At this point, what can really be mentioned about Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise that hasn't been said before? Across the board they are quality big budget flicks with entertaining characters, solid special effects, and swashbuckling scripts. The films have become iconic all over the world and brought pirates to the forefront of pop-culture.
With a fourth installment on the way, the franchise continues to see release on home video. On DVD and Blu-ray the films have been a success, and Disney keeps milking the cash-cow. A 7-Disc Trilogy Blu-ray Collection has recently been released. While this is essentially yet another rehash with familiar supplemental content and picture quality, there is a new seventh disc that has been included with never before seen deleted scenes and a sneak peak at the new film; On Stranger Tides. For now though, let's take a look at the films themselves.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
In 2003 when Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Peal was released, it took the world by storm. The film introduced audiences to characters such as Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), William Turner (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley), and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). As the story goes, Jack finds himself searching for a ship known as the Black Pearl. It's feared the world over as nigh-destructible, and in most cases it's thought of as a ghost ship. For Jack, however, it's his home away from home, or at least it was ten years before the film before Barbossa led a mutiny against him and claimed it as his own.
Armed with a compass that doesn't point north, a pistol with one shot, and a very fine hat, Jack's fate becomes entwined with William's as the two set out for the Pearl after a rocky introduction. Jack wants the ship and William wants Elizabeth, and considering Barbossa has kidnapped her, the interests of our heroes are the same. In between all of this the film throws talk about cursed treasure into the mix and the East India Trading Company wants both the Pearl and Jack.
While it sounds like there's a lot going on the film is handled quite deftly with direction by Gore Verbinski. Multiple storylines converge in the midst of swashbuckling action with quirky characters, jokes aplenty, and all the gravitas one might expect from a high-budgeted pirate flick. The Curse of the Black Pearl single-handedly defined pirate cool again and it stands to this day as one hell of an adventure.
Pirates of the Caribbean II: Dead Man's Chest
In most movie franchise it's almost always the second film that makes or breaks it. In the case of Pirates of the Caribbean the sequel, Dead Man's Chest, most certainly made it. The cast from The Curse of the Black Pearl makes its triumphant return as Jack finds himself searching for yet another treasure. Again armed with his trusty compass that doesn't point north, and this time sporting his famed ship, Jack again joins forces with his mostly-trustworthy pirating crew, William, and Elizabeth. Rather than something shiny that will make him rich, Jack wants to get his rum soaked hands on a key. It's a key that opens a chest, but the prize inside is far from conventional.
Dead Man's Chest introduces the character of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), who is an immortal charged with ferrying the dead to the afterworld. Instead, Jones has twisted his role and ignores the lost souls, with many winding up in Davy Jones' Locker. With his mutated crew of the damned, Jones sails the seas unleashing a beasty known as the Kraken on unsuspecting ships, both on pirate lineage and that of the East India Trading Company. Naturally there's some history between Jones and Jack, and it would seem that Jack owes the immortal pirate a few hundred years of servitude aboard his ship. That's a debt Jack isn't itching to pay, but with the Kraken hot on his tale he has to improvise a way to get his hands on the chest.
Dead Man's Chest is a worthy successor to The Curse of the Black Pearl in almost every way. It's a big fun film that keeps viewers tuned in and invested until the credits roll. Like the first, there were a few points that could have been tightened up a bit to help with pacing, but by and large there's very little to complain about. The cast was great yet again and Nighy in particular sets a dark tone with his performance as Jones. The film also ends on a cliffhanging note with much left in the air for the third installment in the franchise.
Pirates of the Caribbean III: At World's End
For the final part of this trilogy (even though it appears to at least be a quadrilogy) the film plays with the world a little more as it dabbles in lore and character history. William's story gets more interesting with the further involvement of his father, we get to see Jack's dad at one point (played wonderfully by Keith Richards), and the history of Calypso and Jones is explored quite a bit. At World's End also introduces the character of Captain Seo Fang (Chow Yun-Fat) and other pirate lords of the Brethren Court.
A chunk of the film is taken up by the search for Jack, as he was, well...lost in the previous installment. Naturally you can't keep a good, er...bad, pirate down and soon enough he's back in the swing of things. For those who haven't seen the film I won't spoil anything, but rather I'll just say that it climaxes at a few points and ends on a somber tone. There's also the tease for the fourth film, which at the time of production hadn't had pen put to paper yet.
Like the other two films in the "trilogy" At World's End is a blast to watch. Thought it's not as encapsulated as the first storyline, the way the last two films tie together works nicely. Pacing suffers at a few points, which is a common thread in the franchise, but just when you find yourself wavering the action, witty dialogue, and spectacular effects pull you back in. It's a fun, crowd pleasing kind of show and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Across the board the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy is presented on Blu-ray with 1080p high definition transfers, original 2.35.1 aspect ratios, and AVC encoding. Universally the quality of the picture is fantastic and arguably could be considered of reference worth. Curse of the Black Pearl and Dead Man's Chest stand out as having the most layers, brightest colors, and deep black layers, while At World's End brings up the rear somewhat. There are still instances throughout that impress, however. The flash of light on a sword, the reflection of fire on a moist ship deck, and every nook and cranny of weathered faces come through with remarkable clarity. The films have always looked good, but the Blu-ray is especially true to that.
For all three films English 5.1 (48 kHz/24-bit) Uncompressed PCM audio tracks are available. As was the case with the video, the sound quality is beyond reproach. A sweeping soundtrack, booming sound effects, and a very busy soundstage mark an immersive experience. Every channel is brought to life with atmospheric noise and wonderful directionality. Clarity is never an issue and all around each film is truly a feast for the ears and a marvelous showpiece for any home theater.
Bonus features in this boxed set are plentiful. Each film contains an additional disc loaded with supplemental content, though for owners of the previous release it will all be rather familiar.
The Curse of the Black Pearl features a slew of production featurettes and documentaries. There are featurettes here on Depp and Captain Jack, Geoffrey Rush and Barbossa, the monkey named Levi, blowing up the ship, and a feature set during the filming of eight sequences. There is also an eight part making of documentary, animatic sequences for key moments, multiple video and photo diaries, and a look at the theme park attraction. In addition to all this there are image galleries, deleted scenes, a blooper/gag reel, and pop-up trivia track for the film. Oh, and there are three separate audio commentaries with a slew of production crew and cast members.
Dead Man's Chest features an audio commentary as well with the screenwriters hitting the talking points. Again there is also a bevy of featurettes here including one about the Kraken, one for Davy Jones, and features for the bone cage, cannibal island, and the Tortuga bar brawl. In addition to all this there is a much broader pre-production featurette and a making of featurette. A photo gallery, blooper reel, selection of trailers and promos, and another feature on the ride attraction are here as well. In addition to all this there are features on swordplay with cast members, and interactive components such as a game and Jack Sparrow's costume and such.
And finally, At World's End has the lesser quantity of features. No audio commentaries are available here, instead there are some deleted scenes and various featurettes on elements of the film. A look at Keith and Depp on screen together, a feature on the music, a talk with Chow Yun-Fat, a look at the world of pirates and the Brethren Court. Special effect documentaries for the Maelstrom, design, and the multiple Jack segments are included for good measure as well. Again there's also an interactive feature, but this one is for the Maelstrom.
As far as what's unique to this 7-Disc Trilogy Collection, a separate disc is packed into a sleeve on the back of the box. This disc features deleted scenes for Dead Man's Chest and At World's End. The former has 18 selections, while the latter has 20. In both cases there is optional audio commentary with Verbinski. Many of these are rather entertaining and totally could have been included in extended cuts of the film, since they include final production effects and the like. For the most part they are as minor as Jack squawking like a chicken and spinning Davy Jones around once more. Fans of the franchise may want a sneak peek at On Stranger Tides, though what's here is merely a marginally explained version of the trailer that lasts just under three minutes.
The bottom line with this boxed set is that if you haven't seen the films, or simply don't own the collection on Blu-ray, then it's totally worth picking up. The movies themselves are highly entertaining, but the real kicker is the bevy of supplemental content and presentational quality. The addition of the seventh disc doesn't really make the double dip worth it, but anyone new to the films will find it worth while. Highly Recommended all around!