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

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood May 14, 2011 at 10:48AM

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.)
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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.

This article is related to: Festivals, Genres, Headliners, Studios, Reviews, Production , Cannes, Sequel, Period, Johnny Depp, Disney , Sound and Score, VFX, Digital Future, Costume Design, Art Direction


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.