[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=7292&w=l[/img]Title: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Starring: Johnny Depp, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush, Penelope Cruz
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Written by: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Tim Powers
Runtime: 136 min
Release Date: 10/18/2011 (Blu-Ray)
HTS Overall Score:84
It's a pirate's life for me, savvy?
Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) crosses paths with a woman from his past (Cruz), and he's not sure if it's love -- or if she's a ruthless con artist who's using him to find the fabled Fountain of Youth. When she forces him aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge, the ship of the formidable pirate Blackbeard (McShane), Jack finds himself on an unexpected adventure in which he doesn't know who to fear more: Blackbeard or the woman from his past.
It feels like it was just yesterday when the first movie in the Pirates saga, The Curse of the Black Pearl stole the show with a well written script, excellent casting, and of course - Johnny Depp's singular creation: Captain Jack Sparrow. Depp is back in the fourth installment as Sparrow and he's just as witty as ever, unfortunately with other cast members missing the ride isn't quite as enjoyable as it used to be. Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley are nowhere to be found, and everyone's favorite comic relief duo - Ragetti the one eyed pirate, and Pintel, his balding uncle - are also conspicuously absent, instead replaced by a pirate minstrel and Penelope Cruz.
I know I make it sound terrible, but really it's not all that bad. It's tired, trite and far too long as movies go, but it's still the same over the top, budget blowing high seas adventure you're used to. Depp remains excellent in his role and Geoffrey Rush is in his element as Barbosa. Blackbeard (played by Ian McShane) is a great and colorful new addition and is a welcome change in casting. Penelope Cruz feels like a terrible fit for the franchise and is also inexplicably Jack's former love interest - the lack of chemistry here is palpable and makes you wonder who cast her in the first place - but she's also a pretty talented actress and grounds many scenes that would otherwise be ridiculous.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=7293&w=l[/img]The story itself is enjoyable but the same writers are at work as the previous two installments and it feels at times like the camera is just wandering from one "cool idea" to the next:
False Trial!/Escape, Captured by the King!/Escape, Mermaids!/Escape, are you starting to see a trend here?
On Stranger Tides may lack the magic of The Curse of the Black Pearl but it does have its charms. The visual environments and production design are top notch, it's obvious that no expense was spared in the creation of this film. Even though it runs long and has many flaws, On Stranger Tides is certainly not boring, and managed to keep me interested from start to finish. The essence of high seas adventure, piracy and buried treasure isn't perfectly captured like it was in the first film, but this one felt at least a bit more like it should than Dead Man's Chest and At World's End. While Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides may not be a true return to form for the Disney franchise, it's a highly entertaining family film that also boasts some impressive A/V, and is well worth a rental at the very least.
On Stranger Tides arrives on Blu-Ray featuring a 1080p AVC encoded transfer that for the most part, is highly impressive if a bit inconsistent. Unlike the previous installments in the franchise which were full of pop and contrast, this latest installment ranges from demo shots of Hawaii to shadow laden shots of London. This isn't to say that the film is ever visually unappealing, but it is a stylistic change that takes some getting used to. Fine detail and color saturation are spot on and show no hints of digital manipulation save one small issue which I'll discuss later.
Primaries and skin tones are accurate and jungle foliage boasts a dizzying array of verdant greens and earth tones. Night scenes and some parts of London are swathed in deep layers of shadow and feature inky blacks devoid of any crush or visual artifacts. While this is a bit out of character for the series, it is a stylistic choice by cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and certainly changes the tone of the film - perhaps for the better given the inclusion of Blackbeard in the story. At one point in the film the mermaid Syrena shows some apparent DNR (the mermaid tail was added in post as an effect rather than a practical prop), which I assume was necessary to blend the effects with actress Astrid Berges-Frisbey. While this is a technical faux-pas, it's hard to fault the entire film for what may well have been a last resort on the part of the effects team.
As a whole this is an excellent visual presentation that adds many layers of complexity and character to a franchise that so often was all about intense contrast and vivid Caribbean blues. It's still a Pirates film, and unlike some casting changes the new visual style is a great change for the better.
Please note that reviews from this point forward will be ranked using Transformers: Dark of the Moon as a reference level comparison - thus films that would have scored higher in the past will now be ranked relative to our new reference standard and may as a result have slightly lower audio scores.
A month earlier and this film would certainly have won praise for matching or even setting the bar from a multichannel audio perspective. Unfortunately, it now has to compete with a mix that completely blew previous benchmarks out of the water.
All qualification aside, this is a great mix with excellent sound design and few faults. Dialogue throughout is crystal clear and never masked by overactive mains. The score is as rousing as ever and integrates nicely to ensure the pace of the film is felt by the viewer. The film has several scenes that feature some deep and powerful VLF content (see the lighthouse explosion), and while there are no cannon barrages to speak of, the film still manages to include plenty of well directed surround activity and a lot of interesting effects and atmospheric surround elements that really improve immersion.
Disney does a great job on these "full" released where the 3D copy also includes the 2D Blu-Ray, the DVD, a Digital Copy and a good selection of HD extras. While some of these extra features are pretty pathetic (See Lego Pirates & Johnny vs Geoffrey) clocking in under 5 minutes, there are a few excellent ones as well with Legends clocking in at an impressive 36 minutes. All told this is a pretty solid list of extra content and while not up to the level of some previous releases, there's more than enough here for fans of this film.
- Disney Second Screen - A nice little gimmick for iPad owners, I wasn't terribly impressed but it's cool for the first few minutes.
- Audio Commentary - A rather boring commentary that doesn't do much more than praise the actors and laud the effects, though one or two nuggets of good information are in there.
- Legends of On Stranger Tides [HD] (36 min) A nice feature that makes its way through cast and crew discussing a variety of topics.
- In Search of the Fountain [HD] (11 min)An interesting look at the research that went into the topic of the fountain, with several concepts that are ultimately superior to the version in the film.
- Last Sail, First Voyage [HD] (8 min) A nice little featurette on the Queen Anne's Revenge and Blackbeard featuring Ian McShane and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
- Under the Scene: Bringing Mermaids to Life [HD] (9 min) A nice look at casting the mermaids and the effects that went into creating their unique look.
- Deleted and Extended Scenes [HD] (9 min) - Five scenes with an intro by Director Rob Marshall.
- Johnny vs. Geoffrey [HD] (3 min) Self explanatory.
- Lego Pirates of the Caribbean [HD] (5 min) Marketing, Lego. Need I say more?
- Bloopers of the Caribbean [HD] (3 min) An outtake reel that's fairly short but funny.
- DVD version of the film
- Digital Copy
One can only hope that this is the final entry in the Pirates franchise, at least in its current form. I'm sure a reboot or sequel will appear eventually, but hopefully it will be a better written return to form for the series. We've all been able to enjoy Captain Jack's company for the last eight years and since that first magical foray into the waters of the Caribbean it's never been quite the same. The quality of this film from a writing and screenplay perspective is mediocre at best, despite incredible effects and production design. Make no mistake, this is certainly summer spectacle at its best, but it lacks any substance to really keep the viewer coming back for more. I'm almost certain that this title will live happily on my shelf for the next several years before I give it another viewing. That said, this title is still impressive both visually and aurally and is a lot of fun to watch the first time around. This should be a great flick to watch at reference level for family movie night, and while I can't in good conscience recommend a purchase for anyone who isn't a fan of the franchise, this title is still well worth a rental, just don't forget the popcorn.