Monday, May 28, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End Review

I've now seen Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End twice, and so am continuing with my promised set of movie reviews. Huzzah!

This third entry in the Pirates trilogy is by far the largest in scale, the broadest in scope, and the longest to watch (clocking in at about 2 hours and 40 minutes). The story sweeps the viewer along from the Far East locality of Singapore to the otherworldly Davy Jones' Locker to unnamed (but apparently Caribbean) locales. The film features returning stars Johnny Depp as the inimitable Captain Jack Sparrow, Orlando Bloom as Will Turner, Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swan, Geoffrey Rush as Captain (first name learned in the course of the movie) Barbossa, Bill Nighy as Captain Davy Jones, and Tom Hollander as Lord Cutler Beckett. Also along for the ride again were "Bootstrap" Bill Turner, Tia Dalma, and fan favorite pirates Pintel and Ragetti (and their bumbling Royal Navy counterparts from the first film). If that sounds like a lot of people to follow, it is... but it's not hard to keep track of them, thanks to their strong performances and vastly differing looks and personalities. I entered the movie expectant but prepared for it to be a failure, since so many critics had panned it - most noting the complexity of the plot.

As with Spiderman 3 before it, I was pleasantly surprised that, all the critics' comments notwithstanding, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. While I was very much a fan of the second film (as many of my friends were not), I found this one significantly more satisfying and more compelling. The plot is complex; there can be no doubt about that. At the same time, I had no difficulty following it. I'm not sure whether that's a function of my general appreciation for and enjoyment of complex scenarios and plots (for example, I had the end of Ocean's 11 figured out from about halfway through the movie), or whether it is simply not that difficult to follow. Of all those I've seen the movie with (9 people besides myself in total), only one person had difficulty following the plot, and he was tired and fighting not to fall asleep through the film. It seems to me that so long as one is already familiar with the characters and the background, following the movie isn't terribly difficult. (It should be noted that this sort of familiarity is necessary with almost any third movie in a tightly linked trilogy. Imagine, for example, trying to watch The Return of the King without first having watched The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers... it would be impossible to follow.)

The character development was satisfying if in some cases surprising. Having Barbossa as an active member of the plot again was thoroughly satisfying, and the fact that he served as a protagonist in most ways made for an interesting contrast with the first film, where he was primarily the villain. Will and Elizabeth's individual and mutual journeys were both excellent, and the resolution of the tension between them introduced in the second film is handled nicely (though I shan't say how). Jack is, of course, Jack, but he progresses nicely throughout the film while essentially remaining his narcissistic and thoroughly fey self. James Norrington's progression through the films is neatly tied up, as well, though he has a significantly smaller part here than in either The Curse of the Black Pearl or Dead Man's Chest. Tia Dalma, Davy Jones, and Cutler Beckett all also have their plots resolved in various ways - some expected, some less so. Of all the resolutions of character and plotlines, I found that for Tia Dalma the least satisfying: it was merely sufficient, rather than strongly compelling as with the others.

I feel compelled to actually take an entire paragraph to discuss the scoring for the film. Zimmer did a fantastic job concluding the trilogy with this score; in many ways this is already one of my favorite works of his (and that says something, when you consider that he has produced such massive and excellent scores as Gladiator and The Last Samurai in his career so far). He introduced two major new themes, one of which is essentially a love theme, though it functions otherwise throughout the movie at times; and the other of which is, in the context of the film, a pirate dirge, and outside the film, a compelling modal melody which makes a fitting backdrop for both melancholy moments and epic battle sequences. His use of both sweeping orchestrations and quieter moments (such as a striking use of the oboe as a solo instrument set against the orchestra as a whole) was stunning here. He skillfully brought back the main themes from each of the earlier films (specifically, "Will and Elizabeth" and "He's a Pirate" from The Curse of the Black Pearl and "Jack Sparrow," "Davy Jones," and "The Kracken" from Dead Man's Chest), integrating them mostly subtly into the sweeping and epic-feeling score for this third entry. The Cutler Beckett theme and the Jack Sparrow theme both return with some interesting changes and some interesting orchestrations. The final 45 minutes of music in the film includes some of my favorite moments in any piece of film music, and indeed some of my favorite musical moments. The soundtrack alone is worth buying.

The film itself concludes both itself and the trilogy satisfyingly in my opinion, rounding off all significant plot and character points. A short denouement follows the epic climax of the film, in a sort of falling action sequence rare for summer action movies but essential for any sense of completeness for a trilogy of this scale. And a gift of a short clip after the credits awaits those hardy enough to last through them - a list as epic as the creation of the film. That moment, too, was extremely satisfying in my opinion. (It should be noted that there's a certain amount of dissent on that point among those with whom I've seen it: my sisters were disgruntled at one particular aspect of the ending.) In any case, the movie ends "believably" - this being fantasy - in the sense that all of the characters continue on with their own journeys afterwards. The filmmakers left enough room that they could make another film if they chose to (though I hope they do not), but it is in no way required by the ending; to the contrary, the slight openness of the ending seemed more a necessary indicator that these characters keep on with their lives than a call for another sequel.

In terms of objectionable content, I recall little or no swearing. The violence quotient was of course extremely high, from the hangings that open the movie (including that of a young boy, which goes unseen) to the epic battles that fill it. Scary creatures propagate the film, of course, in typical Pirates of the Caribbean fashion; and one scene shows the crew of the Black Pearl passing by people who died at sea - some of whom are palely (and somewhat creepily) floating by under the surface of the ocean. A heathen god is discussed throughout the film and appears near the end, uttering unintelligible phrases. One character is shown in his own personal hell, complete with multiple copies of himself. Several main figures from the films die. In the course of the film (and the final moments of the previous entry), 3 people return from the dead by mystical means. None of these were a problem for me, as in context these are all simply a part of the fantastic setting in which the characters roam. Nevertheless, this is not a movie for small children.

Though less compelling at a thematic level than Spiderman 3, I thought Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End was a fantastic film, well worth seeing if you get the opportunity.

God bless!

- Chris


  1. Somehow, me thinks ye found of said entertainment.

  2. Dude - The Pirates 3 I saw in Africa was totally lame. Of course, the second one was also lame.



Got some thoughts? Fire away. Please be polite, thoughtful, and kind! Please provide your name and, if applicable, website. Anonymous comments, along with all forms of spam, trolling, and personal attacks, will be deleted.