Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides wasn’t the worst movie of 2011, nor was it, thanks to the debacle that is At World’s End, the worst of the four Pirates movies. However, it is a pretty disappointing, confusing, lackluster, unambitious, and sometimes boring movie. On the bright side, you can now see it in your home in glorious high definition. So there’s that.
Making a fourth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise served only one purpose: to put money in the pockets of the studio, producers, and star. The series had already run out of good ideas in the sequels to the surprisingly enjoyable first movie, and it wasn’t like bringing back the same writing team (Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio), star (Johnny Depp), and producer (Jerry Bruckheimer) was suddenly going to result in a movie that was exciting and new. It was time for everyone to get a payday, and in that way it succeeded admirably. As an enjoyable movie that you might want to watch more than once, it didn’t do so well.
Depp is, of course, back in his seemingly career-defining role of Captain Jack Sparrow. This time he’s trying to find the Fountain of Youth. Why he wants to get there is never quite clear since near the end of the film he states that he isn’t interested in partaking in the something that will give him longer life. It’s one of a score of things in the plot that makes absolutely no sense when you think about it for 10 seconds. The Sparrow character hasn’t changed much from the first film, so Jack stumbles around half-drunk, spouting quips and saying things like “savvy,” in an endearingly roguish way. He doesn’t bring anything new to the character and the story is a standard “who’s gonna get there first” escapade to an exotic locale.
Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley have been jettisoned this time round and their duties as young lovers have fallen to the less able Sam Claflin as a clergyman and the heavily accented Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as a mermaid. Although, it’s difficult to say they replace Bloom and Knightley since Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann were equal characters with Depp’s Sparrow and actually interacted with him, while Claflin and Berges-Frisbey's characters could easily be cut out of this movie with almost no problem. Much more involved is the truly lousy Penelope Cruz as Angelica, who is trying to get Sparrow to lead her to the Fountain of Youth for her father, the villainous pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane).
The whole plot is silly, as suddenly three distinct parties -- Blackbeard’s, an English group led by Jack’s old nemesis Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and some Spaniards -- are after the Fountain at the same time, with Jack moving from group to group to maximize his screen time. Rush and McShane are great, with McShane playing a pirate-y version of Al Swearengen from Deadwood with fewer f-words, but they are asked to push through nonsensical scenes designed to make you oooh and aaahh, but lacking any vibrancy or fun.
Shrek proved it was possible to make an entertaining fourth movie in a franchise after blowing it big time on third installment. Unfortunately, it might remain the exception that proves the rule, as this fourth Pirates movie has nothing about it that suggests it's worth continuing this worn-out series. Except the boatloads of money it made.
It looks like this version of the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is the red-headed stepchild of the On Stranger Tides Blu-ray releases. The 3D version has tons of behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, a digital copy, and all that good stuff. This 2D version has…LEGOS!
Okay, the 3D version has Legos, too. A Lego version of Captain Jack Sparrow has five adventures, each a minute long, in a Lego pirate world. It looks like they were used for advertising the movie during children's television shows. The adventures are based, loosely, on plot points from the movie. They will be fun for any Lego nut or six-year-old and kinda silly for anyone else.
Next up is a three-minute blooper reel that mostly consists of people laughing during scenes. No behind-the-scenes stuff, no "how did they do that?" segments on the big action sequences, no special looks at the totally hot mermaids, none of that. If you want those things, you have to spring for the 3D version, which is about $10 more.
This set, which includes a Blu-ray and DVD copy of the film, does give you one way to see some behind-the-scenes stuff. If you have an iPad or a laptop, you can download an app from Disney that will sync up with the movie and give you some artwork and other extras to look at while the movie plays. Of course, if you don’t have an iPad and your computer is a desktop in another room, you’re screwed.
There is a commentary on the Blu-ray (but not the DVD) from director Rob Marshall and executive producer John DeLuca. The pair do their best, but they aren’t funny, interesting, or enthusiastic enough to make it rise above the basic commentary you’ve heard a hundred times. "We filmed this in Hawaii…" or "This scene used to be much longer but we cut it in service of the story," or "This guy was so great to work with." Look, this is corporate product all the way, and it’s not like I’d rather have no commentary, but put some effort in, fellas. Make it memorable.
That’s it for the extras. The picture and sound are amazing, as you’d expect. The film was shot for 3D and there are a few scenes where things look a little weird in 2D. There is also a moment when you wonder why Blackbeard is pointing his sword out so straight, or Sparrow is swinging right towards you, and then you think, “Oh, right, 3D.” But it’s not like you lose much watching it in 2D HD. It looks great and the effects are pretty darn good.
If you’re going to bother picking this up, go ahead and get the 3D version since it’s not much more and you get a lot more for your money. It has the 2D Blu-ray, too, so even if you can’t watch the 3D version, it's still a better deal. Better yet, skip this altogether. On Stranger Tides is not a good movie, so why reward mediocrity?