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Cannes Review: Why is Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in Fest?

by Anne Thompson
May 14, 2011 10:48 AM
1 Comment
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Thompson on Hollywood

What motivates a groggy, jet-lagged scribe to crawl out of bed for an 8:30 AM press screening of Pirates of the Caribbean? Schadenfreude. The word on the Croisette was that the fourth Pirates installment was lousy. Safe to say I wasn't expecting to have a good time. (I didn't even see Number Three, even though it boasted Chow Yun-Fat.)

I figured I could drowse through the wall of noise and check out the boos and slapping seats when the end credits brought up the name "Rob Marshall." Reuters interviews the ex-Broadway choreographer (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha and Nine) here: "The action sequences felt like big production numbers," he says.

Well, nod I did, but crashing surges of Hans Zimmer's score kept jerking me awake. And the movie's conclusion was met with no applause, or boos either.

While clearly, Marshall is no Gore Verbinski (whose Rango marked his escape from the franchise that gave him a career of fuck-you money), the series auteur-in-chief is Jerry Bruckheimer. He lavished some $200 million on detailed period sets and costumes, explosive action pieces, tons of ILM VFX and that effectively bombastic Zimmer score--even though he stoops to sample Steven Spielberg's Jaws during a killer-mermaids-with-whips sequence.

This Hollywood tentpole did look gorgeous on the huge Palais screen in 3-D. While the movie is familiar, episodic and dull, it isn't noxious. And sitting in a hall with 4000 world press, I could see why this franchise is so popular all over the world, as Aussie, Irish, Brit, American and Spanish actors-- led by Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush and Ian McShane (Blackbeard)--happily chewed the scenery in this old-world Euro-fantasy costume epic.

My fave tidbit was a brief snatch of dialogue between Captain Jack Sparrow and his dear old Dad (Keith Richards), one of the few relationships in this movie with any spark. Sparrow is beyond romance or any sentiment of any kind, so worthy female adversaries such as Penelope Cruz as Angelica, Blackbeard's daughter--with nary an ounce of sizzle--are meaningless. Sparrow's like a roadrunner cartoon: he's never in danger, can dive off cliffs in a single bound. He's a swashbuckling superman with no moral compass. Which means that nothing in these movies matters to anyone.

Aren't there better movies for Fest director Thierry Fremaux to show in Cannes than a tired Disney sequel? Why present such obvious hack work? The answer, my dears, is in the stars: Cannes is happy to expend some cred in order for Depp and Cruz to ascend the red Palais steps. 'Twas ever thus.

1 Comment

  • J. Sperling Reich | May 14, 2011 11:21 AMReply

    How right you are Anne in everything you are stating here. "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" has already screened extensively stateside and elsewhere. The only reason to premiere it in Cannes is so the festival can garner some worldwide press coverage that people will pay attention to. Having Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz turn up does just that.

    One thing is certain, the screening of "Pirates" on a screen the size of the Lumiere's really accentuated two of 3D cinema's biggest weaknesses; lack of brightness and subtitles.

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