Sunday, July 16, 2006


Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, dir. Gore Verbinski
At the start of Harry Knowles book Ain't It Cool: Hollywood's Redheaded Stepchild Speaks Out Harry asks a film critic which he prefers writing, positive or negative reviews. The critic confides that he prefers writing negative reviews because they allow him to vent his frustrations and be more creative, he also says they can work as a form of catharsis. Harry, on the other hand, says he prefers writing positive reviews because they give him the chance to discuss and understand all the ways a given film inspires him and recommend it to others who he hopes will enjoy the same thrilling experience. But what about films that one feels entirely indifferent towards? Like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.

Faced with a film that inspires no real feeling I would normally write a negative review, but I can’t bring myself to think too badly of this film. As far as cynical cash-ins go Pirates 2 is a lightweight, recent Bret Ratner helmed travesty X-Men 3: The Last Stand is the heavyweight champion. Gore Verbinski, unlike Bret Ratner, can direct action, at least, what his film (like Ratner’s) lacks, is a script.

The film that Pirates 2 reminds me of the most is The Matrix Reloaded. Arriving with a blizzard of hype, promising to be bigger and better than the original, but only fulfilling the promise of the former. The film is defined by a procession of long CGI set pieces, which are big and loud and look pretty enough but that once they have ended leave you wondering, "Why? Where have we actually gone in terms of narrative?" Some interesting ideas are included, but in such a ramshackle fashion that they never convince in terms of story or stucture.

A couple of years ago I read an article in Empire magazine about how the success of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films would ruin cinema. While they were good films themselves the message sent to the people who make and produce films was "make a two and half hour movie and they will still come." The former unwritten rule that a feature film needs a running time of less than two hours was abandoned. The Empire soothsayer has so far been proved right, following their prediction we have seen a trend towards bloated, indulgent and largely boring films that have a tendency to outstay their welcome - The Matrix sequels, Bad Boys II, The Island, Kill Bill... Not that I am saying all movies need be under two hours, but these films should! It is not that they are telling stories on a larger scale, in the vein of older 'epics' The Godfather and Lawrence of Arabia. They are not giving us more, simply excess.

A really strong producer, a Roger Corman or a Bob Evans, needs to come and tell these filmmakers, "NO! Enough is enough!"


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