Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
June 30, 2006
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
About Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, I have some good news
and some bad news.
Good news first. Nothing I say in this review can possibly give away the
That's because there is no ending.
I don't mean it's a bad ending or a disappointing ending or even a cliffhanger. I
mean there is no ending. The movie just ... stops.
Oh, that's not even the bad news. The bad news is that after announcing they
were opening a movie, which they don't bother to end, they're going to make us
wait a year and a quarter for the second half of a movie we already paid for.
And they're going to charge us for it all over again.
I recently reviewed Superman Returns with a sniping comment about how the
first half of that movie was spent trying to remind us what happened in the
first two movies and then tell us what "really" happened during the third and
fourth very dreadful movies.
With Pirates, the first movie was brilliant. And there was only one. And it was
only three years ago. So they didn't have to waste our time reminding us of
anything. They could get right on with the story.
This movie is so utterly dependent on the first one that they felt obliged to
bring back every single cast member -- even the dead ones.
But Dead Man's Chest does it right. We don't get an infodump at the beginning
of the movie. We start right away with the new story and only bring the other
characters back into the film as they logically (or semi-logically) enter the plot.
I was afraid I'd be tired of Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow character, but no, I'm
afraid he's still a delight; in fact, I like him better.
And I was afraid I'd be bored with the Orlando Bloom/Keira Knightley love
story, but once again, no. They are still gorgeous without being unbelievable.
Keira Knightley's "Elizabeth Swann" is, if anything, spunkier than ever. And
Orlando Bloom as "Will Turner" is the perfect movie star for our time. Girls
swoon for him. Heterosexual men want to be him. Gay men want to wear his
OK, heterosexual men want to wear his clothes too.
The first movie was so full of delightful surprises that I assumed that this
movie, being a sequel and all, had no chance of being as good.
Well, except for that bit about not having an ending, this movie is every bit as
surprising and delightful.
How were they going to trump the pirates who turned into corpses by
moonlight? Well, once you get on the Flying Dutchman and meet the character
of Davy Jones and his crew, you'll see that lack of imagination certainly did not
afflict anyone involved with the design of this show.
Davy Jones is so heavily (and brilliantly) made up that there's zero chance
you'll recognize Bill Nighy -- you know, the guy who played the cynical aging
rock star in Love, Actually. He plays Davy Jones with enough of a Scottish
accent that you wonder if maybe it's Sean Connery behind all the calamari;
but, incredibly enough, he also brings a touch of sensitivity to it. Using only
his eyes and his voice, he is able to make the character seem deep.
When Will Turner's (Orlando Bloom's) father shows up, it is once again easy to
lose the actor behind the brilliant makeup, but Stellan Skarsgard, a Swedish
actor who has played character roles in lots of movies nobody saw, does a
beautiful job of making a human being emerge from behind the starfish.
My favorite new character, though, is Naomie Harris as the voodoo-mama-ish
"Tia Dalma." Even though it was sometimes hard to understand her accent,
she did it beautifully and you could understand her whenever it mattered.
(Just remember that in her Jamaica-creole speech, "him" can mean "he" and
"his" as well.) She had so much fire on screen that nobody else was visible
when she was there.
I'm confused about the character of Cutler Beckett, the English lord whose
nefarious schemes drive much of the plot. When he first appears, everybody
responds as if they all knew him, so I assumed he was somebody from the first
movie. In fact, I assumed he was Elizabeth Swann's fiancé from the first film,
until Jack Davenport popped up playing Norrington, who really was the fiancé.
The Beckett character doesn't show up on the cast lists for Black Pearl, so I
guess this is his first appearance. Not a problem: Tom Hollander is
marvelously slimy without being Draco Malfoy -- or even Mr. Collins, the part
he played in Keira Knightley's recent Pride and Prejudice.
There are also elaborately set-up comic bits of the sort that are usually
embarrassing. Remember the agonizingly unfunny gags in The Money Pit and
the Home Alone sequels? Where the set-up is always bigger than the finish?
In Dead Man's Chest there is little set-up for the gags. They spring at us out of
nowhere, but without realizing it, we were prepared completely. In other
words, the set-up was so perfect we don't even notice it.
The double escape from the cannibals, for instance -- just when you think
you've seen the whole gag, there's an even-better finish.
And the three-way sword fight that leads to a gag -- terrific. The gag goes on
and on, but not one second of it feels repetitive.
Both gags owed a lot to American Gladiators. But that's not a bad thing. You'll
see what I mean.
Because you will see it. Even without an ending, this is the best movie so far
So you can walk out of the theater ticked off about the lack of an ending,
brrumfing all the way home.
Or you can go in knowing there'll be no ending, so instead of being irritated,
you just accept the fact that it's an unfinished story -- a great unfinished story.
And you'll walk out of the theater feeling terrific, having had a couple of hours
of entertainment that's way better (and cheaper) than standing in line at
Disney World for the stupid Pirates of the Caribbean ride.