Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Blu-ray)

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Rating: PG-13

Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow
Penélope Cruz as Angelica
Geoffrey Rush as Hector Barbossa
Ian McShane as Blackbeard
Sam Claflin as Philip
Astrid Berges-Frisbey as Syrena
Kevin McNally as Gibbs
Richard Griffiths as King George II
Stephen Graham as Scrum
Gemma Ward as Tamara
Keith Richards as Captain Teague
Roger Allam as Henry Pelham
Óscar Jaenada as Spaniard
Greg Ellis as Lieutenant Theodore Groves

Directed by Rob Marshall

Special Features:
Bloopers of the Caribbean
LEGO Animated Shorts: Captain Jack’s Brick Tales
Disney Second Screen
Audio Commentary by Director Rob Marshall

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.40:1)
DTS-HD MA 7.1 Sound
Spanish and French Languages
Spanish and French Subtitles
Running Time: 64 Minutes

The Details:
The following is the official description of the film:

“From Disney and Producer Jerry Bruckheimer comes all the fun, epic adventure and humor that ignited the original. Johnny Depp returns as 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 (Penelope 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. Directed by Rob Marshall, it’s filled with eye-popping battle scenes, mystery and all-out wit. Complete with a bounty of bonus features, this is one thrilling journey you won’t want to end.”

“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo.

The Movie:
Like many, I was fearful for a fourth Pirates movie after the bloated mess of the third installment. In the end, I concluded that while all of the backstabbing, double-crossing and side-changing didn’t help matters, the root problem with “At World’s End” was a wholly uninteresting villain in the form of the East India Trading Co.’s weasely Cutler Beckett. The promise of Blackbeard in the fourth movie was a welcomed sign.

“On Stranger Tides” takes the best parts of the first film – some straight lifts such as the rafter duel in the Pirate’s Daughter pub that echoes Jack and Will’s duel in the blacksmith’s shop – and the second – a villain with supernatural tendencies and monstrous crew – and pulls together an entertaining adventure. Depp is solid once again as the slightly tweaked Sparrow and Penélope Cruz is a welcome addition to the cast as Angelica – a woman who can take all Sparrow can dish out and give it right back. It is also good to see the others back, including Kevin McNally’s Gibbs. There are a few new pirates that are nice additions as well, including Scrum played by Stephen Graham as a comic foil… kind of a hybrid of qualities from both Pintel and Ragetti from the previous films.

The look of the film is stellar. Anyone overly concerned about the transition of directors – from Gore Verbinski to Rob Marshall – and its potential impact on the setting and tone of the franchise can relax.

The score also is strong. While a good part of it is familiar, the addition of unique Spanish acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela makes the newer, themed material pop.

My biggest disappointment with “On Stranger Tides” sadly was my biggest hope going into the movie – Ian McShane’s Blackbeard. I was hopeful that he would bring a menacing evil every time he was on screen, and while it is there in spurts, it falls well short of expectations. It takes too long for him to show up in the movie and by the end of the film, he is revealed as a scared old man afraid of a random, and unexplained, prophecy about his own death. While we’re on the subject of background information, I would have also liked a bit of history on his sword, which, beyond his voodoo practices, appeared to be the source of much of his power in the film.

“On Stranger Tides” also suffers a bit from the multi-prong storytelling that has become an unfortunate staple of the franchise. Writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio handle this only a bit better than they did in the last film. The back-and-forth coupled with the hidden agenda hijinks can create severe viewer fatigue over the course of a 137-minute film. Here, we basically have five separate quests going on – Jack’s, Barbossa’s, Angelica’s, Blackbeard’s and the Spanish. And the one with less of a horse in this race is the film’s franchise character – Jack Sparrow. In the end, he seems to be there only to ‘do the right thing.’

While he mentions at the end of “At World’s End” his desire to taste the waters of the Fountain of Youth, once he actually arrives, with water in chalice, he shows no interest in the life-giving nectar at all. He reacts selflessly, as he did with his shot at immortality at the end of “At World’s End,” which begs the question… does he really want to live forever, as he suggests? This question is addressed rather sloppily at the end of “On Stranger Tides.”

In the end, the fourth film in the Pirates series is its third best, beating out the bloated “At World’s End,” but falling short of both “Curse of the Black Pearl,” which remains the high water mark, and “Dead Man’s Chest.” The adventures are to continue with at least two more films, if the industry types are to be believed, so there is still time to right the ship… so to speak. “On Stranger Tides” is a wind shift in the right direction, but there is still many days journey ahead. If only we had Jack’s trusty compass to help point Disney and the film team in the direction of what our hearts desire most… a great Pirates film.

The Extras:
This Blu-ray unfortunately has most of its bonus features on the “Disney Second Screen” feature. What this means is you’re supposed to download an app for your iPad or computer, then watch the bonus features as the movie plays. There are two problems with this. First, I can’t review that until the app goes online and it isn’t online yet. So I have no idea what’s on it. Second, if you don’t have an iPad or computer, then you’re flat out of luck. There’s no alternative way to watch that extra content outside of Disney Second Screen. So what’s left on the Blu-ray? You get some bloopers and an audio commentary. That’s it. Now you can actually get more bonus features if you buy the 3D Blu-ray, but that’s pretty useless if you don’t have a 3D TV. In short, if you haven’t spent extra money on an iPad or 3D HDTV, then you’re going to have trouble seeing bonus features. I don’t understand what Disney was thinking doing this.