If you don’t have any of the Pirates of the Caribbean films on Blu-ray and want them all, you’re in luck. They are being released (for the second time in three years) in a single package. That means you can watch all the movies over and over again in glorious HD. Of course, that begs the question…why would you?
It’s difficult to give one rating for all three Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Despite the presence of the same director, writers, producer, and core cast in all the films, the drop-off in pure movie-watching enjoyment between the first and third films is steep. The Curse of the Black Pearl is a surprising, thrilling, funny, and exhilarating ride. Dead Man’s Chest disappoints, but mostly because nothing seems fresh, the plot is all set-up for the third film, and the two new villains don’t really make the grade. It’s not bad, it’s just not a worthy successor to the first. At Worlds End is loud, overlong, bloated, confusing, and dull. It’s hard to believe the same creative team could make both the first and last movies, but I’ve seen The Godfather, Part III so I know it happens.
Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow is, obviously, the glue that holds the series together and the role that turned the actor into a blockbuster superstar when he was previously more known for quirky or offbeat roles. His absence from the screen in any of the three films leaves a gaping hole that his co-stars, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, and in the later two films, Bill Nighy, fail to fill. They all do fine, and in some cases -- Rush primarily -- impressive work, but they can’t match Depp’s astounding charisma or great lines. Even in the third film, where the “Hey, I’m like Keith Richards and here is Keith Richards playing my father” act gets a little tiring, Depp is the best thing about the trilogy. His absence from the first 30 minutes of At World’s End, only to appear in a silly “hell” talking only to computer-generated versions of himself, is the first of many problems in the third film.
Unfortunately, even with a leading man in the role of his lifetime and a strong supporting cast, it’s still the script that drives things. The special effects actually improve as the films go on from 2003’s The Curse of the Black Pearl to 2007’s At World’s End, but the writing, or more specifically, the plotting, gets worse and worse. It seemed impossible that a movie based on an amusement park ride would be as well structured and interesting as the first film, but it was. The dashes of humor, excitement, and the semi-love triangle between Sparrow, Will, and Elizabeth were fun. But the second movie was somewhat less fun, and the third is no fun at all. It feels too much like work to keep track of the myriad plot points and tacked-on characters.
The replacement of Rush and Jack Davenport’s Norrington as the villains from the first movie with a combination of Nighy as the computer-generated Davy Jones and Tom Hollander as the douche bag evil Lord Beckett beginning in the second movie is unfortunate. Since Rush and Davenport continue to hang around, there are just too many quasi- bad guys. Sparrow is sometimes a bad guy himself. You know he’s really not, but he functions as one due to his self-centeredness, so that leaves five sometime villains, which is really four too many. Add to this the hard-to-understand Chow Yun-Fat in the third film and it’s just ridiculous.
It’s hard to keep interest and originality going through three movies. Especially after the first one was such a surprise hit that the next two were appended on without prior planning. The “more, more, more” philosophy is at work in this trilogy, with more stars, more amazing visuals, and more complex plots the order of the day. The only thing that really works well in every film is the look. The money is on the screen, that’s for sure. Some of the most absurd and obvious computer-generated shots look perfectly natural in all three movies. Plus, the character design of some of the fish creatures and the skeletons are really amazing. Top-notch stuff.
The first movie is an all-time personal favorite. The second is a decent enough action film that doesn’t live up to its predecessor. The third sucks. Taken together, they are a passable trilogy that could have been so much more. All that promise wasted.
This isn’t the first time that all three Pirates of the Caribbean movies have been packaged together on Blu-ray. There was a six-disc Blu-ray trilogy package back in 2008. Each individual movie had two discs, one with the movie and one with the extras. It appears that the extras for that 2008 package are the exact same extras you get on this package, which also appear to be the same if you buy the movies individually, with one exception. The current “seven-disc package” has one disc with some “new” extras.
So, if you already have the six-disc Blu-ray trilogy, what more would you get by buying this set? Nothing, or at least not enough to buy it again. The extra disc contains a “preview” of the upcoming On Stranger Tides sequel. Of course if you’ve seen a movie in a theater in the last month, you’ve already seen this three-minute preview. Besides that short preview, there are about 60 minutes of deleted or extended scenes from Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End. The scenes can be viewed with commentary by director Gore Verbinski, but Verbinski is clearly reading the commentary, and it sounds like someone else might have written it for him. It’s off-putting, but there is a lot of stuff in the deleted scenes that play on themes that the creative team was trying to get into in the movie but didn’t really develop well. These scenes make them clearer. So, in that sense, they are beneficial.
The good news is that if you don’t already have this set in the earlier incarnation, this is an amazingly detailed set for anyone who loves the movies. Even if you are like me and you could do without the last film, the whole set is definitely worth the while of any fan (who doesn’t already have the earlier version). Not including commentaries and trivia tracks, there are about 10 hours of extras spread out over the discs. That’s pretty amazing. I have to hand it to the producers: they couldn’t keep my interest in their trilogy, but they know how to put together a Blu-ray package.
Going over every extra in detail would be…I don’t know…not good for anyone. Let’s just say that literally every aspect of production is covered. Basic making-of featurettes, bloopers, music, design, actors, costumes, story development, fight training, image galleries, the original Disneyland ride, music, post-production, deleted scenes, visual effects…it goes on and on. Some of the extras are a bit fluffy, but most are substantial, well made, funny or interesting (or both), and add greatly to the enjoyment of the series. There are also some trailers, games, and little odds and ends, including a featurette on the monkey, and who doesn’t love that? Besides me, I mean.
The extras sometimes unintentionally provide clues as to why sequels often fall short of the original, and why they did in this case. One extra on the second film indicates that a decision to make the final two movies was made, and then they got the original writers, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, to write a script. The movies weren’t made because someone had a great idea for a follow-up, they were made because the first movie was a huge hit and someone wanted to make some more dough. The third movie extras focus quite a bit on the Maelstrom sequence (the final battle) and many people state how it’s the “biggest action sequence ever.” You definitely get the feeling that “bigger is better” has crept into the production, which explains why that movie was such a disappointment compared to the first film. So, they provide insight without even trying.
It’s hard to figure out exactly why, but the interest in recording commentaries drops as sharply in relation to the entertainment level of each film. The first film includes three separate commentaries featuring, in various combinations, the director, the writers, and three actors. Dead Man’s Chest only includes one commentary from Elliott and Rossio. By the third movie, no one is interested enough to record a commentary. Maybe no one wanted to sit through it again?
The picture and sound on this collection are, of course, fantastic. When you consider all the extras, the great picture and sound, the commentaries that do exist, and the fact that it’s a decent, if not amazing, trilogy (with the first film being a real classic adventure film), then this is a set worth having. Unless you already have it from the last time they packaged the films. If that’s the case, don’t buy this.