Plot: What’s it about?
The second chapter of the Pirates saga has taken somewhat of a lashing from the critics, and I’d like to take this opportunity to come to its defense. Well, perhaps not whole-heartedly, but I don’t feel that it’s deserving of all the hatred some appear to have for it. The plot is, as before, unavoidably expositional in nature which, to be fair, does bog this film down even more than its predecessor. A new villain is introduced in the form of the diabolical Davy Jones who’s after Captain Jack’s eternal soul. Bloom and Knightly return as the star-crossed lovers who never seem to get a break from endless sword fights and swashbuckling adventures that otherwise put their lives in peril. As before, I was less interested in what the two supposed “main characters” had to offer than the far more dynamic Jones (brought gloriously to life with some of the best interactive CGI we’ve seen since Gollum in “The Lord Of The Rings”) or the ever-quirky Sparrow (played by Depp with a joyous playfulness that holds its own against the original film). Once again, the filmmakers seem to understand which of its characters are more likely to hold our attention and which are not, and as such, the vast majority of the screen time is allotted to the zany and the macabre. And as before, this has the unfortunate net result of leaving us with a fun but ultimately hollow experience.
As I noted in my review of “The Curse Of The Black Pearl”, “Dead Man’s Chest” is also a very long film, which in and of itself isn’t a problem. The thing is that the movie feels every bit its bloated length. One prime example is an entire subplot involving a tribe of natives that could easily be trimmed out of the film entirely without one bit of negative impact on the story. More so than the original, this is a front-heavy production, with miles of extended exposition interspersed with just enough action to keep us interested until the much busier – and much better – second half of the film. The flaws of “Dead Man’s Chest” are much more obvious than those of the original film. As such, this one is a far easier target for the obvious criticisms of over-length and convolution. And, as I’ve said, there’s not a particular shortage of those problems to be found here. On the other hand, all of these issues were just as problematic the last time around, they were simply more spread out. I was quite surprised to discover that, on the whole, I actually found myself having a bit more fun with the high points of this film than I did with the previous installment. Once the action kicks in, it doesn’t let up for a moment, not even to let you catch your breath. Once it’s done setting things up, the film becomes one exhausting, exhilarating action set piece after another, each one trumping the one that came before.
I truly was not expecting the visceral onslaught of images and sound effects that pummeled me during the second half of the film. It was draining, but thrillingly so. All in all, I find myself having to break with the critical consensus here and say that, for my money, “Dead Man’s Chest” is every bit Black Pearl’s match in terms of cinematic escapism. Sure, there are plot holes, pacing issues, and contrivances to be found in both films, but if that’s what you’re focused on while watching a movie about a group of cursed pirates, then I think you’ve more than missed the point. I do think the first film is often reviewed through rose-colored glasses, and most forget that it wasn’t the decisive masterpiece that some have come to remember it as. There’s so much excitement and adventure to be found in both films that neither are likely to disappoint anyone trying merely to throw on a movie, turn off their brain, and have a good time for two and a half hours. But then, I suppose that’s the rub. Do you really want to take a mindless journey that asks for that much of your time at a stretch? Well, this is what home video is made for, folks, and if anything, these films have consistently given audiences what they’ve wanted in spades. Whatever faults this film has, it’s undeniable that this is a film series that knows what beats to hit and how hard to pound them, even if it sometimes forgets when to do it.
Video: How does it look?
The AVC MPEG-4 1080p transfer of “Dead Man’s Chest” is, in a word, flawless. If there were any minute nitpicks to be had with the previous film’s picture quality (which, for me, was already incredible), then this disc remedies every single one of them. “The Curse Of The Black Pearl” will never be a bad-looking Blu-ray disc, but I’d wager that the only way to find any issue with it whatsoever would be to pop this one in first and do a side by side. The clarity, sharpness, and detail level present here is so vibrant and striking as to render this release a must-buy for home theater enthusiasts – whether or not they actually liked the film. There’s not a better compliment for video that I could give any disc than that. You know you’ve got a great-looking disc when you find yourself having to go back five minutes and re-watch scenes that you weren’t paying attention to because you were too busy looking at the detail in the embroidery on someone’s coat. Really, there’s not much more that I can say about this presentation except to lavish one superlative after another on it. I literally watched a portion of this with my face an inch away from my 46″ screen, trying to find anything to criticize, and I couldn’t. It’s as perfect a visual treatment as we’re likely to see this side of yet another leap in technology. If you’re looking for a disc to rationalize diving into a high-definition format, this is it.
Audio: How does it sound?
I found the 5.1 tracks on this disc to be pretty much directly on par with those of the first film. As such, some of my comments from that portion of the other review have been ported over to describe this one as well. This is an aggressive mix that will get the most out of your speakers, regardless of what kind of setup you have. I was consistently engaged by the transparency of the sound field and the tightness and fullness of the bass present here, and it’s enough to satiate the appetite of even the most discerning audiophiles out there. Even in the quiet scenes, the surrounds are utilized for effective ambiance. The action sequences in “Dead Man’s Chest” are even more aggressive and emersive than those in the first film, with an aural presence that simply must be heard to be believed. From the straining and breaking of the wood on the ships to the pulse-pounding thump of the canons, not a single punch is pulled to give us an impressive, top-notch audio presentation. As before, no complaints whatsoever. Both visually and aurally, these discs are, quite honestly, above reproach.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Again, Buena Vista has seen fit to give us most of the extras that have been made available previously, which is a welcome trend for those wanting to upgrade to this edition from the standard DVD. First up on disc one is a commentary track by the film’s co-screenwriters and an assortment of trailers, including one for “At World’s End” in 1080p. On disc two are two documentaries: “Charting The Course”, running around 25 minutes, and “According To Plan: The Harrowing And True Story Of Dead Man’s Chest”, running a bit over an hour. The featurettes “Meet Davy Jones: Anatomy Of A Legend”, “Fly On The Set: The Bone Cage”, “Mastering the Blade” and “Captain Jack: From Head to Toe” round out the video-based content, running nearly an hour cumulatively. A few short vignettes are also included in the extras. “Dead Men Tell New Tales: Re-Imagineering The Attraction” is a look at new additions to the theme park ride, “Pirates On Main Street” is a montage of premiere footage, and “Jerry Bruckheimer: A Producer’s Photo Diary” is another still gallery to compliment the one found on “Black Pearl”. Wrapping up the bonus content is the Blu-ray exclusive “Liar’s Dice” interactive game, which is actually fairly entertaining. In summation, both “Pirates” films are no-brainers on the Blu-ray format. Whether you’re a casual fan of the films or a home theater junkie, you’ll get your fix here. Both discs easily earn my highest recommendation.