I guess I'm just a big sucker for the whole pirates genre. I've seen most of the classics, I freaking adore the new Johnny Depp swashbucklers, and I can even find some small stray nuggets of fun in both Roman Polanski's Pirates and Renny Harlin's Cutthroat Island. (Hell, once upon a time I even owned the soundtrack cassette from The Pirate Movie!)
So please do take my affection for the newly-resurgent pirate genre into account while noting that I had a pretty good time with Blackbeard. And I'm probably being just a little bit nicer than the starchy little mini-series deserves, but hey -- I had fun with it!
Angus MacFadyen (and an outrageously ripe accent) stars as legendary pirate Edward "Blackbeard" Teach, a seafaring criminal who enjoyed a brief but very colorful reign in the early 1700s. But since we're talking about a mini-series that was produced for network television by the fine folks at Hallmark Entertainment -- you should know going in that Blackbeard offers very little that's based on historical fact. A few names and dates and such, but not much.
The plot's your standard affair: Blackbeard busies himself by hunting for treasure and abusing the port town of New Providence. The king sends Naval Lt. Robert Maynard to quell the pirate's activities at any cost. Unfortunately, the governer of New Providence is an oily old bastard who spends his time A) in cahoots with the vicious buccaneer and B) plotting the death of his beautiful adopted daughter so that her inheritance can be stolen.
And if I told you that a romance blossoms between the blandly noble Maynard and the delicately lovely Ms. Charlotte ... well, I doubt you'd be all that surprised.
Toss in a half-dozen familiar-yet-still-entertaining little subplots, a few solid action scenes, and a couple of strong performances ... and you got yourself a pretty good pirate movie. Oh sure, Blackbeard might have been improved with 45 minutes shaved off its 169m running time, but then they couldn't have aired the thing over two consecutive nights.
MacFadyen, for all his frequent mumblings and intermittently indecipherable ravings, is quite a bit of fun as Blackbeard. He's not as weirdly amusing as everyone's NEW favorite pirate, but the actor strikes an enjoyable balance between strangely likable and downright despicable. As the young lovers, Mark Umbers and Jessica Chastain are perfectly fine, even if neither bursts out with a stellar performance. The bulk of the fun lies within the supporting cast: Richard Chamberlain gets to have some fun as the deviously officious governer, while Stacy Keach (as a pirate) and Rachel Ward (as a whore) do the best with their small-ish roles.
Like most mini-series produced for basic cable, Blackbeard occasionally trots out some really lame dialogue or some entirely sketchy special effects, but as far as these types of productions go, Blackbeard's pretty darn watchable. The production design is rather impressive, the thing (despite being too long) moves fairly quickly, and on the whole Blackbeard feels like a perfectly entertaining Saturday afternoon matinee.
Video: The non-anamorphic widescreen transfer is nice and clean all around. The stuff that takes place on the high seas is particularly handsome.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, and it's a solid enough audio mix. Nothing ear-shattering, but well-balanced and bombastic when it needs to be.
Four brief featurettes are included:
Raging Mad Dog or Fawning Puppy? (1:05) sees Angus MacFadyen and Jessica Chastain discussing this particular iteration of the eponymous buccaneer.
Scoundrels, Scallywags, and Scurvy Knaves (2:59) sees the cast & crew discussing the everlasting appeal of fictional piracy.
Yo-Ho-Ho and Shooting a Gun (1:18) has Ms. Chastain dicussing her approach to markswomanship.
Richard Chamberlain Says "Ahoy!" (1:56) is a visit with the eternal king of mini-series.
At the very least it'll hold your attention until the next Pirates of the Caribbean sequel makes berth at your local multiplex.