Favorite SP Critics

"Pirates Of The Caribbean"
Dir: Gore Verbinsky

Patricia Ducey

I protested only weakly when a friend of mine recently suggested the Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, for our evening’s entertainment. After all, we were on vacation, it was beastly hot—and the original was entertaining, with sparkling performances by Johnny Depp and ensemble. There are movies and there are films, I always say; why not this Pirates movie? At two and a half hours, though, this sequel is simply too long and crammed too full with new, meandering story lines, incomprehensible, endless expository dialogue, and a tacked on surprise ending that serves no purpose except as a cliffhanger for yet another sequel, currently filming. There are moments, of course--Depp still charms, pratfalls amuse, young lovers pine--but not enough of them, for most adult viewers.

As we pushed on into hour two, I ceased trying to decipher the dialogue of voodoo priestess (Naomi Harris) over the oppressive music score, and my mind began to wander . . . to an article I read by Wired editor, Chris Anderson, about the online business theory he dubs The Long Tail. In a nutshell, he theorizes that online businesses like Amazon or I-tunes can earn more money marketing non-hits to lots of people than hits to a few because the cost of distribution is so low, and because peer-to-peer reviews like “people who liked this also liked this” instantly create demand for non-hits, thereby creating steady sales (the long tail) instead of spikes.

Moviemakers, however, need to aggregate their audiences in physical space and time. Thus the opening weekend box office begets the “tyranny of the hit.” But don’t count Disney out--their business model adapts with the times, and their Pirates trilogy is an intentional hybrid of both types of marketing. Pirates serves as a mega-hit, yes, if Disney’s lucky, but also, more importantly perhaps, as a loss leader to introduce fans to a Pirates culture that begins with movies strung out over three seasons and ends with a click, many clicks, on their online shopping site. Soon the kids will want to sleep on Pirates sheets, play with Pirates toys, and to go to Disneyland itself (where the Depp character has been added to the original ride). I for one see nothing sinister in all this—okay, maybe the $250 Jack Sparrow Flintlock Gun Replica is a bit over the top—and I actually admire producer Jerry Bruckheimer and his genius for marketing.

Screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott have proven their comedic writing chops from Aladdin to Mask of Zorro to Pirates—I hope their success opens doors for a funny, adult, art-for-art’s sake film, too. In the meantime, the critical word is out: POTC is dead in the water. But no one is listening. Critics are puzzled; when did they become irrelevant? As NYT’s A. O. Scott lamented, “We take entertainment every seriously, which is to say that we don’t go to the movies for fun...” Which is to say, the exact opposite of why most children, most people, go to the movies. If you were a kid, whose peer-to-peer recommendation would you seek—your friends’ or A. O. Scott’s? Chris Anderson knows the answer. Walt Disney would, too, if he were here.

-- Patricia Ducey

film reviews
SolPix Picks