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Disney is bringing back Jack Sparrow and a motley crew of yo-ho-ho-ers for a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film this weekend, but the absence of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan won't be the only different this time around. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides will be the first Pirates film released in 3D, and was actually shot with 3D cameras by newbie director Rob Marshall. Anyone who ever wanted to see Jack Sparrow's dreadlocks in a glorious third dimension can finally realize their dreams.
But is the extra 3D on the Pirates ship actually necessary? It's time for another installment of To 3D or not to 3D to find out. In this recurring feature we look at movies not for how good they are or how worthwhile they are of your money, but simply at how well the 3D works. Find out if the 3D makes a difference for Jack and company by reading below, as we help you make sure to buy the right Pirates ticket.
Does It Fit?
It depends on why you go to see a Pirates movie. If you want to see the sunny Caribbean locations jump out at a you, swords swing across the head of the audience and Johnny Depp's kohl-lined eyes staring directly into your soul, sure, that part works. But if you also remember that much of the Pirates movies, and especially On Stranger Tides take place at night, and that fast-cut swashbuckling action is kind of hard to follow when you're wearing 3D glasses. Think of it this way: when you were watching the previous three Pirates films, did you ever actually wish for a third dimension? Yeah, I didn't think so.
Fit Score: 2/5
Planning & Effort
Give Disney this much credit: when they decided both to continue a franchise that had wrapped up and make it the first in the series to be 3D, they planned for the 3D from the very beginning, equipping director Rob Marshall with 3D cameras and generally avoiding the post-conversion disaster of Alice in Wonderland. As a result they do get some great moments planned specifically for 3D, many of them involving swords or that monkey Jack Sparrow hates so much. Still, for all the planning they did they still fell into a lot of the same 3D traps, so in this case thinking ahead doesn't necessarily mean thinking smart.
Planning & Effort Score: 4/5
Beyond the Window
"Beyond the window" is the term we've started to use for the sense of depth that 3D gives you, that pop-out book sense that you're peering through an actual window into a world with texture and layers that goes on way, way into the background. The effect works really well in animated films, which is part of why 3D works better in that format, and has almost no impact in live-action films, which On Stranger Tides most definitely is. Unlike something like Thor, which had significant scenes in computer generated landscapes like Asgard, Pirates takes place simply in a more fantastical version of the real and cluttered world; occasionally you get a nice sense of scale on recreated London streets or expansive beaches, but more often than not Jack Sparrow and company are on a crowded pirate ship, a thick jungle or merely talking to each other among some trees. It's not even that the film doesn't take advantage of depth, but that there's not enough of it in the movie to matter at all.
Beyond The Window Score: 1/5
Before the Window
The possibilities for 3D effects on a pirate ship are just about limitless, all the swinging ropes and jabbing swords, or even the prow of the ship itself. But aside from a handful of very telegraphed, very lovingly photographed moments in which Blackbeard's or Jack's sword swoops out over the screen, almost nothing in On Stranger Tides goes "before the window"-- that is, jumping out from the screen at you into the audience. It does more with this effect than a lot of post-converted movies, but there was still way more potential here, especially with a movie that's otherwise as gimmicky and silly as this one.
Before The Window Score: 3/5
Nearly everyone has heard by now, or learned from experience, that 3D glasses basically function as sunglasses. You're putting dark lenses in front of your eyes and, as a result, the image on the screen gets darker; it's up to the filmmakers putting their movies in 3D to compensate by making everything brighter, and up to the projectionists to keep the bulbs on bright too. I don't know which one of those is to blame for On Stranger Tides, but on this count the movie is a disaster. So many scenes take place at night, including big, climactic battles that are supposed to look great in 3D, and it's nearly impossible to make out what's going on in any of them. The action choreography doesn't help, sure, but the 3D is a major detriment to every single one of these scenes, and reason enough alone to opt for 2D instead.
Brightness Score: 1/5
The Glasses Off Test
Because of the aforementioned brightness issue I occasionally took off my glasses while watching On Stranger Tides, just so I could see what was going on. If you're watching a really good 3D movie that really takes advantage of depth, you'll barely be able to look at the screen without glasses-- as a general rule, the blurrier things look without the glasses, the more eye-popping the 3D will be when you put them back on. It may not surprise you, then, that watching Pirates without glasses was simply a brighter version of what I saw with them on. There were many shots, especially when it was just focused on characters talking, that looked virtually the same. It's the ultimate proof of how little the 3D adds here.
Glasses Off Score: 1/5
The real danger of getting sick while watching a 3D movie is when you're watching something post-converted-- there's something about all those artificially applied layers and the too-fast action that can make a lot of moviegoers feel nauseous. Pirates doesn't have the post-conversion issue, but there are still a few moments where the background layers don't quite seem to be synching up; I have no technical explanation for it, but sometimes I found my eyes swimming trying to figure out what I was looking at. And then there's the issue of straining your neck trying in vain to actually see what's going on through the murky glasses, but that's a health issue that's at least preventable.
Health Score: 3/5
Will you see Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in 2D or 3D?
Final Verdict: When the 3D craze inevitably ends, we may look back to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides as an example of how 3D can be terrible even when you shot in 3D from the beginning. At its best its allows you a brief thrill when the filmmakers really embrace the gimmick; at its worst, it keeps you from understanding the basic elements of a given action scene, and is so useless in enhancing what you can see that you actively resent the studio for forcing the higher ticket price on you. On Stranger Tides isn't really all that much worth seeing to begin with, but no matter how curious you are about the latest native 3D effort, you should seek this one out in 2D if at all possible.
For more 3D analysis, visit our To 3D Or Not To 3D archive right here.