The first "Pirates of the Caribbean" film had little in the way of expectations (and many questioned how well Johnny Depp's wonderfully bizarre performance as Jack Sparrow was going to go over), only to surprise just about everyone by becoming a massive, $300M hit. Was "Pirates" a one-hit wonder? Nope, the second film made nearly $425M to become one of the top grossers of all time.
The sequel opens with Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) about to get married when they're arrested for aiding Jack Sparrow in his escape in the first film. Lord Cutter Beckett (Tom Hollander) offers Will and Elizabeth a deal: if they can get a magic compass from Jack, they'll be set free. Jack, however, has other worries: the mythical Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), a half-man/half-creature, is seeking to collect a debt from Jack. The only way Jack can save himself is if he reaches a treasure chest containing an item belonging to Jones before Jones gets there first. Jones has something of an advantage, given that he is in control of a beast that can swallow a ship whole.
"Dead Man's Chest" does suffer from some slow going in the first hour, although given that the picture is the first of two sequels, it's saddled with the task of setting everything up. That said, the running time still seems excessive (it's never boring, but a few moments seem unnecessary), although this is a series that's all about going over-the-top and down the other side.
The performances here from Bloom and Knightley are about as stiff as they were in the first film. Depp is just as amusing - enough so that the picture noticably loses a bit of steam whenever he's not on-screen. Thankfully, some supporting performances really do bring a lot to the table: Stellan Skarsgård makes a strong impression in few scenes (and with a lot of make-up) as Will's father, Bootstrap Bill Turner, who will finds serving a sentence aboard Jones' ship. Bill Nighy (under an even greater amount of make-up) is also stellar as Davy Jones, giving more depth to the villain role than it would have had otherwise.
The second picture is, despite Depp's performance, noticably darker than the first film in both look and tone. Even the lightest moments of this picture (and there are several) don't feel as breezy as the comedic bits in the first film. That said, the more intense, weighty tone of the picture suits it well and gives the film a bit more urgency and momentum. The action sequences in the second half are exciting and choreographed well, especially a fight that takes place on a runaway mill wheel. No expense seems to have been spared in the effects (both CGI and make-up) and sets, as well.
Overall, the "Pirates" sequel is entetaining in its own way (again, I think it has a different feel than the first picture), although it does suffer a bit from being the middle picture and having to set things up for the finale, which comes out next year. While this film does end in a cliffhanger, it at least offers an interesting twist that adds to the anticipation for the third picture, "At World's End".
VIDEO: "Dead Man's Chest" is presented by Disney in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Although a few minor concerns presented themselves in a few scenes, the majority of the film looked crisp and sparkling on this stellar presentation. Sharpness and detail were marvelous, as the picture looked consistently crisp and well-defined. Small object details were also crystal clear during the majority of the film.
The presentation does show some slight edge enhancement in a couple of scenes, but it was barely noticable. No pixelation was seen, nor were any print flaws. Colors remained bright, bold and well-saturated throughout the show, with very nice saturation and no smearing. Black level was also strong throughout.
SOUND: The film is presented here in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's aggressive soundtrack provided some terrific thrills, as the surrounds kicked in frequently throughout the film to provide effects and support for the score. Some of the film's most intense sequences, such as the Kraken attacks, have all speakers working overtime. Those who have a rear back surround will find that enabling it for this presentation will add a great deal to the experience. Audio quality was wonderful, as effects seemed crisply recorded, bold and punchy. Dialogue also came through crisp and clear, not overshadowed by everything else going on in the film's audio presentation.
EXTRAS: Writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio offer an audio commentary for the film. Also offered on the first disc is an amusing gag reel.
Moving on to the second disc, we start with the 25-minute "making of" documentary, "Charting the Return". The piece, while not hugely in-depth, is certainly better than the average promotional piece. The documentary follows the production as the sequel starts to come together, pre-production meetings and into production. The documentary details some of the problems that occured (in terms of budget, schedule and otherwise), shows a few production meetings and offers some rehearsal footage.
Even better is "According to Plan", a one-hour documentary that expands upon the "Charting" featurette. This documentary provides a fuller look at pre-production issues, such as gathering the same cast together again, creating sets, trying to smooth out last-minute issues and trying to get everything shipped to the location (the documentary certainly gives one a sense of the kind of army it takes to move the production around.) Once the production arrives in Dominica, the production finds itself having to build roads and other essentials in the remote country, where some crew members got their workout by just having to get to the set.
Problems creep in from day one (heat and weather, as well as the fact that both sequels are being shot back-to-back, despite the fact that the script for the third film is still not yet finished) and the documentary isn't shy about showing the cast and crew having to face and overcome major technical issues (issues with a huge tank used for shooting water scenes) and even bigger threats (at one point, a hurricane is heading right towards the production, who is well aware that they're filming during the height of hurricane season.) Once the hurricane passes, the production finds itself with a lot of clean-up work. Once shooting resumes, the next issue becomes shooting major scenes on the water in unpredictable conditions. Overall, this was a terrific documentary that
"Captain Jack: From Head to Toe" is a series of short featurettes looking at different aspects of the character and some of Depp's inspirations. "Mastering the Blade" offers three short featurettes, each focusing on one actor (Bloom, Knightley and Jack Davenport)'s rehearsal process for the film's action sequences.
"Meet Davey Jones" is a 12-minute featurette that details the creation of the character, from casting Bill Nighy to the extensive digital effects work that was required. "Creating the Kraken" runs about 10 minutes and takes viewers piece-by-piece through the creation of the Kraken attack sequences.
"Dead Men Tell New Tales" is a 13-minute look at the enhanced "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride and how the ride was reimagined. "Producer's Photo Gallery" is a nearly 5-minute featurette with producer Jerry Bruckheimer discussing some of the beautiful photography he took during the production, which is shown. "Fly on the Set: The Bone Cage" is a 4-minute "behind-the-scenes" look at the filming of this major sequence. Finally, we get a 4-minute look at the film's massive premiere party.
Final Thoughts: "Dead Man's Chest" has a bit of a slow start before it gets rolling full speed and the picture does suffer from being the "middle film" that sets up the grand finale. Still, the film's action sequences are grand and entertaining, while the performances are quite enjoyable (although Depp, Nighy and Skarsgård are the highlights.) The special edition DVD set provides terrific audio/video quality, along with a shipload of extras. Highly recommended.
The Film B+