I don’t understand much of the criticism that has surrounded this installment in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series. When people complain about the plot of “Dead Man’s Chest” being too complex, I can only respond: A movie’s plot should be as complex as necessary to tell its story, sort of like how Abe Lincoln supposedly once said that a man’s legs should be long enough to reach the ground. I honestly didn’t find it too dense anyway; sometimes I think a primer in storytelling basics should be made available in all movie theaters.
For example, take the criticism that there are too many Kraken attacks. The first functions much like the early shark attacks in “Jaws”: It sets up the menace presented by this beast, and lets us know it’s so powerful it can destroy a huge ship. The second one shows us up-close how nasty this creature really is, and it gives Will the chance to learn about it. Finally, the third attack lets Will use what he’s learned against it, while also giving Jack Sparrow a major character moment.
Every scene in a movie should serve at least one function, preferably two or three, and the Kraken example shows that principal in action. Like its predecessor, “Dead Man’s Chest” doesn’t let a single scene exist only as filler, constantly driving the plot forward while revealing character. Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio have a knack for writing inventive set pieces, and they demonstrate their chops here, coming up with some real doozies. I wish George Lucas had consulted them while working on the “Star Wars” prequels. Maybe he would have put some better lightsaber fights in those films. (Okay, I’ll give him the Anakin-Obi Wan battle at the end of “Revenge of the Sith.”)
Likewise, Elliott and Rossio come up with a fun set of supporting characters, giving us a new pirate crew that isn’t just a rehash of the skeletons from the first film. Davy Jones isn’t as memorable as Barbossa, I’ll admit, and the way Will snatches the key from him seems way too easy, but the character serves its purpose. And, of course, the main cast from the first film is back in fine form, especially Johnny Depp.
Just remember to look at “Dead Man’s Chest” the same way you look at “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Back to the Future: Part II,” or “The Two Towers.” This is the middle act of a three-act story, and a lot is being set up for payoffs in the final film. Enjoy the ride now, and reserve your bitching for “At Worlds End,” if you find in May 2007 that the finale doesn’t live up to your expectations.
Disc one of this Special Edition includes a brief blooper reel, along with a commentary by Elliott and Rossio. If you enjoyed their contributions to the screenwriters’ commentary track on the first DVD, as I did, you’ll love them here. I have an interest in screenwriting, so I can’t get enough of hearing how the pros do it. Just like aspiring directors love commentaries by Robert Rodriguez and other directors who reveal all their secrets, aspiring screenwriters eat up commentaries like this one. Believe me, there aren’t many of them out there, so I appreciated the chance to hear what Elliott and Rossio had to say. They get into the nuts and bolts of storytelling, so if you’re hoping to hear them reminisce about being on the set with director Gore Verbinski and members of the cast, don’t bother.
Moving on to the second platter, we have a series of documentary materials, starting with “Charting the Return,” which takes us to the beginning of the pre-production process, where, as Verbinski notes, all kinds of ideas were tossed around for the sequels, including using the Fountain of Youth. Clocking in at 25 minutes, it gets into the logistics of planning such a complicated shoot, ending on day one of a massive schedule that was to encompass both sequels.
Work on the film shifts into high gear for “According to Plan,” a 62-minute piece that looks at how difficult that schedule turned out to be. The cast and crew trekked to some remote locations, which may not seem like a big deal until you consider all of the people and equipment that are required for a movie like this one. Most people probably don’t consider such things, but they will likely be more aware of them after watching this documentary. It’s similar to the materials on the “Lord of the Rings” extended DVDs, where we saw the sheer enormity of the work involved in making three movies simultaneously across various New Zealand locations. The difference here, of course, is that the “Dead Man’s Chest” group was in the Caribbean during hurricane season.
Next we have “Captain Jack: From Head to Toe,” a collection of short pieces that total nearly half an hour. As you imagine, they get into the nitty gritty of the character, bringing in Depp to offer his thoughts. After that, the training of Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, and Jack Davenport is covered in “Mastering the Blade,” which is about 16 minutes total. Davy Jones get his own spotlight in the 12.5-minute “Meet Davy Jones: Anatomy of a Legend,” which shows how actor Bill Nighy wore a motion capture suit for his performance, similar to what Andy Serkis did as Gollum.
Continuing with special effects, “Creating the Kraken” (10 minutes) delves into the creation of that mythical creature, which I don’t think has graced the silver screen since it showed up in “Clash of the Titans” back in 1981. After that, we have “Dead Men Tell New Tales: Re-Imagineering the Attraction” (13 minutes), which explains how the Disneyland Pirates of the Caribbean ride was “re-imagineered” by Disney in light of the movies.
Disc two closes with three smaller pieces. “Fly on the Set: The Bone Cage” is nearly four minutes of narration-free video that shows how they shot the round cage swinging in front of an outdoor blue-screen. “Jerry Bruckheimer: A Producer’s Photo Diary” (5 minutes) is pretty self-explanatory, while the four-minute “Pirates on Main Street: The Dead Man’s Chest Premiere” shows us the culmination of all that aforementioned effort.
Fans of the film will of course want to pick up this two-disc set. A single-disc edition is also available for those who simply want the film, the bloopers, and that great commentary track. Hollywood: start putting more screenwriters on your DVD commentaries. Seriously.