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Review: “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” returns the series to simpler fun of the first film

in Disney, Movies, Reviews

As the fourth installment in the series, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” brings adventure back to the big screen. With a smaller budget and cast, its tight-knit story, more subtle humor, and focus on its biggest stars delivers a movie that will entertain and amuse those who have stuck with the “Pirates” series despite a few bumps along the way.

The first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film (“The Curse of the Black Pearl”) was a smash success, with Johnny Depp’s eccentric role as Captain Jack Sparrow leading the way in turning a classic Disney theme park attraction into a worldwide film phenomenon. The two sequels that followed (“Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End”) did so in true Hollywood style, with a bigger budget, larger cast, and more special effects, raking in millions more at the box office. But while the profit made was big enough to excite any treasure seeker, it came at a cost. The first “Pirates” film is widely regarded as the best in the series, with the two sequels confusing many audiences with winding stories of pirate lords and voodoo spanning across both films.

But “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” takes the series back to where it began, with a smaller cast leading viewers through a much simpler story. Don’t take “smaller” and “simpler” as negatives. They’re quite the opposite, allowing viewers to sit back and follow along as Captain Jack seeks out the Fountain of Youth.

And “On Stranger Tides” is indeed the story of Captain Jack Sparrow. While the supporting main cast of Hector Barbossa (Geoffery Rush), Angelica (Penelope Cruz), and the infamous Edward “Blackbeard” Teach (Ian McShane) are fantastic, they are indeed supporting the antics of Depp’s Sparrow. Nearly every scene and story branch features Sparrow, either alone or playing alongside others, which is decidedly a good thing, as he’s exactly who audiences flock to “Pirates” films to see. Though admittedly Barbossa is as important to the “Pirates” saga as Sparrow, receiving plenty of screen time following a fun twist to his ongoing story arc, beginning with audiences wondering how he could possibly have wound up serving as captain of a king’s navy, a far stretch from piracy.

Surprisingly, the majority of the pirate crew seen in the previous three films is absent. Only Gibbs, Sparrow’s right-hand man, returns to this film, with the rest of the regulars replaced by Captain Blackbeard’s crew. These new roles support the story but are entirely forgettable. Only one of the new crew characters sticks out, but not always for the right reasons.

10 Comments

  1. Rob Stevens

    What’s interesting is that the movie is so heavily focused on Jack Sparrow, since the character wasn’t in the source material at all. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Stranger_Tides

    Looking forward to this movie a lot, regardless! Everyone is saying that it’s the best since the first, and I didn’t enjoy the second or third films much.

    1. Ricky Brigante

      Great point! I haven’t read the original, but Sparrow is definitely the center of attention in this film.

      1. Robert F

        From the sounds of it, Pirates Of The Caribbean On Stranger Tides is VERY loosely based on Tim Powers’ 1980’s novel “On Stranger Tides” – there’s Blackbeard, voodoo magic, The Fountain Of Youth, and zombies, but the token Pirates Of The Caribbean characters have either replaced characters in the novel or just added in by writer Terry Rossio, along with other things like the mermaids and the missionary character.

        The funny thing is it seems Tim Powers was inspired somewhat by our favorite classic pirate attraction at Disneyland while writing his book! I’m glad Disney invited him to the Disneyland premiere of the film, and it turns out he showed up! (There’s a couple interviews on the black carpet with him you can find on Youtube)

        Here’s a video of an interview with Tim Powers on Youtube from around December where he talks about most of this and what led Disney to option the rights to his novel in order to adapt it into the PotC world. =]

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbFQHXEFnrY

        Great review btw Ricky! This is fantastic news, I’m more excited for this film than I was before! I was hoping the movie would return somewhat to the tone of the first film, even though I did enjoy the sequels – just not quite as much, and the first is much more rewatchable for me. (The sequels, I must say, did do one VERY good thing – it gave us the incredible Davy Jones character!)

        This definitely helped me out on deciding whether to see this in 2D or 3D – I’ve heard from others that the 3D makes this movie’s dimly lit scenes difficult to watch – if this is true, its a shame. James Cameron knew in order to deal with this problem, he’d have to saturate the colors very highly and adjust the brightness in every single scene in order to match the 3D glasses’ effect of darkening your vision. It confounds me why other filmmakers refuse to take a little time to apply this to all of their 3D films, especially this one, because the 3D on the trailer during the vistas/wide-open shots look INCREDIBLE.

        All in all, I’m looking forward to seeing this movie in one format or the other! =]
        AMC Downtown Disney Anaheim here we come! lol

        1. Ricky Brigante

          The outdoor, daytime shots do look excellent in 3D. But there are many interior scenes that were quite difficult to see, as they were VERY dark. I did wonder at times why those scenes were so poorly lit until I realized it was likely the 3D glasses causing them to be difficult to make out.

          A handful of effects shots are fun in 3D but are by no means enough of a reason to endure the potential eye strain of watching it that way. I certainly left the theater with my eyes tired.

  2. Austin Lewis

    I can’t wait until this comes out!I’ve been to one of the islands in Hawaii where they filmed part of this,so i get to see stuff i saw!i cant wait!I’ve been waiting since the D23 expo 2009!I cant wait!!

  3. Scott B

    Finally saw this yesterday. I tried (and failed) to see a non-3D showing of it. So I reluctantly saw the 3D version. I agree with Ricky’s review, but I will be less kind about the 3D. I found it abysmal. The problem is, these polarizing 3D lenses filter out light (at least the really cheap ones at my theater do). This movie had lots of dark scenes that made watching in 3D almost unbearable at times.
    Seriously, 3D more times than not gives you a blurrier / darker image for more money. But hey, at least things pop out of the screen. Right?!

  4. Damon

    I didn’t see Pirates of the Caribbean in 3D because I can’t stand that nonsense. Honestly, I loved the 2D Pirates! Johnny Depp was his funny pirate self and that’s what made me love it! Although I loved this movie, I don’t think they should make another, since that would really be pushing the amount of movies this series should have been. The new actors in this movie were a welcome addition too. I am really excited for this movie to come out, because I know that today, the Blockbuster Movie Pass was released! I am really excited because the Blockbuster Movie Pass will give customers a huge selection of DVDs like Pirates of the Caribbean, along with TV shows and games by mail. Since it is being offered by DISH Network (who is also my employer), there are 20 channels that are included with the Movie Pass in addition to the thousands of movies and shows that you can stream to your TV or PC! Blockbuster also has many stores that you can exchange DVDs at and Blu-Rays are included! For all that, I think $10 is such a great price. I already signed up for the Blockbuster Movie Pass, and now I will just wait until POTC to come out so I can see it again!

  5. POTC4

    the 4th one was the best one in all of them

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