Pirates of the Caribbean

If there’s one movie from the past 5 years that I would have liked to take a crack at rewriting, it’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. I love light-hearted adventure films (e.g. The Princess Bride), and the Pirates script specifically has a lot going for it. It instantly establishes sympathy for its characters. The dialogue is frequently sharp. It features a number of clever reversals (a stupider movie would have its hero succeed when he announces his own imminent escape; this one realizes it’s far more entertaining and endearing to see his plan go awry). The plot isn’t particularly exciting, but all things considered Pirates should have been a fun little flick.

So I’m struggling to figure out how Disney, a children’s studio that knows as well as any the virtue of a lean runtime, released this bloated, boring movie. I don’t know if I’ve ever described a major studio blockbuster as self-indulgent, but this certainly qualifies. Wholly unnecessary characters take up valuable screen minutes. Most scenes go on too long. Fight scenes in particular last at least twice as long as they should. Most frustrating of all is that the film could be better with a few easy changes. A brief plan of action for how to fix this script:

1. Shorten initial confrontation between Jack and Will to under 2 minutes. We know these are the main characters, we know nothing of consequence will happen, and we’re getting antsy because the plot hasn’t started yet.

2. Chop the final fight sequence down by at least half. The skeletons can’t be killed. This has been established. So why do we watch people futilely fight them for over half an hour?

3. Cut the unnecessary characters. There’s plenty of comedy relief; we don’t need the Abbott and Costello pirate ghosts.

4. Cut the verbosity. Conversations frequently go on a few beats too long, characters often talk in needless exposition. Not everything needs to be spelled out; the audience’ll get it.

5. Get the story rolling earlier. This is a big, dumb Hollywood spectacle. We should know what it’s about in the first 15 minutes. Pirates takes 45 minutes to introduce the characters and setup before it finally gets going. That’s somewhat excusable because the first half hour is also the best part. But maybe save some of that good stuff for later. The plot shouldn’t seem like an inconvenience getting in the way of our fun.

And perhaps this last one is where we run into trouble, because to really do it right would probably take a complete rewriting of the script. The ghost story nonsense simply doesn’t work. Even though it’s silly, its telling requires the tale to darken, if not in mood than at least in cinematography. This is not a movie where things should be happening at night. Of all the interesting places you could take a character like Jack Sparrow, is the best option really having him fight skeleton ghost pirates?

Anyway. I’d have liked a crack at it.

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