When the first ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie came out, it took everyone by surprise. Prior to its release, movies about pirates were seen as box office poison, with Roman Polanski’s ‘Pirates’ and Renny Harlin’s disastrous ‘Cutthroat Island’ being primary examples of seafaring movies that bombed spectacularly.
So when Disney put out this movie based on their theme park ride, it was a surprise to Hollywood that it took off the way it did. This was thanks largely in part to Johnny Depp’s unique performance as Jack Sparrow, a wisecracking, guyliner-wearing rogue who won the hearts of audiences with his sharp wit and adventurous spirit. Then the sequels happened, and the trajectory of the franchise was not dissimilar to that of ‘The Matrix’ films. The second one was bloated, flawed, but somewhat enjoyable, and the third one was just a hot, wet, nightmarish mess.
The fourth film in the series, ‘On Stranger Tides,’ comes to DVD and Blu-ray this week, and it finds Depp returning as Jack Sparrow (as if they’d dare make a ‘Pirates’ movie without him). Depp’s co-stars from the previous films, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, are nowhere to be found. Being a fan of neither of those two, I thought that this could only be a plus. I was wrong.
In the first ‘Pirates’ film, Jack Sparrow was not the protagonist, the story belonged to the characters played by Bloom and Knightley. Sparrow was the Fonzie, the fun character with all the great lines that the Richie Cunninghams of the film get to bounce off of. The Fonzie is the character we all remember the most, but his shtick doesn’t work so well when you take away characters with actual arcs for him to play in service to. But this is exactly what ‘On Stranger Tides’ does, and that’s why it’s a terrible movie.
Here, we’re stuck with Sparrow as he stumbles from uninspired scenario to uninspired scenario, each one filled with adventure movie cliches clearly decided by committee. Depp looks as though he’s just going through the motions at this point, surely he can play this character in his sleep by now, and that seems to be what he’s doing. The plot finds Sparrow searching for the Fountain of Youth for some reason that I’m not sure even the writers are aware of, and Black Beard shows up, because I guess he’s a pirate everyone’s heard of.
Great actors like Ian McShane, Penelope Cruz, and Geoffrey Rush populate the cast, but none of them seem quite sure of what their purpose is, and thus lie there on the screen like dead fish. The squandering of such talent on the part of this film is an unforgivable sin.
As per usual with their releases, Disney does a fine job with the Blu-ray release itself. The picture is sharp, the sound crisp, the extras bountiful. The added bonuses include making-of documentaries, and several commentaries. Too bad it’s all in service of a reeking turd, it’s a slick release that shines initially, until you realize the shimmer you’re seeing is the sun reflecting off of a flowing stream of piss.
‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’ is the movie equivalent of empty calories, but not the delicious kind like, say, a donut. Instead it’s a plain saltine cracker, a processed, dumbed-down, bland ball of nothing that has no nutritional value whatsoever, and consuming it is not only a waste of your time, but it’s actually detrimental to your health and will eventually give you diabetes.
Other Noteworthy Releases
Batman – Year One: This animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s classic Batman comic features the voice talents of Ben McKenzie, Eliza Dushku, and the great Bryan Cranston. Personally I feel Kevin Conroy is the definitive voice of Bruce Wayne, and his absence here will no doubt be as noticeable as it was in the otherwise-good ‘Under the Red Hood,’ however this being an adaptation of a Frank Miller book has me interested.
Guns of the Navarone: This badass World War II guys-on-a-mission flick starring Gregory Peck and David Niven gets the Blu-ray treatment.
Available on Blu-ray
The Crow: The great Brandon Lee’s breakthrough film was also the movie that ended his tragically short life, drawing a sad parallel to the career of his father, the mighty Bruce Lee. The Crow has gone on to be a great cult item, and with good reason. Michael Wincott also gives a memorable performance as the big baddie, Top Dollar. I wish he was in more movies.
Available on Blu-ray
Kuroneko: Criterion is releasing this Japanese ghost story directed by Kaneto Shindo. Shindo is the man responsible for ‘Onibaba,’ a masterful Japanese horror film from the fifties, so this is not one to ignore.
Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory: The Gene Wilder classic gets a deluxe three-disc fortieth anniversary set on Blu-ray.
Available on Blu-ray
Bad Teacher: I dig director Jake Kasdan, but I don’t dig Cameron Diaz. They cancel each other out and bring my desire back to zero.
Red State: I’m a recovering Kevin Smith fanboy. Smith is one of the first filmmakers I really payed attention to, and the fact that he’s a hell of a raconteur helped indoctrinate me into the cult of Kev. A combination of moronic antics in the press and bad movies soured me on Smith, and while I’m glad to see him making movies independently again, the subject matter of ‘Red State’ gives far too much attention to Fred Phelps and his cabal of homophobic hate-mongers, and attention is exactly what those scumbags want. And don’t get me started on the film’s faux “double entendre” title.
Kevin Smith – Too Fat For 40: Smith is much better as a speaker than he is as a filmmaker, something I’m sure even he will admit. ‘Too Fat’ is the latest in the vein of his ‘Evening with Kevin Smith’ home video series.
Cape Fear: Not the original, but the Martin Scorsese remake. The scene where a cigar-puffing De Niro yuks it up in a movie theater while Nick Nolte’s family tries to watch ‘Problem Child’ slays me.
Available on Blu-ray
Hellraiser – Revelations: I’m amazed this franchise is still lurching along in the direct-to-DVD market, but not even Doug Bradley, the original Pinhead, is still bothering to show up for a paycheck in these movies.
This post originally appeared over at Parcbench