Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #34. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

"I don't think any of us thought we'd be making another pirate movie, but here we are."  Director Gore Verbinski,
embarking on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

What's happening now?
At least a year has passed since we last saw Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Today, Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Kiera Knightly) plan to marry, but they are rudely interrupted by Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), who calls for their immediate arrest for helping Jack escape during their last adventure. They will face the gallows unless Will comes through on his deal with Lord Beckett to retrieve Jack's compass. Presiding over the East India Trading Company, Lord Beckett wants to use the compass to help his business achieve world domination, including control of the seas.

Meanwhile, having just escaped a Turkish prison, Jack returns to the Black Pearl with a drawing of a key, which he and his crew set out to find, but his compass is no help in giving direction. On board, Jack is visited by Will's pirate father Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsguaard), who serves on the Flying Dutchman under Captain Davy Jones (Bill Nighy).

Long ago, heartbroken over a woman, Davy Jones cut out his own heart to end his pain, placed it in a chest, and buried it on land for safe keeping. Now, he spends his time on the high seas ferrying the dead to the afterlife and is only allowed on shore once every 10 years. Betrayed by the woman he loved, his curse has made him and his crew so much part of the sea that some have become more sea creature than human. The Flying Dutchman can even sail underwater.

Davy Jones once made a deal with Jack, allowing him to captain the Pearl on borrowed time. Bootstrap Bill now comes to Jack, marking his hand with the cursed Black Spot: His time is up and he must pay his debt, head to the no-man's land of Davy Jones's Locker, or face the dreaded sea monster Kracken. As always, Jack works to negotiate his way out of this situation. Having the key he's looking for, which unlocks the buried chest containing Davy Jones's heart, would solve all of Jack's problems.

Of course, everyone crosses paths during this adventure: Elizabeth escapes from jail and gets signed Letters of Mark that pardon her and Will from their crimes. She heads out to sea to find Will. While helping Jack retrieve the key from the Flying Dutchman, Will meets Bootstrap Bill on board and vows to save his father from his eternal fate. Norrington (Jack Davenport), whose life has taken a bad turn, is keen on retrieving the Letters of Mark from Elizabeth to help regain his previous stature, but he eyes a bigger prize once he learns about Davy Jones's chest and its contents. Add some hungry cannibals, some magic, and a giant squid into the mix, and you've got Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

This one's for the boys.
When I watched Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest in the theater, I had the weirdest feeling about seeing Johnny play the same character in a sequel. I never expected him to be in the position to make any sequels--or to want to, considering he likes to do his work on a project and move on. It was quite unsettling at first! But I got used to the idea, and I guess Johnny did too. "It's been amazing on every level," he says of working with the same cast and majority of the same crew as the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. "We were on that film for such a long time; it was really quite a big shoot. So, you get really close. You become this weird sort of gypsy family, you know, the traveling circus."  

At first, I felt that Captain Jack was mainly in this movie for comic relief while everyone else had their deep dark secrets to deal with, but that's clearly not  the case. Everyone has equal story weight here, and it's just a given that Captain Jack is going to get most of the laughs. Johnny wanted to play Captain Jack again because there's so much to explore in the character, and he has so much fun doing it, which is obvious on screen. He is, as expected, a scene-stealer in this revisited role. For all the fans out there, watching the DVD bonus features is a treat because you learn all the details Johnny brought to Captain Jack and his story: Every article of clothing and accessory is hand-picked. Everything dangling in his hair means something. Even some of his rings and props are his own. I like the idea of Johnny bringing in his friend's peacock-feathered wand to work one day to use as his scepter on the cannibal island. (Johnny would have a friend who has that lying around.) Who else would think of these things?

As this movie went on, I felt the story got bogged down with battle after battle, darkness, rain, sea water, slime, grime, and cannibals! Even Elizabeth's wedding dress is already ruined when we first see it in the opening scene. Some of this movie's gross-out moments were tailor-made for all the teenage boys in the audience. 

But, as the laughter erupted shortly after the movie started, I realized that Pirates of the Caribbean is going to last forever for everybody! Everyone looked forward to seeing these beloved characters again, and the newly introduced characters became instant family members. Case in point, my favorite moment of this 2 1/2-hour action-packed ride was the last 30 seconds. Honestly, I nearly jumped out of my seat and screamed. Bring on Pirates 3! On my way out of the theater, kids were mimicking the sword fights in the halls using their fists and imagination. That's success!

It's a winner - slime, toes, beating hearts, and all!
I fell in love with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest while watching it again for Johnny Kitties! The story is full, complicated, and intertwined. When asked to write two sequels to their hit pirate movie, cowriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio opted to create a larger story, told over the course of the three movies. They envisioned the sequels sparking a community experience, where the discussion would go well beyond the films. "There was an intent to create Easter eggs, essentially. The more attention  you pay to the movie, the more you find in it," Ted Elliott says. Terry Rossio agrees, "There are things even in plain sight revealed in Pirates 3 to be more important than they might have seemed when watching Pirates 1 and 2. It's a lot of fun to do that. I think part of the appeal of these movies is that you're visiting a world where everything is connected." 

Everything in the film has a purpose and works to move the story forward. All of the characters have their own motivations--hidden or not--and they have to work together to achieve their goals. No one comes away from this adventure a clear hero.

 The new characters introduced in this sequel, Lord Beckett, Bootstrap Bill, Davy Jones, and Tia Dalma (Naomi Harris), are fantastic too: the actors give great performances and add so much to their stories. Also, the look of the Flying Dutchman and its waterlogged crew is so imaginative and detailed.

The impressive stunts include swinging bone cages between majestic cliffs and a three-way sword fight on a detached, spinning waterwheel. Of the latter experience, Johnny remembers, "It was such an absurd, such a bizarre, request for one grown man to ask of another: 'Okay, what we'd like to do now is bind you inside the wheel and give you a sword. And, we're going to tailor the other guy in and you guys are going to fight as the wheel is rolling, and you go upside down several times.' Nothing they could ask of me would surprise me anymore: 'Johnny, we're going to put you in a cannon and volt you out to sea. You okay with that?' Sure, let's do it." That doesn't happen here, but a lot of other stunts do that make this movie fun!

It was worth all the hard work.
"To be honest, the actual work that goes into it is really difficult, but it is so much fun doing it," Orlando Bloom says of working on the sequel. "I can't imagine it'll ever be done again like this; it sort of feels like the end of an era in making movies in this way because it's really a huge fete. I think we all feel very lucky to be doing it."
But the pressure was on: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest had a 200-day production schedule but took an entire year to complete. They worked backward from the release date but didn't even have a script for quite a while. On top of that, its sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, was scheduled to be filmed immediately following this one, mainly to ensure that the entire cast was still available. 

Filmed all over the Caribbean, Director Gore Verbinski sought out all the hard-to-reach places: "The only way a location is going to get picked by Gore is if you have to swim to it, hike to it, repel into it, or parachute into it," Unit Production Manager Doug Merrifield explains. "The more extreme and more remote the better." One of the locations is an island that completely submerges when the tide comes in every day. The cast ran and battled with swords while ankle-deep in sand in sweltering heat. Equipment had to be hauled on barges or moved by truck up narrow mountainside dirt roads.  

Obviously, CGI was used to create the Flying Dutchman's sea creature crew, among other things, but more than you would expect is real in this movie. Aside from the ships and sets they built, the crew developed a new technology called Image-Based Motion Capture to allow them to capture the actors' entire performances. Dressed in grey outfits spotted with green Ping Pong-sized balls that serve as motion points, Bill Nighy and the Flying Dutchman crew performed as if they were in full costume. Gore Verbinski could then work with them and the camera just as he would any live-action sequence. Their 3D images were later animated and transformed into sea creatures but without losing the facial expressions and movements of the actors in their performances. That's movie magic! 

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest was filmed during the most active hurricane season on record. Hurricane Wilma did extensive damage to sets, equipment, and roads. Aside from the hurricanes, high seas even caused problems: If the waves reached 3 to 4 feet, the ships had to be evacuated because the sets were at risk of falling apart. Don't worry, it all turned out okay.  

In fact, this movie was even nominated for a bunch of awards and won quite a few, mainly in the special effects/visual effects department for good reason! Johnny was also nominated for and won some awards too because he's really good at being Captain Jack Sparrow.  

The Kitties are fighting!
This movie comes down to the hunt for Davy Jones's chest. Here, Captain Jack, Norrington (Simon), Will (Comet), and Elizabeth (Ashes) find it together but suddenly realize that no one can be trusted. They all want it for their own reasons. Because there's never a time when everyone's in the same scene (and because Davy Jones is tied to the sea), I had to embellish a little here with what I imagine is happening outside of the shot: Davy Jones watching and awaiting his fate aboard the Flying Dutchman. Will they work it out? Go rent the movie!  

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #34--Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) [April 22, 2013]

What's next?
This saga concludes in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.  

Image credits: All Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest images © Walt Disney Pictures; illustration 
© Melissa Connolly  

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