Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
2007; Director: Gore Verbinski; Writers: Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio
With Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Geoffrey Rush, Keith Richards
Walt Disney Pictures
Available Dec. 4, List Price $34.99
A 10-min. theme park attraction you can ride for free has become a movie trilogy grossing $2,681,445,067 worldwide (not including DVD sales) and lasting 7hr.41mins., not including hours of DVD extras. Has any movie series made so much money and meant so little to its consumers? I don't say that these pictures lack entertainment or, heaven knows, production values; the first episode, The Curse of the Black Pearl, was actually "a rollicking, entertaining ride," to quote one indulgent critic. But Pirates' competitors for all-time box office champ the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings series became obsessions to their fans. This one is no more than a diversion. Audiences don't line up for Pirates because they have to but because... it's there. Which allows Disney and Depp to yo-ho-ho all the way to the bank.
Another different between Pirates and the Jedi and Hobbit films: they were conceived as trilogies; they told one grand story that grew organically through the series. Pirates was a one-off that got lucky; its sequels were not necessary, except as investments. Like some unexpected millionaire who after striking it rich buys larger cars and grander homes, this series has grown more lavish, each film longer than its predecessor. And the lovely surprise of the original movie's tone has congealed into formula. At World's End bustles here, lumbers there. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer signs up new stars profligately, as if he were throwing an A-list party that can't have too many guests. With its excess of cargo, it's a wonder the whole enterprise doesn't sink.
That the Pirates films manage to stay afloat has much to do with the appeal of its core cast: Bloom, ever the pup with a bulldog's bravado; Rush, invoking every seafaring scoundrel from Long John Silver to The Simpsons' aaarrr-ing Capt, McAllister; Knightley, asserting herself amid the all-male crew as if she didn't know she's almost cartoonishly beautiful; and Depp, himself a prime beauty, as Jack Sparrow, the barnacled comic relief. Depp's lines may not be poetry, but he still earns laughs by delivering them in his Anglo-vaudeville guttural mutter, and by his teetering alcoholic posture. Even on dry land, he sways as if he's trying to stand up in a canoe during a typhoon.
The "Two-Disc Collector's Edition" devotes much attention to the mammoth and minute craftsmanship that went into each gargantuan set, every stitch of costumery, the elaborate backstory (a Disney park trademark) for each minor character. There's a genteel blooper reel "You cahn't curse in a Disney film," says Depp after one goof, not breaking accent and a too-brief visit with Richards, the Rolling Stones guitarist who appears as a pirate captain in At World's End. Looking like a classic brigand who really was born in the 18th century, and preserved through pickling, Richards lasers his own lunatic gaze at Depp, emits an ancient, catarrhal laugh, and says, "Open the cage and let the tigers out." Told what everyone knows that Depp took him as an inspiration for Depp's Jack Sparrow, Richards flashes another wicked grin: "You should see who I modeled myself on."