DC and Marvel need editors and Crisises to keep it all straight. Pirates is nothing like this. And as always I repeat my mantra -- first make a fun thing, then hit me with the theory -- go the other way around and no dice. Also I was unclear if the guy knew that the phrase his student was using was from John Keats. Its kinda famous.

Kenney -- see my problem. I want to like and see Transformers, but I am so damn tired of being burned.

Coligo: all good points. thanks.

Mitch, Mark: I have no idea what channel Z is but now I will find out. And I will find out instead of seeing Pirates 4 or whatever.

Anon: Hey! It's Jason! Who I saw pirates with but who has never posted! Thanks dude. Much of this is the fault of you and your lovely wife Dr. X. But you are still my friends.

Troy: the problem on my end is that in order to argue the movie is incoherent I am going to have to make a huge effort follow the incoherencies as much as possible, record them, and then face smart and well-meaning but ultimately wrong folks who are going to ingeniously explain how it all fits together (e.g. Will has to cut his heart out because it prefigures his split with Elizabeth) which is really not my point -- my point is that this kind of thing needs to be much clearer the first time around. When people tell you it WAS clear to them the first time around, there isn't much of a discussion to be had. I think we can all agree the clarity is at least arguable given the number of people, including folks I cited, who said it was impossible to follow.

Geoff Klock said...

the worst thing is this discussion has been a lot of fun -- which is a reason to see, and review, bad movies.

Ted said...

My problem with the film wasn't just the disorganized stupidity of the whole thing so much as it was the racism. The chinese are all portrayed as perverts and the pirates are saved by the untapped raw power of a "savage" black woman's sensuality (You have to talk to her "like a lover" to get her on your side? The first thing she does is turn into a crab and crawl into a man's pants? Give me a fucking break).

That's a liberal arts education at work there, that is.

sara d. reiss said...

ted: Lee from the villiage voice actually made a nod to that with his whole "Aunt Jemima" comment. Don't forget, during the entire ceremony, esp after she's spoken to "like a lover" she's have a freakin' orgasm the whole time. and after the crabs incident, she turns into a big fucking sea-vagina. (the maelstrom/whirlpool thingummy, which, I think we were supposed to understand was her, but like other things, this was also unclear)

Marc Caputo said...

Geoff: start here -

however, that list is just the beginning. Heaven's Gate, despite its infamy (there's a doc and a book about it), should be seen at least once by anyone who loves movies. Once Upon a Time... may one day eclipse even Godfather 1 and Salvador may be the greatest movie about one man's redemption ever.

Geoff Klock said...

Ted: yeah, i can see that.

Marc: thanks. I feel so bad telling my students not to use Wikipedia when I use it all the time.

Streebo said...

"Just say "NO" to Wikipedia, kids. The world is full of great drugs that need your attention."

Heheh. Sorry, Geoff.

Anonymous said...

"Some kind of free,excellent dinner" made wine spray out of my nostrils.
I will rarely watch movies now but last night I saw Ghost Rider on DVD and was entertained by it, except for Mr Cage's mannered eccentricity.

Christian said...

After having actually seen GIGANT FUCKING CAR-ROBOTS V. GIGANT FUCKING CAR-ROBOTS, I'd pay good movie for you to review it. Especially the mess that is the themes of the story.

It's like two seperate movies most of the time to be honest, entire story arcs and characters are forgotten around the 1.5 hour mark.