*. During what I guess what counts as the introduction (meaning the first hour) of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest there is a long passage set on an island inhabited by a tribe of cannibals. Captain Jack Sparrow had beached his ship after learning that Davy Jones was after him and, along with his crew, been taken prisoner by the island’s natives. Then Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) arrives looking for Sparrow and is also captured. The crew and Sparrow escape separately, are chased through the jungle, and then take off on the Black Pearl.
*. Like everything else in the movie, the production of this episode just drips money. The film’s total budget was $225 million, a hefty jump over the previous instalment’s already massive $140 million expense (the next entry, At World’s End, would hit $300 million). One spectacular action sequence follows after another, continually trying to up the ante.
*. Now to get on to my point. The cannibal island stuff goes on for quite a while. To be exact, some 25 minutes of screen time, with some short interruptions.
*. And it is all just filler. Nothing that happens on the island matters to the plot at all, aside from the business of bringing various characters together, which could have been achieved far more credibly and expeditiously in other ways.
*. Is it too much? What I liked the most about Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was how tight and well-structured the script was for such a big movie based on such a flimsy premise. Dead Man’s Chest shows the transition from a successful film not just to a sequel but to a franchise. As such it was a quick turnaround, with material that was more generic and a looser, more modular structure. Which is why you can spend so much time running around in the jungle doing a bunch of shit that, in terms of the narrative, accomplishes nothing.
*. Even within the island episode there are small bits that don’t have any purpose. Why have Jack escape, come to a cliff, go inside a hut to find some rope, and see a paprika shaker with the East India Company logo on the bottom? What does this tell us? Anything important? It seems a few minutes of totally extraneous information.
*. I should note, by the way, that this is not an original observation I’m making here. Apparently the episode on the cannibal island has been called out many times for being random filler. But I thought I’d start off with talking about it for the reasons I’ve given.
*. What does all the extra money buy this time out? Not much we didn’t see in the first film. Gorgeous locations (though more fantastic here, in a Peter Jackson sort of way). Long, involved action sequences, of the kind that remind you of the franchise’s origin in a theme-park ride. Some good-looking nautical stuff.
*. Instead of skeletons the bad guys are now sea monsters that look suspiciously like a line of plastic action-figure toys.
*. I prefer the skeletons. I also prefer Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa to Billy Nighy’s Davy Jones, though that’s not a shot at Nighy since the make-up and CGI he’s buried under here makes any notion of a performance pretty much impossible.
*. Last, but far from least, the CGI Kraken looks like crap. They could have done better.
*. Sticking with the Kraken, there’s some argument included in the film between Pintel and Rigetti over how “kraken” is to be pronounced. Apparently the screenwriters were surprised when Kevin McNally (Gibbs) pronounced it Krack-en. They thought it should be Kray-ken. I’ve never heard it pronounced Kray-ken. I thought the point was settled by Zeus (Laurence Olivier) in Clash of the Titans (“Let loose the Kraken!”). How can you get more authoritative than that?
*. The emphasis on giving audiences more is typical of the MarvelCrap movies, where each film just seems longer, more expensive, and with more heroes and villains thrown into the mix. Even in a two-part blockbuster like this, it makes everything seem waterlogged. Re-watching it, I could think of nearly an hour’s worth of cuts that might have been made.
*. On the screenwriters’ commentary they mention how kids watching the movie didn’t understand why the two round cages of prisoners from the Black Pearl were in a race with each other to get to the top of the cliff. I’m not a kid and I didn’t understand it either. According to the writers, it’s because they realize that whoever is first up can betray the others. Well, yes, they could. But why would they?
*. The switch in gender roles between Jack and Elizabeth is even more pronounced in this film than in the first one, with Keira Knightley dressing up as a boy stowaway and Depp getting more fey by the minute. In their romantic clutch she is the aggressor and brings all the sexual heat, which is fine, but doesn’t quite work because of Depp’s resilient asexuality. You just can’t believe there’s anything going to happen between these two.
*. Jack’s compass points to whatever it is you want the most. But it doesn’t work for Jack because . . . he doesn’t know what he wants? That’s weird. Clearly what he wants is to find Davy Jones’s chest. Why does he have to trick Elizabeth into finding it for him, when what she really wants most is Will? This doesn’t stand much looking into.
*. You can go to online sources that explain the dice game they’re playing on the Flying Dutchman (which goes by the name of Dudo). If you’re like me you’ll have to look it up, as I didn’t have a clue what was going on. Apparently there was a longer version of this scene that made the rules clearer. Again one has the sense of too much going on. The scene really has no purpose aside from getting Davy Jones to show where he keeps the key, something that could have been achieved any number of ways.
*. Structurally — by which I mean the structure of the franchise — this film is the equivalent to The Matrix Reloaded or The Empire Strikes Back. In each case, part 2(a) serves the same function, which I personally find a bit annoying. You’re into serial filmmaking at this point. This wouldn’t be too bad if the story or character development required it, but here it’s only an excuse to throw the same likeable cast in with more of the epic stuff audiences were clamoring for. The ride wasn’t ready to end yet, not with people lined up around the block to get back on.
*. It’s all professionally done to the highest standards, but I thought the first movie had a charm that’s missing here. In effect, Dead Man’s Chest was only the first part of a double-barreled sequel that would be over twice as long and cost far more than twice as much as the original. That is, however, the key to success when it comes to mass entertainment: Give the people not only what they want, but what they expect. And what they didn’t expect was any end to the adventures of Jack Sparrow.