Let’s just get this out of the way: I’m a huge fan of the Disney theme parks. With that preface, the Pirates of the Caribbean series holds a special place in my heart, but it also makes the admission that Pirates 3 was a disappointment all the more difficult. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl was an action-film masterpiece, and Dead Man’s Chest, while slightly less impressive, was an enjoyable romp. But Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End was painfully scattershot compared to the first two, with so much attention paid to the “CG porn” special effects that the script lost track of the personality and character development that made the first two films so great.
Having been so disappointed with the theatrical release (which I saw opening night), I cracked open the Blu-ray Disc version of Pirates 3 with much trepidation. Did I really want to re-live the disappointment? Would I actually manage to find some depth that hadn’t been there before? Would either of the deleted scenes fill in some much-needed blanks? To all of these, the answer was “no.” Yet to make matters worse, the retail Blu-ray Disc I used for this review had such egregious coding errors that the overall Pirates 3 experience on Blu-ray Disc was downright maddening. Good thing I have such affection for Disneyland and Walt Disney World, or I might have been tempted to boycott Disney entirely.
The Blu-ray version of Pirates of the Caribbean 3 is presented on two discs, much like the DVD version appeared on two DVDs. In spite of the formats” capacity differences, though, the Blu-ray bonus content is absolutely identical to the DVD, save for one BD-exclusive feature called Enter the Maeilstrom: The Interactive Experience. Comprised of more than 20 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, Enter the Maelstrom is akin to a “choose your fate” presentation in which an eight-minute time-lapse video of the set’s construction (narrated by Jerry Bruckheimer) is periodically interrupted with small icons that viewers can click to hear more about specific aspects. From lighting and electrical to special effects and stunts, this feature provides a comprehensive, exhaustive — and redundant — look at the process of creating Hollywood’s most expensive and lavish sequence.
This redundancy isn’t due to bad content, necessarily, but to the decision to make the Blu-ray set identical in bonus content to the DVDs. Because of this, much of the information communicated in Enter the Maelstrom is also covered in a second bonus feature, Anatomy of a Scene: The Maelstrom (19:25), which is edited and presented much more naturally and, to be blunt, feels much less lazy. Enter the Maelstrom is billed as an interactive feature, but it really seems like the same content from “Anatomy,” but sliced up in a way that eliminated the need for extra editing and tossed together with the most confusing content-navigational interface ever coded. Even worse, though, is that the interview audio in half of the main exploratory segments doesn’t even work, leaving you with pretty pictures and background music but not a single lick of voice work. Kind of hard to learn anything from the features when you can’t even hear them. The constant switching between 1080p and 1080i video is just annoying icing on the crap cake that is this feature.
Three other bonus features succumb to these same audio issues: Hoist the Colours (4:38), which interviews composer Hans Zimmer on the inspiration and process of creating the a capella song that opens the movie; Masters of Design (25:54), a series of interviews with costume, map and set designers that are actually pretty good–if you don’t mind reading lips on three of them; and the aforementioned Anatomy of a Scene, which includes background music but no audio track from the actual people being interviewed. It’s not a matter of the feature itself having errors; a double-check of the DVD version verified that it works flawlessly and is actually informative and entertaining.
Outside of these three bonus features, the rest of the Pirates of the Caribbean 3 Blu-ray Disc content works perfectly. The traditional fare is intact: Bloopers of the Caribbean (5:21) includes a series of outtakes, mistakes, miscues and forgotten lines; and Deleted Scenes (2:28) shows two never-before-seen scenes in which Barbosa and Capt. Jack argue over controlling the Black Pearl, and Pintel and Ragetti debate the value of riddles versus the despair of being caught in the middle of one. Yet as mildly entertaining as these two brief scenes may be, the remaining five features are much more engrossing.
Keith & The Captain (4:40) is a brief feature about the experience of working with Rolling Stones star Keith Richards. For all the drunken inspiration Johnny Depp got from Keith Richards the man, you’d never know Richards was anything other than a humble rock star, as the various interviews in this feature attest. That is, of course, until you hear and see just how revered he was on set by everyone involved in the production.
This reverence carried over to Chow Yun Fat, who’s the subject of yet another bonus feature, The World of Chow Yun Fat (4:12). As the world’s biggest movie star (based on his popularity in China and China’s massive population), one might expect Chow Yun Fat to be somewhat arrogant. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Through a series of subtitled interviews, it’s clear that Chow Yun Fat “keeps it real” when on-set, even as the rest of the cast looks up to him like The Godfather. The only mystery here is why he conducted the interviews in Chinese; in the behind-the-scenes footage it’s obvious that he speaks perfect English.
The Tale of Many Jacks (4:48) chronicles how the camera crew, stunt doubles and editors pulled off a series of scenes in which Johnny Depp appears three or more times as himself on a single screen. Anyone who’s watched the oompa loompa bonus feature on Depp’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will find nothing new here, but the interviews with Depp’s stunt doubles are pretty funny. Likewise, Inside the Brethren Court (10:26) is an entertaining and occasionally comical series of biographies and back stories of the eight other pirate lords who assemble toward the end of Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End.
It’s only appropriate to end with The Pirate Maestro (10:29), a feature about composer Hans Zimmer, because the music is all you’ll hear in the aforementioned features with no interview tracks. In this feature, Zimmer comes across as a down-to-Earth, sincere man who truly appreciates the art of music. This love comes through in the video of his experimentation with seldom-heard instruments, as well as his interactions with director Gore Verbinski (who played the electric guitar in the climactic final song, by the way).
Unfortunately, Zimmer’s love is about the only positive emotion you’ll experience with this Blu-ray Disc, a sad fact that’s due strictly to the errors with half of the bonus features. The Disc’s multimedia presentation is top-notch, with uncompressed PCM thumping and filling the room appropriately, and the AVC MPEG-4 video playback showing the least amount of film grain I’ve ever seen on a live-action Blu-ray Disc. Even the menu system is great, with the main video going into thumbnail mode in the top right corner while the options appear legibly on the rest of the screen. But I buy Blu-ray Discs in large part for the excellence and volume of the accompanying bonus features, and while the bonus-feature volume is there with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, the lack of interview audio in four of those features sinks this ship faster than the Flying Dutchman attacking a dinghy.
– Jonas Allen