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Monday, December 19, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides 3D / 2D Blu-ray Review

From Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer comes all the fun, epic adventure and humor that ignited the original. Johnny Depp returns as as the one and only Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.  A tale of truth, betrayal, youth, demise – and mermaids!  When Jack crosses paths with a woman from his past (Penélope Cruz), he’s not sure if it’s love or if she’s a ruthless con artist using him to find the fabled Fountain of Youth.  Forced aboard the ship of the most feared pirate ever, Jack doesn’t know who to fear more – Blackbeard (Ian McShane) or the woman from his past.  The first movie in a proposed second Pirates trilogy, Pirates of the CaribbeanOn Stranger Tides as directed by Rob Marshall, is filled with eye-popping battle scenes, mystery and all-out wit.

Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

We catch up with Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) in London where he saves his former first mate Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally) from being hanged as a pirate.  Despite Jack’s daring rescue, the two are recaptured and Jack is brought before King George II (Richard Griffiths) who has heard that a certain Captain Jack Sparrow is looking for a ship to lead an expedition to find the legendary Fountain of Youth.  This isn’t news to Jack since part of the reason he is in London is to find the person impersonating him, but he assures the King that he is in fact THE Captain Jack Sparrow.  Jack soon learns who will be in command of the King’s vessels when his former castmate/rival/mutineer Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) enters the room.  Barbossa has been granted clemency for his crimes against the crown in exchange for becoming an authorized privateer after he had lost the Black Pearl and his leg to the dreaded pirate Blackbeard.
Jack manages to escape again and he quickly discovers who has been impersonating him before he is captured yet again and indentured to work on Blackbeard’s ship The Queen Anne’s Revenge. The crew of the ship are terrified of Captain Edward Teach (Ian McShane) who is otherwise known as Blackbeard and for his brutal ways and penchant for voodoo magic.  In fact, Blackbeard has zombified the ship’s officers, which makes them even more vicious to the crew and more obedient to Blackbeard.  Blackbeard’s daughter and first mate is called Angelica (Penelope Cruz) who also happens to be Jack’s former lover who he had a falling out with awhile ago.
Meanwhile, back in London, Gibbs has memorized and then destroyed the map to the Fountain of Youth that he stole from Jack which ends up saving him from  being hanged once Barbossa realizes that Gibbs alone possesses the knowledge on how to get there.  In the race to the Fountain, the English fleet notices that a Spanish armada is also heading in the same direction but has no interest in fighting them as they are more focused on beating the English to the Fountain. Now enjoying the life of a privateer with all of it’s fine dining, Barbossa still seems a little too rough around the edges compared to the King’s navy.  These men have never seen supernatural forces at work like he has and he has to inspire his men to be prepared for mermaids, who completely frighten the men.
Aboard Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Jack learns that there’s more requirements to obtain the Fountain’s healing waters than just drinking the water.  Angelica tells him that the Fountain’s water must be drunk from two silver chalices once belonging to Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León.  So not only do the chalices need to be found, but a mermaid’s tear must also be obtained to allow the person drinking from that chalice to steal the remaining life from the person drinking from the other chalice.  Since it’s been prophesied that Blackbeard will be killed by a one-legged man, he is planning to use the Fountain’s power to escape that fate.
From that point on, the movie becomes a race for the chalices and then for the Fountain, filled with shifting alliances and loyalties as everyone has their own hidden agendas.  Blackbeard proves to be a the most formidable enemy that Jack has encountered and by far the most ruthless one too. Blackbeard has no qualms relegating his crew to certain death in an attempt to capture a mermaid to get the tear he requires.  Between Blackbeard’s pirates, the Spanish forces, and Barbossa’s English soldiers, it’s a a powder-keg just waiting to go off which it does at the end of the movie. Jack being Jack of course, has his own plan that he will attempt to pull off with his usual devious charm.
I love all of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, especially the first one, so I was pretty much predisposed to like this one too.  It’s been interesting to watch this series evolve over time with each new chapter since the first one was whimsical fun, the second one had frenetic action, and the third one offered a surreal finish that a lot of people weren’t crazy about.  This fourth one returns without Orlando Bloom or Keira Knightley which is fine with me since their characters had already run their course during the first three movies.  I was happy to see Geoffrey Rush return as Barbossa since I’ve always enjoyed the frenemy rivalry he’s shared with Jack and also because Rush brings so much to each of these movies.  It was also good to see Gibbs (or Mr. Exposition as I like to think of him) who always helps move the plot forward and can always be counted on to be superstitious about everything.
The real star of this series is without a doubt Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow.  Everyone once in awhile, a role comes along that when matched with the perfect actor it becomes iconic. Whether it’s Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, or Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, or in this case with Depp as Jack Sparrow.  His Jack Sparrow is charming, seemingly muddled and yet quite devious, and he’s an extremely fun character to watch.  You can just tell how much fun Depp has playing this character and it’s infectious to the audience.  On Stranger Tides, is more of a throwback to the first film, as it’s a lot more straight-forward and without the surreal aspects that former director Gore Verbinski included.
Director Rob Marshall keeps things more traditional and offers less action than the previous entries but on the other hand there’s more Captain Jack than before so depending on your view of the character, that can be good or bad. All in all, while this could have been edited better and focused less on the mermaids, it was still a lot of fun.  To me, the perfect Pirates movie would be an adventure that would involve Sparrow and Barbossa traveling together on a road trip of sorts. Their clashes and humor would be a lot of fun to watch and more interesting than some filler characters that won’t be around for the next installment.

Video (5 out of 5 stars)

3D Video (5 out of 5 stars)   2D Video (5 out of 5 stars) 

Disney has an almost perfect track record lately when it comes to their 2D and 3D releases and this one pretty much follows that course.  The movie was filmed in 3D and not post-converted which is always a good thing and it’s 1080p (2.40:1) transfer looks amazing, especially during the daylight scenes.  The darker scenes look as good in 3D but when it’s daytime, the jungle and the beaches just look incredible and real.  The extra sense of depth in the jungle really brings it alive and makes the 3D shine.  There is some minor ghosting issues apparent in some background shots but it never lasts too long or really hurts the experience. 
The forward projection of objects towards the screen isn’t overdone but there’s some cool shots of swords, ropes, a snake, and of course the mermaids that remind you that you are watching a 3D movie.  Both versions offer startling clarity with so much detail that you can count every whisker on Jack’s face.  Colors are stunning and accurate especially in the lush jungle and Hawaiian vistas where the movie was filmed.  Black levels are as dark as it should be without any shadow details lost.  Flesh tones looks natural and appealing and textures also look incredibly detailed.  Once again, Disney has done it again with reference quality video for both versions so whichever one you are interested in, you should be happy with the end result!

Audio (5 out of 5 stars) 

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’ DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mix is just as spectacular as the video quality.  This lossless mix is simply flawless and you will hear and feel every clang of the sword or fireball that comes along.  The front channels offer crystal clear dialogue that is never drowned out by the chaotic effects and music that accompany it.  The rear channels offer an astoundingly immersive experience that is equal to the previous movies. LFE output is a constant powerful force that is beyond cool.  Scenes like Jack and Barbossa trying to keep their balance on Ponce de León’s ship sound fantastic as you can hear the ship creak and splinter all around you.  Hearing the wood groan and crack all around you will put a smile on your lips at just how cool this mix really is.  Once again, Hans Zimmer delivers another thrilling Pirates score that sounds wonderful and is perfectly balanced with the rest of the mix.   This lossless mix represents another stupendous effort from Disney and continues their impeccable track record!

Special Features (4 out of 5 stars) 

Even if you can’t watch 3D right now, you still might want to pick up the 3D edition of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides anyway, since it includes an extra Blu-ray disc packed with high definition extras like a production documentary, a series of featurettes, several deleted scenes, and more which makes the five disc On Stranger Tides 3D release the one to get if you want it all.  If you choose to purchase the 2D release, all you will get is an audio commentary, a blooper reel and some animated LEGO cartoons.  The five disc set will cost you a little bit more money but it might be worth it to you for the extra 75 minutes of high definition extras and to have the future ability to watch the movie in 3D.
  • Disney Second Screen - Once you download this app for your PC or Tablet, you can sync On Stranger Tides to with the Second Screen app to enjoy exclusive behind-the-scenes content and more, including the opportunity to record your own commentary for the movie.
  • Audio Commentary – A talk with Director Rob Marshall and Executive producer John DeLuca who talk about the challenges they faced while making the movie and offer some anecdotes about the movie and the cast as well.  Both men are candid and generous with their praise and it was an interesting track to listen to.
  • Legends of On Stranger Tides – Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, writer Terry Rossio, Johnny Depp, Marshall and other cast and crew members give us a behind the scenes look into the fourth Pirates. In between interviews, we see filming take place in Oahu, Puerto Rico, and in England.  Although this lasts almost an hour, I wish it was even longer, I really enjoyed this all access look at the making of the movie.
  • In Search of the Fountain – A look at the movie’s concept of the Fountain of Youth.  We see the filming location and the set that was built in Pinewood Studios.  I never really liked their concept of the Fountain myself, but the rest of the set looks cool.
  • Last Sail, First Voyage – Ian McShane, Jerry Bruckheimer, and the crew talk about Blackbeard and show the actual transformation of the ship that was used for The Black Pearl into the Queen Anne’s Revenge.  I was kind of sad to see the Black Pearl be stripped away but I have to admit how awesome Blackbeard’s ship looked once they finished.
  • Under the Scene: Bringing Mermaids to Life – A look at creation of the visual effects created for the mermaids delves into the development, design, casting and final look of the film’s siren-like creatures.
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes – Director Rob Marshall introduces five deleted and extended scenes including: “Old Bill,” “Smart Now,” “Tonight,” “Tango” and “Voodoo Doll.”   Almost all of these aren’t really that great but it would have been nice if “Old Bill” had been kept in as it was filmed as a nod to the ride.  With that scene deleted, we still have the one reference to the ride left in the movie – Ponce de Leon in a bed with a magnifying glass.  The extra scene of Angelica and Jack talking about the voodoo doll should have been kept in too.
  • Johnny Vs. Geoffrey – Captain Jack and Captain Barbossa fight and occasionally team up.  Watching them fight and bicker is always fun and we see them rehearsing and improvising some scenes.  As Rush says, if these two ever stopped bickering and teamed up, they would make a formidable team.
  • Lego Pirates of the Caribbean – Some mini tales of LEGO figures based on the characters and situations from Stranger Tides.  This is cute but definitely intended for very young pirates.
  • Bloopers of the Caribbean – Bloopers of the cast messing up their lines and fooling around.  Much of this time is watching Depp try to take off the hat off of Cruz’s hat.  Humorous but not as good as I thought it would be.
  • DVD Copy of the film
  • Digital Copy of the film

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars) 

If the last two Pirates movies were a little too much for you, then you will probably like this one since it’s a throwback to the first film’s straightforward narrative.  Johnny Depp, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush, Penelope Cruz, and the rest of the cast all do a fine job in their roles, but Depp’s Jack Sparrow is always the highlight of these films, and he doesn’t disappoint here.  This Blu-ray set represents reference quality for both its video and audio and I highly recommend this set!
Order your copy today!

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