Thursday, December 21, 2006

It's time to go: Pirates of the Crapibbean

It is with deep sadness and regret that I bring you my latest "It's Time to Go" call - posts in which I evict people, Big Brother style, from popular culture on the grounds that they have turned, are now, or always have been crap. Past evictions can be found here, and include The Black Eyed Peas (have turned), 9am with David and Kim (is now) and Wil Anderson (always has been).

To be filed under the "have turned crap" category, I suggest should be that hulking great monolith of a movie franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean. Or, as I prefer to call it now, Pirates of the Crapibbean.

Let me start by saying I LOVED Pirates of the Caribbean - The Curse of the Black Pearl. I saw it at least four times AND bought the DVD and thought it was a bloody good brainless romp with fab special effects and lots of swashbuckling. And who DOESN'T love swashbuckling? Plus it gave us all the chance to watch Johnny Depp for 120 minutes looking like this:

He can buckle my swash any time.

Regular BC readers will know I love a man in eyeliner (Prince, David Bowie) so when you throw in a bit of faux dirt and stage sweat-shine, a few dreadlocks and some facial hair, and then put Johnny Depp underneath it all, well, you've got my attention.

So it was with great excitement that yesterday, on the first day of my Christmas holidays, I journeyed across the seven seas to the video shop (well, one suburb anyway) to pick up a copy of the sequel, Dead Man's Chest.


Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest is, to use pirate speak, one of the scurviest, lily-livered, lice-infested, pox-ridden dogs of a film ever made and should be keelhauled from the yardarm immediately. Not only is it shit as a standalone film, it wrecks any chance the franchise ever had of putting out an awesome action trilogy to rival Indiana Jones.

For one thing - Pirates is all about Johnny Depp's character, Jack Sparrow. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are basically foils to his wit and incidental characters in his crazy adventures. The first movie established this - Depp carried the film for the most part and it was awesome. We fell in love with his character and wanted more. So what do the writers do in the second one? Practically stuff him in Davy Jones' locker for the entire film and focus on Bloom and Knightley instead - the least interesting characters of the bunch.

In my opinion, there is only one reason why Dead Man's Chest is a failure. Well, two, actually: screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott. The special effects are better than in the first, the locations are more amazing, the fight scenes are more thrilling - pity the plot is a cobbled together old load of utter arse.

It starts at Elizabeth (Knightley) and Will's (Bloom) wedding, which has been interrupted by seemingly the entire British navy who have come to arrest the pair for helping Sparrow (Depp) to escape his death sentence at the end of the first movie. Then for some reason the chairman of the East India Company turns up and hires Will to hunt Sparrow down and steal his magical compass. Right.

So Will hits the ocean blue, and finds Sparrow on a remote island where he has, for some reason that is never explained, become the chief of a tribe of cannibals. After some very silly scenes involving tropical fruit, they escape and get back on the Black Pearl. Right. Ok. Turns out Sparrow is looking for a key. That opens something. We don't know what. We're not even sure if HE knows what. Turns out the key belongs to a dude called Davy Jones (beautifully played in trying circumstances by Bill Nighy), who has an octopus for a face and his own crew of mutated lobsters. Will has to get the key for Sparrow, so he can get the magical compass to take back to the East India Company, so he can get Elizabeth out of jail. Except by this time Lizzie's already gotten out of jail, and somehow gotten herself on the EIC payroll too, and is now gallavanting around the world looking for Will AND Sparrow. We don't quite know how this happened. At about this point it seems quite obvious that if they all just gave up and went back home, they'd be out of jail AND free of trouble, but somehow the movie lurches on.

Apparently Sparrow owes some sort of debt to Jones, and is now being chased by a giant octopus called The Kraken which is threatening to destroy his ship and eat his crew. Clearly the only thing to do is go visit a random rastafarian witch in the swamps, which they all promptly do. She gives Sparrow a jar of dirt, which we figure will feature in some sort of comical twist later on in the film. It doesn't.

There's a few more fruity scenes on Davy Jones' boat where Will meets his long lost pirate father, who is now one of the mutated lobsters. They all play an incomprehensible game of dice which is supposed to be one of the film's most thrilling moments but isn't, and then Sparrow gets eaten by The Kraken. Leaving us with no other way to end the film than with a three second appearance by Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbosa, and the threat of a third film to finally wrap up the story.

After suffering through the entire film (I figured I'd get my Depp's worth out of it, at least) I noticed there was a second "bonus" DVD in the case. "NO MORE! GIVE ME THE LASH INSTEAD!" was, of course, my first reaction. But the special effects-loving geek in me was crying out to see how they animated Davy Jones' awesomely impressive tentacle beard.

He didn't get the memo about Movember.

Instead, I was delighted to discover a short "making of" documentary that turned out to be much more entertaining than the movie. And though I knew it was all real, it was so deliciously made it could have been a Christopher Guest mockumentary scripted by Ricky Gervais.

It starts in October, four months before the scheduled shooting date. The script is, as yet, unwritten. The two writers, Rossio and Elliott, share their insights on scriptwriting.

Rossio: You don't want to give them the script too early because then they make changes and stuff.

Elliott: You get criticism.

Rossio: You wanna give them some time, and then by the time the script is done they have to shoot what's there.

Elliott: Turn in your first draft on the first day of shooting, that's the goal!

Anyone out there still wondering why this film turned out so shit? Anyone at all? No?

The scenes involving director Gore Verbinski's dealings with Rossio and Elliott are among some of the most skin crawlingly awkward moments I've ever seen on film. When Verbinski confronts them about the unfinished script just two months before the scheduled shoot date, it's like David Brent trying to bullshit to upper management about why he hasn't done his monthly report:

Elliot: What we have now in terms of getting this draft, is getting it written.

Verbinski puts his head in his hands in despair.

Elliot: I think in terms of just getting this draft written, that's kind of how we have to go.

It's hard to imagine how a writer could allow themselves to speak in such pseudo executive jargon - and it just gets better. After using a section of the script to cast the role of the witch, Verbinski criticises Rossio and Elliott for writing "two-dimensional" characters in a badly written scene. The duo defends the scene by saying it (like the rest of the script) is still unfinished, and that they were actually working on a rewrite "at the exact moment you called us in". Sure. But it's Rossio's summary of the meeting afterwards that is the best display of Brentism:

Rossio: What I took away from it was, Gore effectively conveyed the point that he was at in the process, in terms of his need, in a way that was much more stronger than it would have been if he'd just have said 'Hey guys, I tried to cast based on that old scene and it didn't work'.

I think that means he told them to hurry the fuck up and finish the script.

And so I call mutiny on "writers" Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, wait with trepidation for the most likely awful third instalment and say Pirates of the Caribbean: thanks for the memories, but it's time to go.


  1. I'm glad I avoided this one - I figured characters with octopi for heads weren't a good sign.

  2. The last few pars were the clincher. "I think that means he told them to hurry the fuck up and finish the script." Hilarious. I have to say I frequently find DVD extras and "the making of.." featurettes far more entertaining than the main game. If you haven't seen The Man From La Mancha, about the failed making of Don Quixote, do yourself a Molly Meldrum.

  3. Redcap: actually the bloke with the octopus face was one of the best things in it, and cheers to Bill Nighy for a bloody entertaining performance in the face of mediocrity.

  4. Bravo. I didn't know how they could have screwed it up so badly, but your revelations from the bonus DVD explain it. Who wrote the first one? They must be weeping into their wallets.

    Even the Ninja hated it.

  5. I had so little faith in the movie other than the brief Depp appearances I never bothered with the 'making of'. The special effects for Davey's crew were pretty amazing though, seems like I may take your advice and watch something entertaining on the extras.

  6. Is that a plot spoiler I spy? Boooo! How dare you let me know the Kraken gets a mouthful of Depp (ooh, errr - betcha Raoul wouldn't mind being in a similar position).

  7. Consider it a favour, Scootikins. Now you don't have to sit through this pile of pirate scat.

    PS: Forget Raoul - if there's a mouthful of Depp on the menu I'm first in line.

  8. well, i thot pirates 2 was acctually really good. i personally cant wait for number 3. every role was very well played, and the plot was good. but thats my opinion.

  9. I hated the first 'Pirates' and was forced to see the second one with a bunch of 'fans'... I didn't mind the second one so much... and I rather liked Bill Nighy as Davy Jones. I am sure I will be dragged to the third one... at least I won't have to pay for it, unlike some other torturous movies I have endured in the past.

    Have a great holiday :)

  10. finally someone freaking agrees with me!!

  11. I didn't think it was a movie in it's own right, it was just a set-up for the third POTC movie. They didn't give it a chance. It was like they just came up with a bunch of crappy ideas and pulled it all together.
    Le sigh...

  12. Damn Rossio and Elliot to the depths! Clearly they're the only major thing wrong with the movie: the talent is all there - Depp, Stellan, Nighy and Rush are all amazing - and there's nothing wrong with the effects at all, and usually Gore Verbinski doesn't go wrong.

    I agree it's pretty disapointing, and the script was definitely the worst part of it: but I'll still go see the third. I just can't live without closure, even if it means those jerks E + R see some more money.

  13. I'm the same Jonno. I will go see the third as well (or at least get it on DVD). I have to know what happens to Jack sex god Sparrow. It might be terrible but it can't be any worse than the film Oprah is currently spruiking right now on her show - Medea's Family Reunion. Jesus Christ.

  14. I have to tell you...I stumbled upon your little blog and, although I realize this blog was made some time ago, I thought to put my two cents in.

    First off, the movie was all about Jack. I don't know where you seem to think that Will and Elizabeth were the focus. That wasn't the movie I was watching, so I don't know what you were watching. It was all about Jack and the dues he owed Davy Jones.

    Secondly, I think that the script was actually pretty brilliant! Most sequels bomb, but this one did really well! I know a lot of fans believe that they could come up with something better, but they're only fooling themselves. You try giving yourself 5 months to write an entire script that not only meets the director and producer's expectations, but exceeds the success of its proceedor. I don't think you'd be able to come up with anything as good. Oh, and those remarks were Rossio and Elliott being facecious. In every movie, they'll always release script re-writes during the filming process.

    I'm a professional makeup artist and makeup effects artist. I realize how difficult it is to make a sequel successful! In fact, I know Vi Neills (Johnny Depp's makeup artist for POTC). From what I heard, if you didn't get the memo, it was very difficult filming! They filmed the second and third movie at the same time. A crew can never really know how great a movie will be until it is out of post-production.

    Please be a little more knowledgeable on how the movie industry actually works instead of taking it all at face value. You are entitled to your opinions, but that doesn't mean your opinion is based accurately.

    Jessica Elliot
    Free-lance Makeup Artist

  15. Hi Jessica - you don't happen to be RELATED to scriptwriter Ted Elliot, do you?

    In any case, thanks for your comments - although I have to clear you up on a couple of things.

    Firstly - I'm not in any way suggesting that I could have come up with a better script than what the writers did. Not at all. I'm suggesting that a hessian sack full of semi-retarded monkeys with only one broken pencil between them could have come up with something better. That's all.

    As for defending this pile of baloney on the basis that "they only had five months to do it" and it was "very difficult filming" - so what? By that argument you might as well excuse every shitty film/TV show/play/whatever ever made simply because a lot of people put a lot of work into it. Fine, great, but it's still crap. Sometimes all the effort and good intentions in the world still amount to a big old pile of crap.

    And as for your final comment - I don't think one needs to be "knowledgable on how the movie industry actually works" to recognise a bad film. Do you have to know how a chicken farm operates to tell if an egg is fresh or not?

    Thanks for stopping by!