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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
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