Yo ho ho and a bottle of dumb. My joint fourth worst films of last year are additions to franchises, which use boats, monsters and lack any real plot logic. Both films are adapted from books, one ridiculously loosely, the other relatively slavishly. But in both cases I left the cinema rubbing my head wondering why it was ever made. And then I looked at the box office results and it was more than clear why. The movie business love franchises, even faltering franchises, an box office is king. But empty special effects sequences tied together do not make a film, and be it a franchise extension or a relatively tedious point in a franchise wind down, ships and monsters aren’t enough for me.
I did toy with these two films being joint 4th, but clearly the Voyage Of The Dawn Treader is better than Pirates Of The Caribbean IV: On Stranger Tides. It is shorter, is not just a pointless franchise extension (at least not as a film) and is at least watchable. It is true that many of its problems are those of the book, which in itself I think is part of a franchise extension which soon settled in a lot of diminishing returns. So I have to clearly state that the only Narnia book I ever really liked was the Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. The kids were just too annoying and the rules of Narnia annoyed me far too much. Well you will be pleased to hear that the kids in Voyage Of The Dawn Treader are appropriately annoying, played almost remarkably so. There is an annoying talking mouse. And arbritary magical stuff going on little of which makes any sense. I spoke elsewhere about the imagination monster that pops up in the Dawn Treader this time last year and whilst there is a nominal heroes quest there is also much dicking about waiting yet again for a Deus Ex Aslan. I have a sense of weary resignation towards the Narnia films which feels slightly relieved that it looks like the Magician’s Nephew (the fourth one) may not be made.
We step up into a whole new realm of poitnlessness though when we consider Pirates Of The Caribbean IV: On Stranger Tides. Now I have a love but mainly hate relationship with the first three Pirates films. I am somewhat in awe of the sixth highest grossing film of all time being one which starts with a ten minute sequences culminating in an eight year old child being hung by the neck. There is a fever dream quality to the third film which as you marvel at its general awfulness you cannot help but admire. Luckily “On Stranger Tides” is much more conventional. It feels a little bit more like a big budget pilot for a TV series, now centred around Captain Jack Sparrow, his love/hate pirate gal pal and a mixture of old and new addtions to the Pirate canon.
Somewhere along the line, and I was never quite sure where, Geoffrey Rush’s undead Captain Barbossa went from big bad antagonist to slightly slippery best mates to Captain Jack. Somewhere along the line Blackbeard suddenly became the most dread pirate of all (despite not showing up at all for the pirate conflab where Keira Knightly became King Of The Pirates…) Somehow Ian McShane being Penelope Cruz’s father did not seem totally ridiculous. I am more au fait with murderous mermaids, and yet another hopelessly sappy love story with a chinless wonder, that is the way of the franchise. But when we get to the fountain of youth and pirates frankly refuse to act like pirates, well by then I would have walked out if I hadn’t seen it on DVD. I did fall asleep for about twenty minutes. Perhaps it was twenty minutes when some cheeky orphans all got tortured to death on the Spanish Main thus completely confounding my expectations for the fanchise again. However I think it probably had Depp either poking his own eyebrows out with a Kohl pencil or falling over.
You know who I feel a little bad for (ameliorated by the fact they must have got plenty of money): the writer of the book On Stranger Tides. I’ve not read it but the book was very well received in the eighties, and it just goes to show what happens when you sell all your rights on. A fun swashbuckler may turn into a grotesque pantomime…