Thursday, June 16, 2016

Movie Musings: Does it Have to be a Trilogy?

"How could you forget about me, mate?"
So a few years back I wrote a blog asking where the adventure movies of the 80s and 90s went. I provided a pretty strict definition of "adventure movie". If you don't want to head back to that blog here is the definition:

I’m talking about something set in our world, maybe in the past, but a past where heroes still use their fists and their smart mouths to get out of trouble. The hero is usually on a quest of some kind, and there are obstacles to overcome and a girl to win over. While these movies have action, they are more about the exotic locations, overcoming the obstacles and getting away alive and with some kind of loot. 

Pretty basic right? Well I actually forgot an entire trilogy of movies in my examination back in 2011. The Pirates of the Caribbean films of the 2000s would fit perfectly in that group. Curse of the Black Pearl came out in 2003 and was followed up by Dead Man's Chest in 2006 and At Worlds End in 2007. This was a big series for that decade, right up there with Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. This was Disney's fantasy adventure juggernaut and audiences went in droves to the films. One of the big reasons was Johnny Depp's unique and hilarious performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. But all three movies had tons of eye candy, top notch action sequences and a score by Hans Zimmer that has pretty much redefined what swashbuckling soundtracks should sound like.

So how the hell could I forget these movies? Easy, the sequels weren't all that good.

You don't know jack about Captain Jack (DDR style).
Curse of the Black Pearl is a fun movie. It takes the pirate film tropes, the adventure movie tropes and Disney movie tropes, scrambles them all around and twists them up in some entertaining and unique ways. Yes Johnny Depp's performance is key. But I argue that Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa is just as integral to the film. He is the foil to Sparrow, and has almost as many memorable lines as our roguish lead. He makes for a great villain, and one who has a reason to do what he does - to shed his undead state and live the life of a human again. The fluffy romance between Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly takes a backseat to the shenanigans of the pirates. It does provide a bit of a balance to the rest of the characters. The movie does overstay its welcome a little bit, but all in all, it is solid entertainment, and was a bit of a surprise hit when it came out.

Of course Disney is never one to miss a trick. So when the film's popularity blossomed they pulled in director Gore Verbinski to direct two more films, back to back to create a trilogy. This is not an uncommon practice. Back to the Future did this with some success. But so did The Matrix and most folks dismiss Reloaded and Revolutions as misguided and unnecessary.

"See what happens when you leave me out of your
bloody film? ARRRRRRR!"
I submit that the same fate befell the two pirates films. The first film was 143 minutes long. The second film 151 minutes long. The third film was 169 minutes long. The sequels make you feel every last minute. Dead Mans Chest  is especially bad. Geoffrey Rush only appears in cameo and new villain Davy Jones (played with verve by Bill Nighy) just doesn't cut the mustard. I also argue that the  two sequels have way too much Jack Sparrow in them. His cooky, crazy schtick gets really old really fast, especially without a good foil to play off of. You realize very quickly how much Rush added to the original film.

The visuals and production design remain impeccable, but the action scenes go on way too long (something that was a bit of a problem in Curse of the Black Pearl as well). As much as the movie tries to be fun, there just is a dowerness to the whole that the Davy Jones plot line adds that makes the films move at a crawl.

Um yeah, this is just too much - 169 minutes too much.
What is really strange is that Dead Man's Chest ends with Captain Jack Sparrow being killed and then awakening in a strange limbo in At Worlds End. (Oh and those scenes with multiple Jacks arguing with each other is visually kind of cool, but man was that just plain Johnny Depp overload.) Pretty much the same thing happens to Neo at the end of Reloaded and he starts in a subway station limbo in Revolutions. Where the creators of the Pirates movie doing an homage to the 2003 film? Or was it just a case of lazy screen writing?

Hard to say, but after seeing the borrowed scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, I'm thinking they knew what they were doing. So we had a trilogy of adventure films in the 2000s. I'm not crazy about them, and still feel that the flawed Indiana Jones films are still better then either of those painful Pirates sequels. Yeah, I would even put Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ahead of Dead Man's Chest. Sadly, Disney won't let the Pirates films die, even after mediocre reviews for On Stranger Tides back in 2011. People keep going to see these films, and I'm guessing it is all the Depp fans out there.

I'd rather watch The Pirate Movie again, than watch those
sequels. No seriously, I would.

The thing is, studios need to stop with the spontaneous trilogies. Buried in the scripts for Dead Man's Chest and At Worlds End is a solidly entertaining film. It would probably run around 151 minutes or so, but with the fat cut out and the adventure focused on (and with Barbossa in a more prominent role) you could have had a sequel that matched the original film. But we get this messy trilogy instead. And studios still haven't learned their lesson. The Hobbit trilogy suffered the same bloated fate. The lesson is, focus on making a single great movie, unless you have a story worth telling in trilogy form. Sadly, Pirates of the Caribbean just wasn't that story.


  1. …and then there’s the trick of taking a legitimate trilogy (e.g. “The Hunger Games,” based on the trilogy of novels) and splitting the one entry into two bloated films. Good box office sense? Probably, at least in the short run. But nowadays when most profits come from the DVD and online aftermarket I’m not so sure that’s true longer term.

    Human patience notoriously wears thin after 2 hours of anything – at least when sober. The portion of the audience that is only modestly (or less) entertained will start fidgeting irritably in their seats at that point. What is on the screen had better be exceptional to keep most folks happily seated all the way to 150 minutes or beyond. I too liked “Pirates of the Caribbean,” but not enthusiastically enough to seek out the sequels. Their length isn’t the primary deterrent but it is a factor.

    A young Kristy McNichol counts for something with "The Pirate Movie."

    1. ...the *last* entry into two bloated films...

    2. Yeah the "Harry Potter" films started that final book = two movie trend. You could argue that it helped the movie breathe a bit, but I would say it was actually more harmful to the overall pacing of the films.

      I'm fine with a movie over two hours long, as long as the story and characters can sustain it. I actually prefer the extended edition of the LOTR films because they actually flow better in the longer format (for the most part).