Lost at sea.

I’m watching Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest. Watch is the operative term here: visually, it’s one of the most impressive films ever made. Bill Nighy’s tentacles are amazing, the costumes and production design generally just gorgeous. How could I not love something so deeply indebted to Howard Pyle and – possibly – Mervyn Peake (I haven’t heard it acknowledged, but there’s something very Captain Slaughterboard/Ancient Mariner about the sea-changed crew)? It’s clear that thousands of hours have been put into it. What a pity they weren’t put into the script!

A few years ago, when this came out, I emailed Mark Kermode on Radio 5 to retrospectively defend the first film. I said it wasn’t that bad – most pirate films have a bitty plot and patchy characterisation (can you remember the plot of The Crimson Pirate? Captain Blood? Blackbeard? Apart from Treasure Island, almost all pirate films have been a jumble of action sequences and arring). I still think Kermode was unfair about Pirates 1 – but Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End are an incoherent jumble. You get the feeling the ‘scriptwriter’ just sat down with a load of DVDs and pirate books and wrote down anything that caught his eye, then shoved a bunch of notes at the cgi dept and said, can we do this? What’s worse, it doesn’t seem to matter – a generation reared on computer games rather than plotlines don’t expect coherent stories or characterisation – just a series of action set pieces as beautifully-dressed characters run around after a maguffin (get the coin/key/compass/heart and proceed to the next level!).

I heard that they actually set about filming Pirates 3 without even having a finished ‘script’. Maybe that explains weird dissonance whereby Orlando Bloom can spend the entire franchise angsting about his father, but Johnny Depp’s mother’s fate is dismissed in a two-second gag about a shrunken head (his father’s killed her and stuffed her? Oh, ha ha! Misogynist or what?), and the ludicrous ending, where we’re supposed to believe that a ruthless businessman, who has spent the last two films knocking about in a world in which skeletal pirates, krakens, octopus-headed captains and giant sea goddesses are the norm, whilst carrying a still-beating dismbodied heart in a bag, would be so discombobulated to see a ship he knows to be supernatural bob up out of a whirlpool he freezes and allows a similarly-bafflingly-frozen entire fleet to be destroyed? My arse!


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