A Long Time Ago, On a Sea, Far, Far Away....

Weekend of 26th & 27th May


This weekend I witnessed in full THX glory one of the grandest movie to come onto the cinema screen this year: “Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End”. Many droplets of sweat in anticipation of whether cinema tickets are available were emanated; and countless clicks on my pitiful mouse trying desperately to book online tickets finally endowed me the chance to witness this finale to one of my favorite trilogies to hit my senses in my short lifetime. So what is my End judgment of this Pirate World from the Caribbean? Is it Dead and tinted in Black, or a Treasure Chest filled with Pearls of wonder?

Running at nearly 3 hours, my first impression of the film was: “Huh?” Never have I witnessed a film with a running time of 3 hours gave so much confusion and perplexity as this film. Usually movies with long running lengths wrap up the plots and characters nicely with appropriate conclusions. But this movie was a jumbled up mess of over-ambition and a cacophony of plots trying too hard to impress: an opera it is not, a family movie it is thought. But how wrong my thought was. This was my first impression, and after going back home scouring through my pirated “Pirates 2: Dead Man’s Chest” DVD (yes it was a pirated copy, so hang me already) and going though a second session of “Pirates 3: At World’s End” (yes, guilty as charged, I saw it a second time at the Cineplex), my impression has changed dramatically…

After going through Pirates 1, 2 & 3, I started to realize how my first impressions were deadly inaccurate. Putting together the movies in order, a sense of awe and marvel started to tingle throughout my mind as how the screenwriters of this series, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, have painted a dizzyingly large canvas of distinctive characters and a fascinatingly dense world of mythology, a world in which people double-cross everyone around them as frequently as most of us draw breath. It’s also a world where the supernatural is almost commonplace, where bizarre creatures sail the seas alongside soldiers and pirates and no one blinks an eye about it. It’s a world I can honestly feel unique, and that’s a rare thing these days.

The first scene of Pirates 3 sets the mood perfectly throughout the movie: row after row of pirates hanged and disrespected by the East Indian Company. A boy, not over 10 years old, took his turn, and at this point you would think that this being a Disney film, a pirate hero would jump out from nowhere to help this helpless boy with just a flick of a blunted sword. Alas, the boy is duly hanged. Witnessing scenes like this, you will start to wonder just where this movie will take you: into realms outside of your comfort zone and into worlds of darkness where pirates are eradicated like plagues of death. This eradication is causing their world to end, and their fight for survival is at hand throughout the high seven seas…

The story unfolds in dramatic fashion throughout the movie, and at the end, the movie is a colossal spectacle of special effects, action, humor and closure for all the major characters. What I really want to make note after watching this movie are:

1.) Special Effects – the company appointed for this is ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and they have elevated special effects achievements to another level once more. The character of Davy Jones remains as the most convincing CGI character in existence at the moment; every movement, every tentacle, every breath and every spoken word is alive and full of personality. The scene where Davy Jones sheds a tear during one of his broken-hearted recitals on his organ piece is one great example. The scene perfectly illustrates his emotions through CGI as he solemnly wipes away from his forlorn face a tear drop which lonesomely droops from his tenticle touch, is a pinnacle of special effects magnificence. Many more spectacular scenes litter the sea of the cinema screen: a scrap boat sailing through an ice cave, a limbo that looks like a desert done by David Lynch and filled with multiple Jack Sparrows, a pirate cove made entirely of shipwrecks, the visuals are often really striking. They have created a mystical world so vivid, imaginative and in such rich detail, it has brought true believability to the world of the pirates.

2.) The Director, Gore Verbinski – What I admire about Verbinski is that even though this movie is overloaded with characters with varied backgrounds, Verbinski never failed to give each character proper screen time, and each screen time is not wasted as every character had their impact moments. This implies not only to the characters but to every other area of the movie. In action sequences, the viewer will hardly tend to be confused on what is unfolding on screen, as each frame is masterfully planned and edited to give the maximum possible impact. Verbinski’s camera lens is never dull, always filled with electricity and eccentricity, and at times, visuals of a haunting nature. Same of the battle sequences are truly handcrafted masterworks of action art, such as the battle between two ships in a whirlpool, washed together with so much digital wizardry it makes the viewer in complete wonderment and astonishment.

3.) The Humor – What was seriously lacking and missing in this third installment was the humor and cheeky wit that was the signature of the previous two movies. There was no all-out laughter; it was only the occasional slight smile throughout the movie which I mustered, quite honestly, with some effort involved. The jokes seemed forced, and some jokes were even re-cycled from other movies. What made the first movie an instant classic and the second movie a good companion to the original are now devoid here in this third installment.

There are so many things I want to mention about this movie, but if I do, the blog will go ballistic and become a novel. From the frozen toe scene, the crazy Pirate Lords, Keith Richards as Jack’s father and to Chow Yuen Fatt’s near rape scene of Kiera Knightley (and this is a Disney movie. See what happens when people see big bucks? All morals go out the bloody window), there are so many facets yet to be explore and admired.

Looking back in a few years time, in my most honest opinion, only the first Pirates movie however will be remembered with any affection. Debates will rage about the two sequels, some preferring one over the other, but everyone pretty much agreeing that despite their moments of entertainment - neither is a shade on the original. Debates will further rage about which trilogy is better: Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Star Wars & Spider-Man, all will be remembered for their moments of true originality and their flaws of re-productivity to tap the flowing tide of profit from these movies. But at the end, it was definitely a trilogy worth remembering for most of the right reasons.


From the Corner - A Musical Companion

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