SEA SICK

Category: Beowulf & Grendel News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: July 6, 2006 | Publication: New York Press | Author: Armond White
Publication/Article Link:http://www.nypress.com/19/27/film/ArmondWhite.cfm

Another repetition of pirates and producers looking for big booty

Spoiler Alert: The end of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is a cliffhanger. That means after watching Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom still fighting pirates and ghosts, still searching for treasure, there’ll be another two and a half hours of this junk to sit through.

Watching director Gore Verbinski rehash scene after scene of enervating, sea-sickening slapstick had worn me down to the point that I forgot the advanced hype ballyhooing Verbinski’s two-for-one production schedule and was simply hoping for a reprieve. Instead, when this sequel finally ends, it’s not with a bang or whimper, but with a threat…of more.

These are the cruel wages of success: That the 2003 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl became a box-office hit confirmed producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s usual formula for noisy, large-scale, calamitous pratfalls. It was the kind of dubious success that in Hollywood demands repetition. This calculated echo chamber practice is bad for the culture since the first film wasn’t really about anything to begin with. Verbinski’s ersatz sensibility has little to do with the real world or plausible experience. He took on the long dormant pirate genre because, well, he hasn’t yet figured out how to fake an anti-Bush docudrama suitable for children. The closest to fresh element in POTC was Depp’s performance of the mascara’d, swaggering, dipsomaniac sea captain Jack Sparrow, an incongruous hipster buccaneer. The performance was too blatantly advertised as a tribute to Rolling Stones bassist/druggie Keith Richard; the better to distract viewers from the film’s overall pointlessness.

Now the POTC franchise exists as a model for a Disneyland thrill ride attraction and this new sequel—a veritable Disneyland advert—trains ticket-buyers what to expect when they take their kids to the pilgrimage.

What this means is that anyone unimaginative enough to crave Dead Man’s Chest is not responding to any further development in pop culture; they’re merely having a reflex response to the hype machine. Producer Bruckheimer (Con Air, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys, National Treasure) has taken us very far from the fundamentals of culture. Now, to attend a summer blockbuster like this, one is only responding to commerce—or as the cineplex marquee on a recent episode of South Park read, “Bow Down To Hollywood.”

Verbinski and Bruckheimer bow down with knee pads. They do not revise the pirate genre as Roman Polanski did with his elegant 1984 Pirates (don’t scoff if you haven’t seen its splendors on the big screen). They simply repeat stock devices (Knightley and Bloom’s forestalled marriage, an array of battling pirate ghouls this time with amphibious body parts and Depp’s jokey alcoholism). At times Verbinski and Bruckheimer seem to be testing how violent a “family movie” can be: Fun for cineplex heathens. Sturla Gunnarsson’s small, unhyped mini-epic Beowulf & Grendel is infinitely superior because it provides what POTC won’t: an imaginative regard of the past through a revitalized narrative form. Dead Man’s Chest jokes about pirate history but its dullness maintains an unenlightened view of Western adventure, returning viewers to the stereotyped view of women, men, royalty and people of color; doing so with all the force of the monetarily empowered status quo. The low point comes with Naomi Harris playing a voodoo priestess as a glorified maid. She’s like Jar Jar Binks with snakey dreds, red eyeballs and rotted cavities.

The period adventure genre ought to analyze the history of imperialism, using a historical setting to explore the issues of conquest and globalization. It can be fun as in the Indiana Jones trilogy or Beowulf & Grendel, movies that use pop mythology to address Western heathenism. Instead, Dead Man’s Chest perpetuates pop heathenism.