Pirates of the Caribbean 4 vs On Stranger Tides

In the blue corner we have Pirates of the Caribbean 4 : On Stranger Tides, the fourth film in an increasingly bloated franchise. Devoid of Bloom and Knightley but with Depp and Rush still in the firing line along with Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane, the film runs at a bum-numbing 136 minutes.

In the red corner we have the “source material”, Tim Powers’ classic fantasy novel , released in 1987 and beloved by many.

So which one is the more fun/more deserving of your time?

Well the movie has Ian McShane as Blackbeard and Penelope Cruz looks pretty…

OH ALRIGHT.

POTC 4: On Stranger Tides is very loosely based on the Tim Powers’ novel of the same name. For reasons far too dull to go in to, Jack Sparrow is searching for the Fountain of Youth alongside a former lover, Angelica (Cruz) who is the daughter of Blackbeard. Blackbeard is a master of dark magic, his ship powered by zombies, while Angelica has a priest on board in the hope of saving his soul.

While it all makes sense to a degree, the movie feels as bloated and sluggish. Hector Barbosa returns, chasing both Jack and Blackbeard, and old first mate Gibbs is back, although the poor guy has little to do. There are set pieces that seem to be there purely for the sake of needing a set piece, as if the writers have recognised that the pace is off, but instead of trimming things down, they’ve added more filler.

McShane is fun as Blackbead, his first appearance has him resplendant with fire crackers in his beard, but this is villainy by the numbers for him and he’s never really as dark or terrifying as he should be. Cruz is easy on the eye and sashays through the movie in a pleasant enough fashion. However some of her motivations (dresssing as Sparrow, saying Blackbeard isn’t her father when he is) seem clumsy at best and again indicative of poor plotting.

Meanwhile Sparrow has become nothing more than tiresome. He’s still rogueish but seems to have learned nothing from his previous exploits. He talks of “having feelings” for Angelica in the same way a teenage boy might grudgingly admit he likes a girl before punching her in the arm. Had there been a firmer had on the tiller with the first POTC film maybe Depp’s performance would have more depth. Instead he’s just cartoony and irritating.

There are moments of fun in the movie, the mermaids are fantastic and Blackbeard’s brutal treatment of them is chilling. But it’s nowhere near as scary as it needs to be. Shot almost completly at night, and bearing in mind the source material, you’d expect this to be creepy as hell in places. But the zombie seafarers are barely given a mention and there is nothing as deliciously strange as the first time the pirates are shown as skeletons in the first movie. The problem is really that this movie is “inspired by” rather than based on Powers’ novel. So it has taken Blackbeard, zombie sailors and the Fountain of Youth and nothing else.

Which is a real pity, firstly because the movie would be a lot better for it if it had followed more of the plot and secondly because this ham-fisted version has pretty much put the kibosh on any proper adaptation of the book ever being filmed.

The book deals with a character called John Chandagnac, who in a classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, ends up on a pirate ship and eventually becoming a pirate himself and embroiled in a plot by an Oxford scholar to resurrect his dead wife. The scholar needs the assistance of Blackbeard to help with the voodoo that is needed to raise the dead and their first port of call is the Fountain of Youth.

Powers’ book is well-researched which grounds the basic storytelling, and blends pirates, voodoo, classic revenge and damsels in distress in an exhilarating mix. More dark fantasy than pirate romp it pulls together neatly all the strands of the story into one engaging tale. Had Disney decided to make POTC4 a prequel, a Jack Sparrow origin story, if you will, rather than a limp sequel, the movie could have followed the main plot pretty neatly. (Although there are some very NC-17 concepts in places).

POTC4 is kid-friendly but tiresome and overdone. On Stranger Tides is pitched at an older audience (even with her advanced reading age Miss Moviegrrl won’t be reading it for some years) but is smarter and more satisfying.

Read the book, don’t worry about the film so much.

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~ by moviegrrlreviews on June 20, 2011.

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