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Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

The problem with sequels is, as we all know by now, that they're rarely as good as the first film in the series. This is especially true when the original film was not just financially successful but also damn good — case in point, the marvelous Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003). Director Gore Verbinski's follow-up, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) is a film that appears to have been made with the absolute worst of intentions — not as an inspired companion adventure featuring characters introduced in the first, but as a project that was demanded by Disney execs when they saw how much money the first picture made (and how much money they didn't make by failing to sell oodles of merchandising licenses, an error they made up for on this second film with a frenzied vengeance). Dead Man's Chest isn't a terrible movie, and there are some entertaining sequences throughout. The CGI work is as inspired as it was in Black Pearl, most notably the character design of the Chthulhoid undersea pirate Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), with his gigantic lobster-claw hand and slithering tentacles.

The trouble with this sequel, as with so many others, is the story. Whereas the first Pirates film bounced energetically from plot-point to plot-point, driven entirely by the characters' decisions and personalities, Dead Man's Chest feels forced and somewhat desperate. Everything on-screen screams of a script that was developed by a committee who determined first that there must several big action-packed set pieces, and secondly that all of the characters from the first film must be brought back, even if there's no good reason for them to be there. So we have a preposterous, slapstick island encounter between Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and his old nemesis, ex-Commander Norrington (Jack Davenport) who duel inside a rolling water wheel while Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) goes through his own Bugs Bunny-like convolutions as he tries to escape some cannibals. The principals hop from island to jungle, back to island again, constantly changing locations with no sense of time passing, as if the entire Caribbean exists within a five-mile tropical key and they're traveling on motorboats. Knightley, who was given a refreshingly equal role as heroine in the first movie, is demoted to second-banana status as "the girl" this time around, and Depp — who was obviously having the time of his life in the first movie — appears sort of bored and lethargic here. The entire endeavor, all 150 minutes of it, is a huge disappointment when one thinks of what could have been done. Clever screenwriters could have created an entirely new adventure for the main characters, giving us a rollicking pirate adventure with Will and Elizabeth beginning their career as pirates and bumping into Jack Sparrow again, and it could have been as fresh as the first movie. But instead, POTC was Hollywoodized, saddled with a sequel written with little consideration for character or storytelling, but purely to produce contrived action sequences, and to sell millions of dollars worth of action figures and Happy Meals. It's big, it's loud, and it's action-packed, but it fails utterly to recreate the magic of its predecessor.

Buena Vista's two-disc "Special Edition" DVD offers a beautiful anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that's as pleasant as one could ask for — rich, clean, and colorful, it looks amazingly good. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (English, Spanish or French, with optional subtitles in all three languages) is equally good, although it must be said that Hans Zimmer's take on Klaus Badelt's score for the first POTC is far less elegant, and at times it's painfully inappropriate to the mood of some scenes. The package comes packed with extras, starting with a blooper reel (4 min.) on Disc One that's "brought to you by Verizon Wireless!" (And yes, this writers wishes she was making that up) and a commentary track by the screenwriters that's fascinating if you were wondering what they hell they were thinking when they scripted this mess. Disc Two offers hours and hours of bonus features, including "making-of" featurettes; amazingly detailed bits on all of Captain Jack's makeup, costumes and props; featurettes on the action sequences; a piece on how the Disneyland ride has been altered since the first movie; a featurette on the film's premiere; and a feature all about Jerry Bruckheimer. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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