Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl was an unexpected hit when it was released in 2003. A rousing swashbuckling adventure highlighted by Johnny Depp's surprising performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, the film was one of the biggest box office hits of the year and immediately attained a massive fan base. So it was no surprise when Disney announced two more movies to follow. 2006 saw the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, the first of a two-part pair of sequels. With a majority of the main cast back, as well as stunning effects work from ILM, the film busted box office records, making over $135 million in one weekend (a feat that was recently topped by Spider-Man 3). And now, with the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End looming, Disney has seen fit to release the first two films in high definition on Blu-ray disc.
Pirates if the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest opens with a tragedy: Will Turner's (Orlando Bloom) marriage to Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) has been interrupted by Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander). Beckett has both Elizabeth and Will arrested for helping Captan Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) escape the noose at the end of the last picture. Beckett does offer Will a chance to save their skins, though. All he has to do is find Jack and return the compass that does not point North to Beckett. Jack, meanwhile, has his own problems. One night, while on board his ship The Black Pearl, Jack is visited by Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgard), Will's father. Bootstrap has sworn service to Davy Jones (the incomparable Bill Nighy), the frightful master of the sea. He sails upon Jones' ship, The Flying Dutchman, slowly becoming one with the sea. Bootstrap appears before Jack to warn him that Davy Jones is hot on his trail, looking for payment. It turns out that Jack made a deal with Davy Jones. In exchange for dredging The Black Pearl from the sea's depths, Jack has sworn to serve on The Flying Dutchman after 13 years, and his time is up. Now it's a mad rush as Jack tries to save himself from the inescapable grasp of Davy Jones and his mindless leviathan, The Kraken.
Director Gore Verbinski had a lot to live up to with this second Pirates outing. The first film was a practically pitch-perfect action movie, combining humor, drama, and excitement in equal measures. The script was unusually smart, and every scene moved the plot forward. Dead Man's Chest is not as entirely well balanced. The most obvious flaw is the "cannibal island" section, where Will follows Jack's trail, only to find him about to be sacrificed by cannibals on a tropical island. The entire sequence has nothing to do with the plot in any way, shape or form. The ensuing escape is not well done from an action standpoint, which begs the question, why is it in the film at all? It takes up at least 20 minutes of movie's 150 total running time, meaning that the entire project could have been around a respectable 2 hours and still contain everything the audience would need to know. Even more annoying, the tropical island locale is repeated at the end of the film, making the cannibal island portion seem not just useless, but an active detractor from the quality of the movie.
However, once we're squarely in Davy Jones territory, the film quickly picks up. Bill Nighy is a marvel as Davy Jones, both as an actor and as a special effect. ILM reached new heights with their work on Dead Man's Chest. Jones and his crew are walking, talking sea creatures, with barnacles, algae, and other sea life living right on their skin. Jones himself has a giant octopus for a head, and his tentacles are constantly writhing. It's a real tour-de-force, and to date the high watermark of cinematic effects work. Nighy himself is the man behind the mask, creating a nightmarish character who makes the effects all the more convincing.
And, of course, there's Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. By now, he's got Sparrow down to a science. It's sheer joy watching him in this movie. He has, without any doubt, created one of the most truly memorable film characters of the past 20 years. The rest of the cast live up to the performances they gave in Curse of the Black Pearl, with the exception of Keira Knightley, who is significantly funnier, sexier, and all around more interesting in this sequel than she was last time.
Even with its flaws, Dead Man's Chest is still a Pirates movie, with all of the fun that entails. The action is impeccably directed, and Davy Jones and his cohorts make for a far more interesting assortment of villains than undead pirates. It's not quite as strong as its predecessor, but it's certainly not bad, and it sets up high expectations for At World's End. So pull out the rum, raise the sails, and get ready for another adventure with Captain Jack Sparrow!
The Blu-ray Disc:
I've been reviewing these high definition formats for a while now, and have been watching HD programs even longer. And it isn't a lie, nor hyperbole, when I say that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest's 2.35:1 AVC transfer has the best image quality of any HD content I have seen to date. The transfer was taken from the original digital sources, and color corrected for home video color space without any adjustments to the image. The opening scenes alone are so rich with vivid detail and bold colors that it looks as if you're simply watching the scene unfold outside your window. I know that such a description has been used for HD before, but this one really gets everything right. You can see stubble on Will's face, engravings on straps, the fine gold filigree in the sword commissioned for Commodore Norrington. Even better, the transfer lets you soak in all the hard work that went into the creature effects. Normally CGI effects look glaringly out of place in HD, but Davy Jones and his crew at times actually look like they were really there on the set looking exactly as they do in the shot. And the Kraken has to be seen to be believed. I could detect no forms of edge enhancement, polarization, or other artifacts. This is, simply put, a perfect transfer. It's the best of the best, and the disc is worth a purchase for the image alone.
The uncompressed 48kHz/24-bit PCM 5.1 track matches the image transfer blow for blow. Fine aural details are clearly discernible, even amongst the biggest explosions (which are powerful enough to shake a house), and the channel separation is spectacular. Dialogue is easier to understand than in the theater, and the whole mix has a level of clarity that envelopes you. You could close your eyes, lean back, and still have a sense of what was going on and where. Also included is a still strong, although clearly not as impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 track.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is a two-disc set. The first disc contains only a few extras. The second disc ports over all of the extras from the DVD, sans the DVD-ROM materials. Disc two is a 25GB Blu-ray disc, not a dual layer DVD. Despite this, none of the extras on disc two are in high definition.
- Commentary with screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio: These two writers have some impressive films on their resumes, including the last Pirates release. They've worked together just about their entire careers, and it shows. In this relaxed commentary, they talk about working on the series, creating the characters, their motivations, the plot, etc. They comment on the final product, too, of course, and the way the actors made the character their own. Thoroughly enjoyable.
- Liar's Dice: An interactive game made possible through BD-Java, Liar's Dice is a form of the game played on Davy Jones' ship in the film. You play against Pintel (Lee Arenberg) in a game of chance and deception. Each portion of the game is shown through pre-recorded video clips, played in response to how well or badly you are doing. There's about forty five minutes of interactive video available, although you won't see every clip in every game. In all, it's a good start for BD-J features on Blu-ray, and a fun game besides.
- Movie Showcase: Disney's standard bookmarks for scenes they think shows off the benefits of HD especially well.
- Blu-ray trailers: Trailers for several currently available and upcoming Disney titles on Blu-ray. Also available is a full 1080p trailer of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, which looks truly magnificent in high definition.
Disc two extras:
- Charting the Return: A half hour look at the pre-production for the movie, this featurette immediately sets the stage for the rest of the supplements on the disc. It's clear that the documentary crew had unlimited access to every aspect of the production, as the majority of the stuff is not interview-based, but fly on the wall material. In fact, a majority of this piece is about just how difficult it was to get the movie going. Screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio were constantly behind schedule, and things got so bad that the entire two-movie project was almost canceled. You have to appreciate just how candid this extra is.
- According to Plan: This hour-long documentary chronicles the 200-day shooting period. It starts in Los Angeles, with a lot of buoyancy and optimism. Then, as the crew moves to various islands, enthusiasm wanes as fatigue sets in. Unforeseen problems also dampen spirits. However, the entire group perseveres and there are gobs of high quality interviews interspersed throughout. One of the best recent making-of documentaries I've seen.
- Captain Jack: From Head to Toe: A collection of short clips that focuses on a single item from Jack's wardrobe. And when they say "from head to toe," they mean it. Everything from the stuff tied in to Jack's hair down to his boots is described here by Penny Rose, the costume designer, or property manager Kristopher E. Peck. All the clips together come out to about 25 minutes worth of material.
- Mastering the Blade: Clips of Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, and Jack Davenport (Norrington) training for all the swordplay. Interviews with the actors and their trainers are laid against footage of the training and then short clips from the actual shooting of the scenes.
- Meet Davy Jones: Anatomy of a Legend: A 12 and a half minute look at the creation of Davy Jones, from Bill Nighy's performance to the hard work done by ILM. The thing I ultimately took away from it was just how creative and inventive and physical Bill Nighy is as an actor. As a longtime Nighy fan, it was great to see him getting such praise.
- Creating the Kraken: A ten-minute look on the Kraken. Humorously, Lee Arenberg identifies the monster as the same giant squid that appears in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Also, you get to see Johnny Depp getting pummeled repeatedly by the gunk the Kraken spits out. In an interview in the feature, Johnny Depp says "When you come right down to it, it's absolutely disgusting. Good fun."
- Dead Men Tell New Tales: Re-Imagineering the Attraction: To help promote the Pirates films, Disneyland and Disney World added Jack Sparrow, Davy Jones, and Captain Barbossa to their Pirates of the Caribbean rides. This extra shows how they changed it and the final results, culminating in Johnny Depp going on the ride himself. It's quick but entertaining, and makes me want to go back to Disneyland and ride the ride again.
- Fly on the Set: The Bone Cage A 3 minute clip of some blue screen work being done on the Bone Cage.
- Pirates on Location: Cannibal Island and Tortuga: These pieces feel a little more like fluff than the majority of what's in the set, but they're short looks at the scenes taking place on Cannibal Island and Tortuga. Some of the interviews are repeats from other extras, but some, such as interviews with the actors who plays cannibals, are new.
- Inside Dead Man's Chest: Clearly a promotional piece, this has a few quick interviews with Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio and others, but mostly it's clips from the movie.
- Jerry Bruckheimer: A Producer's Photo Diary: 4 minutes of photos taken by Bruckheimer during the mammoth shooting of the two films intercut with footage of Bruckheimer taking pictures and interviews where he discusses his love of photography.
- Pirates on Main Street: Dead Man's Chest premiered at Disneyland, and we get to see some of the line for it here.
- Bloopers of the Caribbean: 3 minutes of bloopers. Funny stuff.
- Stills From The Set: Just what it sounds like.
- Theatrical Trailers: Trailers and teasers from around the world, fortunately all in 1080p.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest continues the story of Captain Jack Sparrow in high style. While there are flaws, they are not bad enough to stop the best parts of the movie from being a hell of a lot of fun. This 2-disc Blu-ray edition is worth purchasing just for the image and sound quality alone. Also, with Disney porting over all the extras from the DVD version and adding new interactive features, what you get is the definitive edition of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest on home video. DVD Talk Collector Series.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.