Watching Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, newly available on Blu-ray, it’s hard to believe the 2003 original was such a surprisingly fun summer blockbuster. Pirate movies in general were basically box office poison and basing a feature-length movie on a theme park ride seemed preposterous. But several hundred million dollars later, and an Oscar nod for Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, everyone was clamoring for more adventures. On Stranger Tides is the fourth film in a series that, while still an international phenomenon, has grown increasingly bereft of good ideas. It huffs and puffs, with one absurdly over the top action set piece after another. But even though it’s shorter than the other sequels, it drags under the weight of a ludicrously inconsequential plot.
This convoluted mess concerns a painfully slow “race” to discover Juan Ponce de León’s fabled fountain of youth. Sparrow (Depp, of course, this time coasting without a shred of inspiration) finds out that he is being impersonated by a female named Angelica (franchise newcomer Penelope Cruz). The movie shamefully dispenses with the potentially interesting idea of a female Captain Jack almost immediately. It turns out Angelica, a former love interest of Sparrow’s, is the fearsome pirate Blackbeard’s daughter. Blackbeard (Ian McShane) is a voodoo master capable of zombifying his crew members. Blackbeard wants to find the fountain, but so does longtime Sparrow rival Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Blackbeard enlists Angelica and Sparrow to aid him in his quest, trying to beat Barbossa to the punch.
None of it amounts to more than a loud, messy bore. Mermaids are encountered (their tears are a vital ingredient for the fountain of youth to have the desired effect), huge battles are fought, and supernatural powers are displayed. But after a promising beginning in London with Sparrow escaping the King of England and leading a wild, fiery horse chase through cobblestone streets, the movie heaves and sputters as it tries to gain traction. But an endless procession of slam-bang action sequences do not add up to a compelling story. Then again, On Stranger Tides grossed over one billion dollars worldwide in its theatrical release so I guess somebody liked it. And it’s not over. A fifth Pirates film has been confirmed for the summer of 2013. One can only hope the filmmakers can concoct some fresh ideas for a change.
The technical aspects of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides are not a concern. In fact, this is one of the most impressive visual Blu-ray presentations I’ve ever seen. Even in the darkest, dimly lit nighttime scenes, detail is extremely strong. Daylight scenes are even better, with bold colors bursting off the screen. Every inch of the intricately detailed pirate costumes is well defined. This is a wonderfully sharp picture, with nothing to complain about. The set and costume design, as well as the visual effects, are so fully realized, the high definition presentation needed to be as close to flawless as possible. Disney has met those requirements.