It was a pirates weekend.
In preparation for "Pirates of the Caribbean: at World's End," the third film in the popular series, The Girlfriend and I re-watched 2003's "The Curse of the Black Pearl," and viewed the second, last year's "Dead Man's Chest," for the first time. That's almost 300 minutes - or five hours - worth of pirates.
We blew through the first "Pirates" film fine and were eager for the sequel. The second one was a bit of a challenge, though. The complex plot and two and a half hour run-time were a bit taxing. While eager to see where the story would go next we did have a bit of apprehension, with the knowledge that the third was even longer than the second.
As we stood waiting outside the theatre I noticed one of the previous shows get out almost three hours after its listed start time.
OK, lets bring everyone up to speed. (Not everyone has five hours to waste re-watching the previous films.) The first film introduced us to notorious pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp in an Oscar-nominated performance.) He was joined by young blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) in a quest to rescue Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley.) The pair teamed up against Sparrow's former first mate Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) who had a mission of his own: the attempt to break a curse that held him and his crew in a state of hellish eternal hunger, thirst, and numbness.
"Dead Man's Chest," the second film, brought about new conflicts and revelations. Sparrow is being pursued by the bizarre, mythical Davy Jones, captain of the Flying Dutchman. Jones is a monstrous figure, a man with a crab hand and a beard of octopus tentacles. He commands a similarly freakish crew of half-man-half-sea-creatures, one of whom is Will Turner's father. Jones demands Sparrow's soul. Elizabeth and Will also have their own problems. They're threatened by Lord Cutler of the East India Trading Company, forced to search for Sparrow and his magic compass. Sparrow's only hope to cheat Jones out of his soul is to find the Dead Man's Chest.
And so, without giving away the twists of "Dead Man's Chest," the new film, "At World's End," begins with a continued pursuit of Sparrow by Will and Elizabeth. They're joined by others, though. The conflicts are increased and more complicated in "At World's End," with Davy Jones teaming up with the imperialistic forces at Lord Cutler's command. This alliance aims to wipe out all the pirates in the seas. "At World's End" also brings back one of the series' best characters, Hector Barbossa, this time to team up with Sparrow instead of fight him.
Rush returning as Barbossa is one of the filmmakers' best decisions. Seeing him and Sparrow as friends and rivals is also more enjoyable than as enemies. (Think of them as Woody and Buzz in "Toy Story." Isn't it more fun when they're friends in "Toy Story 2"?)
"At World's End" is a tremendous improvement on "Dead Man's Chest." While still being rather complicated it's a bit easier to follow. It's also noticeably better in two departments. First, it's much more visually interesting. There's much more eye candy and unusual, quirky images. We see Sparrow's strange existence in Davy Jones's locker. It's also much funnier - numerous laugh-out-loud moments.
Unfortunately it repeats the cardinal failure of "Dead Man's Chest." The filmmakers just do not understand a very simple concept: your action sequences can only be so long. Not only are the films themselves long - a serious sin in itself - but they commit a much grander heresy, an act almost unthinkable: its action sequences are so long that they become boring, even numbing. I haven't been so bored by never-ending action since "The Passion of the Christ."
The film was entertaining and satisfying such that its grade was leaning towards a B+ before we hit the climax. The Girlfriend and I exchanged knowing glances in dark as we were worn ragged with battle fatigue as the stormy action sequence went on for an eon or so.
Sorry but it needs to be said: run times matter, oftentimes a lot. Let me just be Bill Maher for a moment and lay down some New Rules regarding film length. First, comedies should only be around 90 or 100 minutes long. Action and horror films should not be more than two hours. The only films that have any business pushing the two and a half hour or three hour marks are deep, intense dramas. To sustain a film for that long you need to be having an intense emotional experience, the kind of cinematic feat usually only attainable by the drama.
The big exception to that last rule is the "epic film." Obviously I'm not going to insist that the "Lord of the Rings" films stick to two hours each. That's an exception, though. And so, of course, apologists will insist that the "Pirates" films qualify as epics and can be as long as they damn well please. After all, the series was satirized in last year's atrocious "Epic Movie." No. Sorry. I'm not going to accept that argument. "Lord of the Rings" is long because it has to be long. That's the way the story was written. It has to be that long to tell the story.
The "Pirates" films, on the other hand, did not have to be that long. The filmmakers should have chopped 20-30 minutes out of each film. Then, when released to DVD, the director could have gone wild and released extended editions.
Fans of the first two films should see "At World's End" for, if nothing more, the resolution of the story. Those who have only seen the first film, or have yet to experience any of the series, should view at their own risk. Looking back on it now, while I enjoyed "Dead Man's Chest" and "At World's End," I might have wished that I spent those five hours doing or watching something else. Had we only have spent four hours it might have been a different story though...