Monday, June 11, 2007

Yo Ho Ho and a Bucket of Popcorn

[A TwoCents Reader Review from Jon G]

It’s hard to be a summer three-quel. Critics and fans almost expect the movie to be not-so-good. Especially when you’re comparing it to a classic original.

Okay, as a caveat, I’m a huge fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Yeah, I’m the guy that went out and bought “Treasure Island” to read after the first movie came out, as well as a few other pirate books after seeing Dead Man’s Chest. But the El Capitan theater on Hollywood Boulevard in the middle of Hollywood knows how to do these movies right. And that’s where I saw At World’s End Tuesday night.

The El Capitan Theater was built in the hayday of golden Hollywood and still has that aura about. It’s like going back in time. The Kodak Theater (the new home of the Oscars) and the legendary Grauman’s Chinese theater sit right across the street, contributing to the buzz in the air. The huge digital screen of the marquis greets a crowd of us walking across the street towards the theater. It moves, showing still images of Cap’n Jack, Barbossa and the crew with the skull and cross-torches ablaze. Perched on top of the marquis, palm trees and red flags sway over canons protecting the boulevard. An old-fashioned box office booth stands guard out front, where I picked up my reserved tickets at will-call and the theater staff, all dressed in long maroon pirate coats, greeted me with a warm smile. Did I mention that this theater was owned and operated by Disney? Well, it definitely shows.

Through the front doors the front lobby looks like the interior of the Flying Dutchman with barnacles and rusty anchors and sailing implements strewn against the walls. Two Jack Sparrows (dressed differently) meander separately through the crowd and are frequently accosted by fans and their cameras. Their costumes and subtleties are spot-on. Elizabeth Swan’s actual costume from the new movie stands in a glass case by one door, and Will Turner’s costume is just down the hall a bit. I grab two buckets of popcorn (free with my reserved ticket and adorned with the characters from the movie) and two icy cold bottles of Pepsi for me and my wife. We head to our seats inside.

As we passed through another set of doors, a pipe organ within swells and a low note reverberates, vibrating the air inside. People mill about finding their seats as an organist, dressed like Captain Hook in a long red coat and feathered hat, rocks back and forth on his bench with his back to us playing Disney and Broadway songs. The organ is decorated with seaweed and lights and on top sit 5 dark green coral tubes - like Davy Jones’ organ from the previous movie. A tattered red curtain hangs beyond the organist on the stage where the movie will play and a giant skull hangs in the center above the proscenium. The skull wears a familiar red bandana with a medallion and a weathered yard arm wrapped with a sail hangs behind it. Both private balconies above the audience are decorated with the same huge dark green coral columns and flickering candles and each has a canon pointed across the orchestra section towards the other.

The lights in the theater dim and brighten 4 times to signal that the movie is about to start. Everyone finds their seats. The organist and organ are lowered into the stage and the audience gives an appreciative applause.

The theater goes dark, the curtains part, and the previews start. I remember seeing the Underdog preview, but nothing more.

The curtains close again and music from Dead Man’s Chest fills the room. As the music swells, the organ ascends once more, playing by itself. Candles flicker brighter from the organ and from the balconies above. The curtains rise and expose the depth of the stage which looks like the watery wreck of a sailing ship at the bottom of the sea. Another swell of music and a voice announces, “And now, Pirates of Caribbean: At World’s End.” The audience cheers and canon reports sound from the two balconies above, shooting golden confetti out over the audience. As the paper floats down, into our laps, I pick up a piece and find the imprint of Aztec gold on the golden circles of paper. The crowd erupts into applause and movie hasn’t even started yet.

And then it does. Beyond this point, there be spoilers, mateys…

The movie starts with the hanging of pirates. By the dozens. Men and women, dressed in dirty clothing, ankle chains and hand cuffs are paraded to the gallows and hung in groups of 5. I was impressed by this first scene. It was not the Disn-ification of the 18th century, but a brutal truth about the end of the golden age of pirates. And then they marched a young boy up to the hangman’s noose. Everyone sings a modest pirate song and then this group is hanged. I was surprised, actually. Not something you’d expect from a Disney movie. This was a pretty good beginning and set a good mood for the rest of the movie.

I won’t bore you with a play-by-play of the entire movie, but all-in-all I really liked the film. The plot was slightly more complex and winding than the prior films in the franchise and longer in length. But there was plenty of action, swaggering, unexpected jokes and Captain Jack flying through the air. Pretty much what I was hoping for. There were a couple scenes that could have been shorter, and maybe the tiny Jack Sparrows didn’t need to appear on Jack’s shoulders or he didn’t need all of those Jacks with him in the brig. Almost too much Jack. Almost.

Was it as good as the first one? Nope. The first one is a modern classic. Was it satisfying? To me, At World’s End filled me up with this rich story as I expected. And I’m sure that the El Capitan Theater helped a little in my appreciation for the film. But I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

So critics can slander it and friends can squinch their faces and give me their thumbs-down because they were expecting The Curse of the Black Pearl, but it was a fun movie - and there were some pretty amazing scenes in there that I’m looking forward to seeing again on DVD. I don’t think that we’re going to see another big pirate movie in the theaters for a long time, so my recommendation would be to get out there and see this one in the theaters while you can and enjoy it for what it is: a pretty damn good pirate movie.

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