Friday, May 25, 2007

Now Playing: Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End

Mrs. Eagle took care of baths and bedtimes for the Eaglets, and let me slip away for the evening to catch the opening of the third installment of Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End.

The early reviews said it was a convoluted plot, and not the best, but still a worthy installment of the franchise. I don't know what film they had seen, but I thought the plot was pretty straightforward for anyone who had seen the previous films -- I felt entertained through the whole three hours. I had likened the second film (Dead Man's Chest) to Empire Strikes Back (betrayals, darkness, empire rising, the rouge/scoundrel figure who is trapped by the enemy forces and must be rescued in the third film). This third film cements that analogy -- conflicts are resolved, romances are sealed, empires are shattered, characters are redeemed.

The redemptive elements caught my attention most. At the end of the second film we had several characters in need of redemption in one shape or another:

Jack Sparrow -- swallowed by the Kracken and taken down to Davy Jones' locker where he suffers eternal punishment in maddening isolation. He is victim to his own machinations, and he needs release.

Elizabeth Swann -- the heroine betrayed Jack, chaining him to the ship while everyone else escaped. She knew that was the only way to keep the Kracken from destroying everyone. However she bears the burden very un-pirate-like. She is stricken with remorse and can tell no-one what she has done. She is eager to rescue Jack and right her wrongs.

Bootstrap Bill Turner -- the father of the hero Will Turner -- he is cursed to serve on the haunted ship of the demonic Davy Jones for all of eternity. His only hope is that someone finds the way to destroy Jones and break the curse upon the whole crew.

Commander Norrington -- fallen from military heights, Norrington is a bitter angry drunk who still weilds a wicked sword in the second film. He betrays everyone by handing over the secret of controlling Davy Jones to the scheming Cutler (chairman of the British East India Company -- showing that ruthless efficiency and polite veneer can still be utterly evil). Though he is restored to his military commission, he must live haunted by the realization that he has given great power to a man far more evil than any pirate.

Davy Jones -- the cursed captain of the Flying Dutchman who prowls the sea in search of lost sailors he can impress into his demon crew. He was not always evil, but was twisted by anguish after the betrayal of his beloved.

and those are just the major characters. Suffice it to say, redemption is accomplished, but as with all true redemption a price must be paid: "for what we want most there is a cost that must be paid in the end" says the mysterious Tia Dalma. In this film, the price is the shedding of blood. This film does not shy from killing characters - even non-villan characters. Some of the good guys die in this one. The climax of the action and resolution of confilcts delivers a melancholy caress that really worked for me. It's not very Disney, but it does feel quite the old fashoned pirate story.

Some great comedy too -- they really re-captured a sense of the spirit of the first film. Keith Richards does a delightful turn as Captain Teague -- Jack Sparrow's father. All said, a very entertaining film that I enjoyed greatly.


A few things disturbed me. First and foremost was the implication that these pirates were freedom fighters. Yes, the East India company is portrayed as a ruthless buracracy that seeks to stamp out any opposition. The opening scene shows the company forcing the governor to suspend all kinds of rights such as habeas corpus, freedom of assembly, freedom of jury trial. In the absence of these rights, the hangings begin. A fine reminder that behind the veneer of civility and order there is glue and sawdust that decays quickly into rot.

Even so, as the pirate leaders from across the world gather to battle the East India Company, Elizabeth delivers a speech straight from Braveheart, talking about fighting for freedom. I'm sorry, but this is a bit of a stretch. The freedom the pirates wanted was to "take everything you can, and give nothing back" (as Jack Sparrow and Mr. Gibbs repeat back to each other in each of the three movies). The freedom they want, after all, is the freedom to live life on their own terms, which includes bullying, stealing, and taking away from anyone that crosses their paths. The pirates show themselves to be adept at betrayal and ruthlessness. Please realize, I'm not trying to be a killjoy -- this is what we expect from a pirate movie (indeed it's part of the fun to play at it), but something just didn't ring right with me about the speech -- it was too much -- too out of place for pirates.

Then there is the issue of pagan worship. A central part of the plot deals with the release of the ancient sea goddess Calypso, whom the pirates bend their knees to in reverence. That's just kind of creepy, for with that we move from the realm of ghost story/folk tale into the realm of actual pagan deities. It didn't spoil anything for me, just left a lingering unsettled feeling.

So go forth with open eyes; enjoy the ride.


Note -- I've updated the movie index on the sidebar to include all the movie reviews from last year -- if you're interested in other movie reviews, check out the index.