The summer of 2007 was crowded. Perhaps unreasonably so, as the studios played a game of oneupmanship in an attempt to corral as much of the almighty entertainment dollar as possible. Hot on the heels of the mega success that was Spider-Man 3, Disney released the final film in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, At World's End. The previous installment, Dead Man's Chest, had reached a financial boiling point, becoming the first film to reach $100 million in two days. However, the story left many critics cold, who didn't like the overly convoluted plotting or the abrupt and dark ending. Still, the hype machine went into high gear, with giant billboards, internet ads, TV spots, and more. But did the film live up to expectations?
If you haven't seen Dead Man's Chest, you'll need to, as At World's End picks up where that one left off, with Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) in the company of the resurrected Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). They're searching for the chance to rescue Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) from the clutches of Davy Jones' Locker (Davy Jones once again portrayed by the brilliant Bill Nighy). They need Jack back so they can convene the Pirate Court to decide what to do about the massing British forces led by Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander). Of course, once they do get Jack back, he's quick to turn all the players against each other for his own enigmatic ends.
For better or worse, At World's End is very much the follow-up of Dead Man's Chest. If you liked the second Pirates film, you'll find even more to enjoy here. While the plot is as inscrutable as ever (it seems like any given character is switching his allegiance every two minutes, only to end up on the side on which they started anyway), director Gore Verbinski at least manages to keep all the scenes on point. No more twenty minute cannibal island sequences. However, the film is still far too long, at a whopping 168 minutes. Could some of it have been cut? Sure. The whole Calypso subplot seemed to come to nothing, but at least it all has a good sense of forward momentum.
The focal point is still Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, but by now the ensemble nature of the piece really comes to the forefront. More than anything, At World's End proves how much Geoffrey Rush contributes as Captain Barbossa. The character is strong, daring, threatening, and genuinely hilarious. Geoffrey Rush is one of the few actors who could stand against Johnny Depp at his most flamboyant and come out on top. Orlando Bloom actually has less to do than in the previous two, and feels underwritten. On the other hand, Keira Knightley jumps up in prestige a few notches, going from a governor's daughter to Pirate King. Tom Hollander becomes a larger than life villain, commanding even the fearsome Davy Jones. And, of course, Bill Nighy is a scene-stealer.
At its best, At World's End continues the best traditions of the Pirates series. The action is exhilarating. The humor, when it works, is genuinely hilarious. The film also wraps up the various loose ends lying around from Dead Man's Chest, in a generally satisfying fashion. The climax is truly fantastic, with The Black Pearl and The Flying Dutchman locked in furious battle until the bitter end. And, of course, the door is left open for a possible sequel. Should that happen, though, the project might be better served by scaling things down to a more manageable running time.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The first two Pirates films were really the first two movies to show the true potential of Blu-ray. Now, half a year after their release, we're getting the final entry in the series, and to be completely honest, this 2.35:1 1080p (incorrectly listed on the box as 1080i) AVC-encoded transfer doesn't live up to its older siblings. It's not a bad transfer by any means, easily beating out many other contenders. And when the transfer is on, it's great. Excellent detail, as always, with good color balance and strong shadow detail. But at times, it can get a little noisy, and I felt it often lacked the amazing dimensionality present in the other two. When I first saw Dead Man's Chest, it truly felt like I was looking through a window. I never got that same feeling from At World's End. Perhaps I'm being too nit picky, but Disney has set the standard for all high def media, and they didn't quite meet it with this one.
The audio, on the other hand, is absolutely stellar. The uncompressed PCM 5.1 track is as good as anything Disney has ever done, and easily stands up to the other Pirates flicks. The dynamic range is huge, handling both the largest explosions to the quietest dialogue with equal aplomb. The rears are almost always active, even if all we're hearing is the sea as it hits the hull of The Black Pearl. But in the climactic battle sequence, the sound design is truly awesome: Every hit of sword against sword, every shout, every death is all present in the mix. And even during the most hectic scenes, dialogue is never drowned out. Keep up the good work, Disney.
Like its predecessors, At World's End comes to us as a two-disc set. Unlike the other two, this one is devoid of commentaries by any member of the cast or crew. Perhaps everyone said what they wanted to say already. Seemingly in an attempt to make up for what feels like a weaker set, Disney offers all the special features in 1080p high definition.
- Bloopers of the Caribbean: Five minutes of laugh takes and false starts. This is the only extra on disc one.
- Inside The Maelstrom: The only truly next-gen feature, this starts as time-lapse footage of the set for the Maelstrom being built. It's got comments by Jerry Bruckheimer. But as it goes on, icons pop up, which, when clicked, will take you to various featurettes that look at specific areas in more detail. The extra uses one of the interactive features of Blu-ray to remember what clips you've watched, as well. There's roughly forty minutes of footage here when you put it all together, making this very substantial.
- Anatomy of a Scene - The Maelstrom: A blow-by-blow look at how the Maelstrom sequence was created, starting with one of the world's largest interior soundstages. The crew built two full scale ships (The Black Pearl and The Flying Dutchman, natch) and had them both on one stage while the cast went through many grueling days of fighting in the rain. We then move to the post-production sequence, where we see how the raw footage was turned into the final scene we saw in theaters.
- Masters of Design: Production and costume designers often get ignored in most behind the scenes documentaries, but not so with At World's End. These five featurettes get us face to face with many of the people who designed the props and costumes essential to the movie, such as Sao Feng's map and the Pirate Codex.
- The Tale of Many Jacks: One of the new elements introduced in this film is that Captain Jack's stay in Davy Jones' Locker has left him seeing multiples of himself, in many various guises. This featurette looks at how the effect was achieved, which required a small army of Jack Sparrow doubles.
- The World of Chow Yun Fat: Chow Yun Fat's role in At World's End was small and mostly insubstantial, and so is this short clip about him. It's basically the cast and crew saying how much they admire him, and how nice he is. Intercut this with some footage of Fat talking about how great it was to be part of the trilogy and you get the gist of it.
- Keith and the Captain: It's no secret that Johnny Depp based part of his performance as Captain Jack on legendary Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. In homage to this, director Gore Verbinski convinced Richards to appear briefly in At World's End as Sparrow's father. This fun feature shows Richards on set, interacting with Verbinski and Depp. Depp himself looks almost awestruck, which is no mean feat.
- The Pirate Maestro - The Music of Hans Zimmer: Hans Zimmer is fairly well known in film circles, so it only makes sense that he'd get his own special feature. As you'd expect, his score is the topic of discussion, and, not surprisingly, everyone seems to think it's totally awesome.
- Hoist The Colors: The film opens with a ho-hum song that's meant to elicit sympathy or something, but it doesn't really work. This extra has Zimmer discussing it.
- Inside The Brethern Court: A brief and less than interesting look at each of the Pirate Lords. You navigate between clips by clicking on an image of their Piece of Eight.
- Deleted Scenes: We get two scenes. One, which has Jack and Barbossa once again fighting over who captains the Pearl, is especially funny.
- Trailers: In addition to the trailer for this film, we get trailers for the past two Pirates films, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, The Game Plan, and Cars.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End improves on many of the elements in Dead Man's Chest to provide a mostly satisfying wrap-up to the trilogy. While it still doesn't hit the heights of Curse of the Black Pearl, it has some of the best action the series offers. The Blu-ray disc sports reference audio, but the video was just shy of the high quality I've come to expect from Disney. Not only that, but the extras package feels a little anemic compared to the last two. Still, this disc is better than many of the high def discs you'll see released on either format, so it's easy to recommend. Highly Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.