Pirates Sail New Virtual Seas

When viewing a bit of summer fun like Pirates of the Caribbean, one ought to avoid the trap of over thinking, as it may lead to a muddle. What can you really say about a film that is designed, in part at least, to promote a theme park ride? Or for that matter, how do you wrap your mind around a PG-13 movie with a plot suitable for a ten-year old made by the director of The Ring? If you can block these paradoxical complexities out and sit comfortably the requisite two hours and twenty minutes that it takes to unfold the film’s three story lines, Pirates of the Caribbean will indeed prove to be a great deal of fun, which is, after all, what one wants it to be – nothing more. Johnny Depp’s over-the-top rendering of Captain Jack Sparrow and several Evil Dead 2-styled action sequences featuring fighting corpses are worth a few bucks to see. And, rising starlet Keira Knightley {Bend It Like Beckham}, only seventeen when the shooting began, does like the camera, and the camera likes her.

Beyond that, well… the film seems to be a post-modern farce. Depp’s character, for instance, is a bit of a joke, Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks fed through Keith Richards (by Depp’s own admission), and the painted images on the Disneyland ride.

And so with each major performance in the filmself-conscious renderings of older fictions, Keira Knightley’s damsel is a kind of inflatable doll, a visual toy based on an image conjured by Alexandre Dumas. The other lead player, Orlando Bloom, smitten by this damsel, makes swords for a living, until he gets caught up in the antics of the Black Pearl’s crew – the weird significance of this being, of course, that we last saw him as the elf Legolas in The Lord of the Rings, a set of films which will no doubt prove to be a boon to the cutlery industry.

Likewise, the mysterious ghost ship, The Black Pearl, once Sparrow’s, but now commandeered by a troupe of zombies, speeds through a virtual sea – Coleridge’s poetic vision blended with something from Nosferatu, yet drawn by an artist from Marvel Comics.

And so with the film effects, following the trend of the summer – The Hulk, Matrix Reloaded, Terminator III, X-Men – there is a video-game quality to the fight scenes and to several lingering images of ships on the sea, which keeps us constantly aware that we are watching a movie with cutting edge visuals. It’s just immodestly plastic, like a big red and white beach ball.

Perhaps that is okay. It just seems mixed up, however. Who are these films for? I’ve wondered this all summer. If Hulk was for kids, why was it so dark and seriously toned? If Matrix Reloaded was for adults, a “more thoughtful” sci-fi and special effects movie, what in the world was going on in that torturous love scene between Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne Moss? It’s confusing if you try to put words to it – our collective sense of propriety having all but disappeared.

There are two points to be made really. Marketers have forever changed Hollywood – can a film be a blockbuster, can it find a new definition for what is being cool, and so be profitable? If so, anything goes.

Second, the space between fiction and reality has become in our culture increasingly thin. Is authenticity possible any more – in either fiction or reality?