So this is what Gore Verbinski, Johnny Depp, Jerry Bruckheimer, and the Disney Studios have wrought. On September 19th, International "Talk Like a Pirate Day" got more publicity than the War in Iraq and the tragedy in Darfur combined. Seems everyone wants to be a pretend Peg Leg Pete with a parrot on his (or her) shoulder and a Bounty full of booty to distribute amongst various deserted islands. Of course, the minute these criminals went commercial, all manner of wannabe tie-ins show up - most coming from the already fame whoring motion picture macabre category. A perfect example of this unnecessary merchandising is the awful Pirates of Ghost Island. While the title has potential, that's as far as this film's capabilities go. In the battle for year end accolades/disapproval, this sloppy scarefest has already earned a place of distinction. It's one of the worst movies of 2007.
When a mutiny leaves them stranded on a deserted (and seemingly haunted) atoll, Capt. Stye and his bawdy wench wife Liza find themselves face to face with an unseen force of evil. As the rest of the crew cower, the well meaning Missus is shuttled off to another dimension. Fast forward three centuries, and a group of college age Spring Breakers are cast adrift after a horrible incident at sea. With their cruise ship long out of sight, the six stranded castaways must try to find a means of rescue. What they discover, instead, are the spectral remains of Stye's crew, and a very much alive Captain. Seems he is immortal, using his devious demonic powers to keep his potential victims in bondage. When one of the kids, Sarah, discovers that she is related to Liza, a whole weird possession thing begins. Seems the dead spouse of the evil buccaneer wants to help...or does she. As a volcano percolates in the background, our students must find a way of surviving the Pirates of Ghost Island. If they don't, they have a date with the real Davy Jone's Locker.
Some movies just can't tolerate defending. They are so poor, so amateurishly developed and produced, that you can't help but wonder how anyone - let alone a major motion picture company like Lionsgate - thought it was the least bit marketable. Obviously clueless to the dearth of anything remotely entertaining, the genre giant unleashed Pirates of Ghost Island on an unsuspecting public anticipating a haunted buccaneers of the deep blue waters. What they get instead is hackneyed direction, incomprehensible acting, and a script that seems to be manufacturing its narrative on the fly. Mitch Toles, the talent (?) behind the camera, has his fair share of credits on IMDb. Naturally, none of them have to do with actually helming a film. Among the precision driver/stunt coordinator nods, F/X supervision, and make-up department work, this Jack of Some Trades has lent his production and performance skills to some decidedly grade-Z efforts. With titles like Blood Ranch, Creepies 2, and Axegrinder, no one is expecting Tom Stoppard. But when you can't even get the whole swashbuckling thing right, when your characters talk like rejects from the Banana Splits' series Danger Island, it's "Uh Oh, Chongo!", for everyone involved.
Most of the problems lie in Pauline Thomas and Kristin J. Johnson's script. To call it confusing would be likely labeling David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest a simple, straightforward story. Thomas Pynchon wishes he was this disconnected and obtuse, and both Thomas and Johnson assume narrative incoherence somehow adds to the dread. Otherwise, why would they keep resetting their set-up? At first we think the doomed pirates are part of some demon's evil idea. Then we learn about a corrupt tribal chief and his murderous reign of terror. Fast forward 50 minutes, and we're dealing with a clear cut case of non-supernatural cannibalism. Between the spirits of dead bandits, actual immortals, shape-shifting scallywags, and unattractive gals with specious accents, it's impossible to figure out what this hobbled horror film is going for. Is it supposed to be scary? If so, why does our Germanic blond keep repeating the line "I just wish I could leave here and go home now" on at least FIVE different occasions. Why does another actor garble his dialogue like it's a spoiled protein bar? How come the entities of Sarah/Liza are differentiated by a far too cloying catchphrase? Is it because the actress essaying the dual role has no idea how to successfully sell either part?
And then there are the title fiends. To say these wooden wastes of sea shanty space are underwhelming as bad guys is being kind. They're like Renaissance Fair versions of villainy, as if rape, pillage, and plunder are merely sidelights to a 9 to 5 stint in the local comic shop. Accents are all over the map, with the land of "Crappy" getting most of the brogues. And as for adjectives, Thomas and Johnson know three - "scurvy", "bilge", and...well, maybe it's only two. In fact, you'd probably hear better piracy by eavesdropping on everyday people's private conversations. Nothing works in this mess of a movie: not the gore; not the b-movie titillation (there's no nudity, and the gals are less than fetching); not the tepid twist ending. Unless your life is so wrapped up in a fascination with all things Long, John, and Silver, if you can't exist another day without seeing actors dressed like Adam and the Ants stand and deliver, if a day without brigands is like a day without sunshine, then by all means, cough up the cash and waste that well earned dough on this abysmal offering. Land lubbers with a desperation for the briny deep maybe the only viewers intrigued with this Jolly Roger junk. Everyone else will prefer to be drawn and quartered.
Apparently, there is no such thing as product inspection when it comes to direct to DVD movies. Otherwise, Lionsgate would have rejected this lamentable transfer outright. The 1.33:1 full screen letterboxed image (which appears cropped both at the top and bottom to create a 1.78:1 ratio) is awash in overt brightness, inconsistent colors, and occasional switches between direct from video elements, and post-production "film" conversion. There is a lack of detail, an over reliance on gimmicky edits (sadly, no star wipes), and a scattered sense of continuity. Yet it's hard to expect more from a movie that uses still photos of a volcano as a substitute for the real thing. Pirates of Ghost Island is indeed that kind of production.
Replete with ambient background noise, inaudible dialogue, and a miserable musical score, the Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix here is mediocre at best. Since there is closed captioning and subtitles, it is recommended you avail yourself of these options. Otherwise, you'll miss a great deal of the script's senseless discussions.
Thankfully, we are treated to nothing inspired by Pirates of Ghost Island. Instead, we get the standard Lionsgate previews and that's all. Huzzah!
Let's get the rating out of the way right up front. Skip It. Run away from It. If you see it heading in your direction and you have no way of avoiding it, remember to pack a cyanide pill and all will be right with the world. There is no legitimate way that anyone could conceivable recommend this film, unless they've been lost on a desert island for untold decades and their aesthetic is primed for anything remotely resembling entertainment. And one thing's for sure - Pirates of Ghost Island barely counts as amusement. It's a tedious, depressing exercise in homemade cinema that suffers from every error a group of novices can create. Captain Jack Sparrow and his brethren under the skull and crossbones may have revived the plank walking genre. This unexceptional effort is destined to destroy it once and for all.
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