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Empire List #475: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Don’t you just love it when sequels get it right? With Gore Verbinski’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” everything goes right. There are greater sword fights, more characters, bigger set pieces, and bigger special effects. But what really got me with this franchise are the characters, specifically Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow. All of the characters have their very own motivations and schemes, which drive the plot. You actually have to think about you are seeing to keep up with the story.

I remember having a lot of anticipation for this particular movie. The first one had been one of the highlights of 2003, when I had first moved back from South America and returned to Quebec. For the 2006 sequel I was finishing my last year of CEGEP at College Merici and was spending my free time during the summer scanning the newspaper for movies that were coming out in English in Quebec City. Like many fans I found the trailer to be very promising. Weeks before the release I was chatting with a friend from the drama club and we were talking about our anticipation for the movie. Our favourite part from the trailer: when Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) is standing next to the Black Pearl and says he cannot leave without Jack. Cut to the Jack heading his way with about 50 hungry cannibals chasing him. “Never mind lets go!”

The plot is more complicated this time around there is no doubt about that. It gets so complicated that during a swordfight the sidekicks Ragetti and Pintel (Mackenzie Crook and Lee Arenberg) need to explain why the fight is going on. What a swordfight tough! It begins on a beach between Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, and James Norrington and then moves to an old church, and then to a giant wheel all while the characters are trying to get their hands on a key and the chest it opens.

An impressive fight, amongst many in a summer movie filled with thousands of special effects. What makes the “Pirates” franchise stand apart from other summer movies is the fact that the effects and the fights serve the story. Jack is fighting to get his hands on a key that he needs to open a chest, which contains the beating heart of his enemy, the dreaded Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) captain of the Flying Dutchman, a ship that takes sailors from shipwrecks and makes them permanent members of the crew or else throws them overboard. Will Turner needs the chest to free his father, Bill Turner (Stellan Skarsgård) who is trapped aboard the Dutchman. Norrington needs it in order to give it to the greedy Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) who will then give him back his rank of captain and his honor. Beckett wants the key and the chest in order to control Davy Jones and thus have control over the Caribbean seas.

Whew! That is an impressive array of characters and plot points. Ragetti and Pintel probably do a better job of explaining it. Keep in mind this is based on ride from Disney World.

Another aspect of the movie that impressed me was the quality of the special effects especially for Davy Jones’ crew, sailors that have been turned into fish people. When characters are created by computers and interact with real human beings, sometimes it looks really fake as though the two people were not in the same room. Not so in this case. That tentacle beard on Bill Nighy’s face looked real, or as real as a tentacle beard can look anyway. The Kraken on the other hand, seemed like a giant animated blot, especially when it interacted with real objects. But then again it’s difficult to create a monster that huge, have it destroy a ship, and make it look seamless.

Months after seeing this adventure on the high seas I got the DVD for Christmas. My mother had already seen it, but my brother hadn’t so it was fun enjoying it with somebody else for the first time. When the swordfight between Jack, Will, and Norrington began I looked at my brother and said: “And so it begins” knowing that he was about to see one of the most bizarre swordfights ever recorded on film. Not to mention that very last scene at the end when a surprise character shows up to set the stage for the sequel.

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