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Movies: Seabiscuit and Pirates Of The Caribbean

The Queen and I went to go see Pirates of the Caribbean. Twice, actually. The first time we entered the theater and found it packed to the gills, so we wandered down the hall and caught Seabiscuit instead.

In retrospect, watching Pirates from the first row might have been preferable. This became apparent early in the film, when Jeff Bridges rises at a dinner party and says "As corny as it sounds, I'd like to propose a toast. To the future!" Attention screenwriters: if even your characters are worried about sounding corny, you are probably writing a corny movie.

Also: if you want to screw up the adaptation of a best-selling book, try taking a real and inherently inspirational story and making it even more inspirational. So it's not enough that Seabiscuit -- a horse that had been written off by everyone but nonetheless went on to win the Triple Crown a buncha races -- serve as an inspiration to a nation shaken by the Great Depression; now every character has to rise from humble beginnings and overcome adversity to reach Greatness. And in case you don't get the analogy, Jeff Bridges periodically gives impromptu monologues wherein he explains to a large and nodding crowd how the horse is symbolic of the country as a whole. Seriously: he gives this speech, like, three times.

A side-effect of this relentless inspirationilzation is that nearly every scene is a little too emotional and significant. Conversations 30 minutes into the film are accompanied by the kind of Overbearingly Sad But Heroic Music that is usually reserved for the finale. Every phrase uttered by the characters has some deeper portent. Things can't just happen, they have to happen for a reason. Seabiscuit even has my least favorite Required Hollywood Movie Moment -- you know, where The One Guy says something pithy to The Other Guy, and then later in the film, when The One Guy has lost his way, The Other Guy says the exact same phrase back to him, thereby enabling him to remember what's Really Important In This World Of Ours? You know that moment? It's in there.

So even though I knew that Seabiscuit is based on a true story, I spent much of the film rolling my eyes and muttering "c'mon -- that didn't happen!" whenever the filmmaker couldn't resist interjecting some tried and true Screenwriting For Dummies inspirational gimmick. Which isn't to say that Seabiscuit is bad -- objectively I'd probably give it 3.5 stars out of five. But I can't stand it when moviemakers mess up a true story with fictitious enhancements. This is why I'll choose a documentary on a subject over the dramatization each and every time.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (which we managed to see on the second attempt) is equally the Big Hollywood Spectacle, but at least it has the good sense to not even pretend to be grounded in reality. It unabashedly throws every Adventure Movie Staple (state of the art special effects, over the top fight scenes, big name actors) and pirate cliché (parrots, planks, and numerous references to "Davy Jones locker") into the mix and brews up the best summer blockbuster I've seen this year.

Alas, at over two hours, Pirates is a bit too much of a good thing -- by the finale I wouldn't say I was bored, but I was more than ready for it to end. Sadly, those extra minutes are packed with extraneous action and unnecessary exposition, while the fundamentals of the plot are given the short shrift: the specifics of the titular curse -- how it got started, how it is reversed, and when happens when it is removed -- are all given, like, one line of explanation a piece. At some point it occurred to me that they were dwelling on trivial details to disguise the fact that the underlying plot was threadbare, a realization that did not me to the overlong running time.

Still, if you're willing to overlook the fact that it doesn't make a huge amount of sense, the plot does have some very inventive moments. And Johnny Depp alone makes the film worthwhile -- he takes what could have been a marginally interesting character and plays it over-the-top loony. They should have carved half an hour out of Pirates, but it's still a very fun ride.

(And speaking of rides, there was a preview for Disney's The Haunted Mansion before Pirates. I guess they are just going to movie-alize all of their theme park attractions, now. Hoo boy, I bet It's A Small World: The Motion Picture is going to break some box office records.)

Posted on August 29, 2003 to Movies


When I first heard about Pirates, I groaned aloud. "Now they're making movies about theme park rides? Oy." (Yes, I'm pretty sure I said "Oy.") But when I saw it, and enjoyed it, I worried more. They would've probably done a few no matter what the returns, but with a summer blockbuster hit, years and years of theme-park ride movies, from Disney and others, are sure to follow. And they can't all have Johnny Depp. But there are only so many rides left...
So my question to this group is: What's next? Maybe movies about Disney employees? About DisneyWorld locations? Mr. Eisner Goes To Main Street, anyone?

Posted by: Dugrless on September 2, 2003 11:09 AM

Next thing you know, they'll be making movies out of the less popular Disneyland rides like "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" and "Swiss Family Robinson."

The Gall of those people.

Posted by: KOTWF on September 2, 2003 11:54 AM

seabiscuit did NOT win the triple crown. and the other characters in the story DID rise from humble beginnings and overcome great adversity to get where they were. but you're right, they didn't have to drill it into the audience, the screenplay should have been better written so those facts played out on there own.

Posted by: shana on September 2, 2003 12:19 PM

seabiscuit did NOT win the triple crown.

Uhh. Rectified.

and the other characters in the story DID rise from humble beginnings and overcome great adversity to get where they were.

Perhaps, but I didn't pay $8 to see Everyone Who Ever Came In Contact With Seabiscuit

Posted by: Matthew on September 2, 2003 12:27 PM

As stated above, Seabiscuit and all of his associated humans did overcome some significant odds to become a champion. It's a true story about American grit and spirit.

Of course, I caught the 2 hour PBS special about the story of Seabiscuit, and it was apparent then that Hollywood could only improve upon the story in the same sense that lighting a bottle rocket improves upon your bicycling.

Posted by: sharper on September 2, 2003 12:53 PM

Perhaps coincidentally, Disney already calls ALL of its employees "Cast Members", right down to the guy slinging nasty fries at you for $8. However, I did read an interview with Eisner where he mentioned that while almost all of their rides are fair game for movies, Small World would be a silly choice. I cant wait for Autopia 2...

Posted by: chris on September 2, 2003 12:55 PM

dude they underdid the scene in Seabiscuit with the goat and trying to calm the horse down. The only reason I went and saw the movie was to see that scene. All you see in the movie is a goat being thrown out of a stall. Man, the truth is that Seabiscuit had the goat in his mouth. Who wouldn't pay $8 to see a horse with a goat in its mouth, what a waste. I expected better.

Posted by: Kelly on September 2, 2003 1:15 PM

Star Tours: The Movie!

Posted by: albert on September 2, 2003 1:17 PM

A sneak peek at upcoming Disney movies.

Posted by: dan on September 2, 2003 1:39 PM

The movie would have been vastly better if it was called "Stewball", based on the horse in that Peter, Paul, and Mary song.

You know, Stewball. He was a racehorse. He was a good friend of mine. He never drank water. He only drank wine.


Posted by: thohan on September 2, 2003 3:35 PM

How many more times did we need to hear that Jeff Daniels' character was interested in "The Future"?! Egads! This story wrote itself and yet Hollywood still found a way to crap it up.

The PBS 'Seabiscuit' special aired the night before I went to see movie in the theater. I could have saved $8.50. PBS made a much better movie (and it was free!) by sticking to the truth and letting the story speak for itself.

Posted by: Cristina on September 2, 2003 3:42 PM

Please -- just say "no" to any hint of a 'It's A Small World' movie. Not even red wallpaper can induce individuals to murder and mayhem quicker than having to listen to those annoying little kidlets whining over and over again... 'it's a small world aaafter all".

Posted by: Chari on September 3, 2003 5:44 AM

Jeez, I saw Seabiscuit at one of those theatres where you can eat, drink & be annoyed by waiters interrupting you during important parts of the movie. I also enjoyed SB, aka "The Biscuit", much more than you did. Coincidence?

Posted by: ranger on September 3, 2003 8:52 AM

Here's a movie I figure you all will enjoy, "American Splendor". Sure to be reviewed here sometime soon.

Posted by: toronto on September 3, 2003 11:44 AM

My wife has the trump card for endurance on a Disney ride. She was trapped on the "It's a Small World" ride for over four hours when the thing broke down, and they didn't even turn off the music!

As she can tell you, that ride really is a small world when you can't get off. She still has post-traumatic stress flashbacks at the sound of that tune. Those few times we've been to a Disney park, I try to keep her away from that end of the place - I doubt it would take much of that thing to push her over the edge.

Posted by: StudentPoet on September 9, 2003 10:28 PM

Speaking of Pirates of the Caribbean, I thought I'd mention this and see if anyone else noticed (and I only mention this because I found pretty grisly).

During the scene where Will (Orlando Bloom) and his crew are locked in the brig of the Black Pearl, two pirates explain the history between Jack (Johnny Depp) and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). They mention how Will's father never thought what they did to Jack was right. So Barbossa had him tied to a canon and thrown overboard.

See if I have this right,
1. Will's father spends 20 years (or so) tied to a cannon at the bottom of the ocean (still 'alive' because of the curse).
2. The curse is broken and he becomes mortal again... only to quickly drown.

A particularly ironic death when you think about it.

Posted by: Nathan on September 10, 2003 3:05 PM