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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (3D Blu-ray Review)

19 Oct, 2011 By: John Latchem

Box Office $241.1 million
$39.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, $49.99 five-disc 3D Blu-ray combo pack, $169.99 15-disc four-movie collection
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sexual content/nudity, language and some violence.
Stars Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally.

Though the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy, bloated as it was, managed to wrap up most of its storylines, the billions of dollars it reaped at the box office was enough to ensure Disney wouldn’t let it end there.

And so the most successful franchise adapted from a theme park attraction would begin again with a fourth installment loosely based on Tim Powers’ 1987 novel On Stranger Tides, which is often cited as one of the most influential pieces of pirate-themed literature ever written.

The book dealt with a young man caught up in a quest for the Fountain of Youth by famed pirate Blackbeard, and the film takes the same basic outline and plugs in various characters from the first three films. The result is a fun time and the best “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie since the original. (Which admittedly isn't saying much.)

Gone are Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner, the young lovers at the heart of the trilogy, as Capt. Jack Sparrow steps into the protagonist’s role, once again played with aplomb by Johnny Depp, who has long since earned his place among the animatronic curs of the famous Disneyland ride upon which the films were originally based.

As the focus of his own adventure, Sparrow no longer is the Han Solo-type rogue caught up by the sweeping political machinations of the high seas. OK, he’s still a rogue, but now he’s doing his best Indiana Jones impression on a mystical quest to find the Fountain of Youth.

Due to his knowledge of the Fountain, Jack is pressed into the service of a dying Blackbeard on board the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and plays along because he hopes to win the affections of the great pirate’s daughter, Angelica. It’s a race against time, however, as the Fountain is sought not only by the Spaniards, but also a crew of English privateers led by Sparrow’s old rival Capt. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).

Simply stated, Ian McShane (“Deadwood”) is awesome as Blackbeard and a welcome addition to the ensemble, while Penélope Cruz fits in perfectly as his daughter.

This is a much more streamlined tale than the other films, with a cleaner structure and not as many random elements thrown at the audience. It gives off a vibe similar to classic movie serials, hopping from one adventure to the next without missing a beat, and always setting the audience up for more. A lot of the credit for this has to go to Rob Marshall, who took over the series from Gore Verbinksi.

Marshall makes excellent use of the film’s 3D effects, thrusting swords toward the camera and throwing characters into deep gorges and misty jungles. This is one of the few films that actually was shot with 3D cameras rather than converted.

I like how the film both reinforces and subverts our expectations, so you get the usual sword fights and chases through the jungle, knowing all the while that Jack Sparrow will win the day. But you also get sexy mermaids who sprout vampire-like fangs to consume human flesh, and a Fountain of Youth that only gives life by taking it from another.

Marshall spends the bulk of his commentary track reminiscing about the making of the film, which is elaborated on with a variety of featurettes about filming in Hawaii, the construction of the Queen Anne’s Revenge and using synchronized swimmers as mermaids. The disc also includes animated shorts with Lego versions of the characters, a funny blooper reel and deleted scenes that for the most part are just longer versions of scenes in the movie.

The 3D version is also available as part of the 15-disc franchise collection, which comes in a spectacular box modeled after the chest that stored Davy Jones’ heart in the second and third films. Exclusive to this set is a rather amusing short film that serves as something of a prequel to the original and also pays homage to the wench auction segment of the ride.

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