Directed by Gore Verbinski
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 169 minutes
Audio: PCM 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish, French
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French
Release Date: December 4, 2007
Review Date: November 29, 2007
At one point during a momentous encounter with Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow in Gore Verbinksi’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Admiral Davenport turns quizzically to Lord Beckett and asks, “Do you think he has a plan or does he just make this stuff up as he goes along?” It’s meant to be funny, but there’s more than a grain of truth in that utterance. The script for this final film in the trilogy often seems thrown together willy-nilly and with considerable meandering for jokes, nonsense, or protracted set pieces and battle scenes. Even though I had seen both previous films in the series, I had a very difficult time getting back into the swing of the action for this last installment. Once in, things did begin to come together (it also helped that this is the third time I’ve watched the film), and the movie did offer some rousing adventure and some adroit humor. But even with an extended cast of characters each with his own agenda, it’s far too long at 169 minutes and could have used some scrupulous and judicious cutting to clarify the story and play up the film’s strengths.
And the film’s main strength is the aforementioned Mr. Depp. His Captain Jack Sparrow is a tremendous creation, and he’s just as much fun in this third installment as he has been in the previous two. Selfish, conceited, always scheming, and completely oblivious to chivalry and decorum, he’s a true original whose every screen moment is anticipated and once around, totally enjoyable. But he doesn’t enter this film until more than half an hour into the running time. He’s been sent to Davy Jones’ Locker, an appetizing potential replacement for the current Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) who longs to be reunited with his love, the goddess Calypso (Naomie Harris). But in order to do that, he must find a replacement, and Sparrow seems just right for the job.
On the other hand, Jack’s pirate cronies need him for another purpose. The East India Trading Company has been wildly successful in its attempts to get pirates under control, and the surviving buccaneers are eager to convene a pirate conference with the nine great pirate captains in order the band together to fight their scourge. Sparrow being one of the nine, however, necessitates a rescue for Sparrow from Davy Jones’ Locker, and to do that, they must sail to the end of the world. The route to that remote and deadly place can only be gotten from Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) in Singapore which constitutes the first of the many adventures our heroes undertake during this very lengthy movie.
The plotting by screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio is dense and often confusing, and because each character has his own reasons for banding together in this grand scheme, it almost takes a scorecard to keep them all straight. Suffice to say that all of the regulars are back for this installment: the on-and-off lovers Will and Elizabeth (Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley), the evil Lord Cutler Beckett of the East India Company (Tom Hollander), once dead-now alive Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) who has a funny running rivalry with Sparrow for command of the Black Pearl, Pintel (Lee Arenberg) and Ragetti (Mackenzie Crook) as the Laurel and Hardy duo of the pirates, and, in lesser roles this time, the fathers of Will and Elizabeth (Stellan Skarsgard, Jonathan Pryce).
The film is a massive undertaking for director Gore Verbinski who has seen each of the three films in the series grow in size and length. More daunting is that the final two films were mostly filmed back-to-back, unthinkable that so much work on such a massive scale had to be done in such a short amount of time to fit film release schedules. Still, there are plenty of moments to savor: Depp’s hilarious introduction on the Black Pearl ordering around multiple versions of himself, the thrilling trips to the end of the world and back again, and especially the climactic battle during a maelstrom which is a masterful union of live action, stunt work, and CGI.
But the meandering, inflated script is the film’s true weakness. There is so much plot to ascertain and file away for later reference that one begins wearying of it by the two hour mark (especially knowing there is still almost 40 more minutes to go). The film gets by on the charming performances of its star cast and the undoubted desire to see a conclusion to a journey that’s been years in the making. But one leaves the film feeling unsatisfied. Even with the lengthy running time of this third segment, there is still much left unsaid.
The film’s 2.35:1 Panavision theatrical aspect ratio is presented here in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec (the box art mistakenly touts the transfer as 1080i). The transfer is extremely sharp and often brazenly dimensional which makes occasional flares of grain a decided irritant. Flesh tones on the Blu-ray are much improved from their standard definition counterpart and are beautifully delivered. Because the film is so dark, there are only a few scenes of brightness, but when those outdoor scenes occur, they can dazzle in their depth of color and detail. The Blu-ray also handles the many fog and smoke-filled scenes with aplomb, while small details like wood and leather grain, rope fibers, sand and barnacles on the ship‘s masts, and variations in sky color just continue to amaze in high definition. Blacks are very deep, and the Davy Jones’ Locker sequence (in which the color is bleached from the image a bit) features whites that are close to blooming but never cross the line. Shadow detail is truly superb. The film has been divided into 28 chapters.
The PCM 5.1 track (48 mHz/24 bit, 6.9 Mbps) is everything a modern action-adventure movie soundtrack should be: active, fully realized, and with superb spread in all channels and possessing a tremendous presence with tiny sounds like creaks and rattles in the rear channels adding an extra dimension. The LFE channel is house-shaking in its impact, and the Hans Zimmer music score is on constant audio display in the fronts and rears throughout the movie.
All of the featurettes in this two-disc set are presented in high definition, with the bonus features on disc 2 in 1080i/AVC. The discs also feature a BD-Java Jolly Roger host who speaks to the viewer about making specific choices on the discs.
Disc one presents 5½ minutes of bloopers in full 1080p (AVC codec) which are more amusing than these on-set screw-ups normally are possibly because there are errors with prop manipulation in addition to the using blowing of lines.
The second disc carries the majority of the special features. Its most important inclusion, exclusive to Blu-ray, is “Enter the Maelstrom,” an interactive guide to every department that worked on the creation and execution of the climactic action sequence of the movie. An 8 ¾-minute overview of the sequence allows branching to various aspects of the filmmaking process that led to this mind-blowing mixture of live action and special effects of all types. Each of the branching featurettes the viewer chooses lasts anywhere from 1 to 8 minutes, and once you’ve watched one of the segments, the disc remembers your choice and offers up the remaining featurettes under that heading (there are half a dozen headings each containing four to six featurettes each). The segments cover everything from blue screen effects to the concepts for the sets, props, costumes, lights, rain, weapons, stunt work, creature designs, and CGI for the whirlpool itself, and the preparations for the hangar itself where the entire sequence was filmed. Watching this entire bonus feature will take at least an hour, but its coverage is very thorough.
The other bonuses have been ported over from the standard definition release of the movie.
There is a 4½ minute paean to musician Keith Richard (who plays Captain Teague in the movie and who was the inspiration for Depp’s original interpretation of Jack Sparrow). Entitled “Keith and the Captain,” it doesn’t show the rocker in the best light with an inability to put words together for the interview and a few shots of him blowing lines during filming.
“Anatomy of a Scene: The Maelstrom” is a 19½ minute documentary giving a behind-the-scenes look at the superhuman effort it took to film this most massive of set pieces. It’s an effective condensation of the much more elaborate BD-Java exclusive discussed above if you don‘t feel like maneuvering your way through the maze of choices offered in the other documentary.
“The Tale of Many Jacks” is a puff piece showing how the sequence was filmed with lots of Johnny Depps in the same shot. This 4¾-minute piece should have been a great deal more informative since it’s one of the early highlights in the picture.
The disc offers two deleted scenes with Gore Verbinski commentary which can be turned on or off. Both scenes are fun to watch but were wisely excised from the already lengthy picture. Their combined running time, however, is only 2½ minutes.
“The World of Chow Yun-Fat” is another puff piece on the legendary Chinese actor who has some impressive early scenes in the film. His interview is subtitled though other actors who worked with him speak in English. It runs 4 minutes.
“The Pirate Maestro: The Music of Hans Zimmer” is a 10½-minute interview with the Oscar-winning composer on his sometimes hectic work schedule for this movie. There’s a special moment when director Gore Verbinski picks up a guitar and strums some notes which are worked into the score of the film.
“Master of Design: Creating the Pirates’ World” is a collection of five featurettes that concentrate on five different aspects of making the movie: Jim Byrkit discusses the construction of the infamous circular map (6 minutes), Crash McCreary describes how he created the barnacle-encrusted death crew for Davy Jones (5¼ minutes), Rick Heinrichs shows his drawings for the studio-created Singapore set (5 minutes), Penny Rose talks about Keith Richards’ intricate costume (3½ minutes), and Chris Peck shows the immense amount of effort that went into the creation of the pirate code book used in one major scene in the film (5 minutes).
“Hoist the Colours” shows the inspiration for the pirate song that runs several times in the film. This runs 4½ minutes.
“Inside the Brethren Court” is my other favorite feature on disc two, a fascinating summary of the mythology surrounding the nine pirates (plus Elizabeth) who make up the Brethren Court of master pirates. The interactive feature lets the viewer choose each pirate‘s piece of eight to get a 1 to 2-minute discussion of the pirate‘s life and domain.
Not listed on the box art is an inside folder not only giving the contents of each of the discs but also a page of questions and answers that viewers may find helpful once they’ve watched the movie. Warning: the questions and answers do contain spoilers about the film’s surprises which will be ruined if you read these before watching the film.
Despite its shortcomings as a cohesive and coherent film, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is a movie most fans of the series will want to see. That it may leave them somewhat dissatisfied with its conclusions is likely, but as a set-up for perhaps even another sequel somewhere down the road, it’s certainly done its job well there. This Blu-ray presentation makes an outstanding mate to the two other Blu-ray releases in the trilogy.