{2jtab: Movie Review}

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Movie Review


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4 stars

Considering the backhanded critical response On Stranger Tides is getting, file this review under Pirates of the Caribbean: In Defense of the Sublime.  Rob Marshall, veteran director of the musicals Chicago and Nine, takes over the directing reigns from Gore Verbinski and, in a stunning mark of straight-forward staging and clarity, gives fans of Walt Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise exactly what they want: a film that rivals the first one in terms of action, humor, and wit.  Stripped of a confusing narrative from a forced trilogy (see Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End) after the success of the original Pirates of the Caribbean, On Stranger Tides returns familiar faces into the eternal territory of a good ole swashbuckling narrative full of mystery and mermaids and zombies and – of course – pirates.

Screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott finally understand what went right with the original and pen a narrative the opens with Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) rescuing Mr. Gibs (Kevin McNally) from a strange case of mistaken identity as the high court and public thinks he is, humorously enough, the infamous Jack Sparrow.  Lively, witty, and full of buzzing moments of fantastic swordplay, our pirates adventure returns to the sea when Sparrow finds someone disguised as him is recruiting a group of sea-faring men for a trip to the Fountain of Youth.  Turns out it is all a rouse, as the deplorable Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his brazen daughter Angelica (Penelope Cruz) are luring Sparrow (who has previously been to the Fountain) to be their guide across dark waters full of viscous mermaids and zombie pirates.  Unfortunately for Sparrow, hot on his tail is Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) as he has been commissioned to get to the magical waters of youth and eternity before Sparrow.  Yet, with Barbossa – cleverly transformed into a proper King’s man as a privateer – all is not what it seems and, as we near the waters, his real purpose in the narrative expands into one of ship-stealing revenge.

With newcomers Sam Claflin and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, On Stanger Tides makes itself out to be the proper sequel that it is.  No Knightly.  No Bloom.  They are not needed and would only add confusion when simplicity is the goal.  No, this movie is leaner and meaner.  Simply put, On Stranger Tides is a narrative returning Sparrow with the wit and action he showcased in the first. Depp is in fine form, too.  He’s livelier, funnier, and certainly having a hell of a lot of fun throughout the film.  The character’s charm and smarts are on display reminding viewers why he was nominated for an Oscar for the part in the first place.  And what a breath of fresh air it is to see his character back and not the Goofy-like victim he became in the second and third installments.  In one stunning sequence, Depp displays Sparrow’s want for good food and – after a fascinating bit of theatrics and aerial acrobatics – is rewarded.  The cleverness of Sparrow is back.  Certainly, that is something to be celebrated.

Cruz is the perfect foil for Sparrow and their love-hate relationship is a highlight that is scripted as well as it is performed.  Sparrow deserves Angelica and he runs away from his feelings at every chance.  Cruz’s performance, with and without Sparrow, is a great shot in the arm for this Spanish-themed take on Pirates lore.  Salty and sexy, her olive-skinned beauty is a brilliant throwback to the female counterparts every good hero deserves.  And Sparrow, finally at the fore-front of the narrative, is our hero.  Thank God.

Director Marshall, knowing that sequels have to be bigger and livelier, thankfully displays a bit of restraint and lets some of the fantastic visuals – still dark and still mysterious – do the talking for him.  Still, look no further than the backlit sword-fighting scene between Cruz and Depp to see what skill his deft hand brings into the staging of the film.  Surely, the musical knowhow has brought forth a director who knows how to choreograph his actors.  Never missing an opportunity to present his characters as more than what they are, Marshall works the film into a frenzy when Barbossa and Sparrow reunite for an engaging third act.

Disney may have cut corners on the budget of the film, but you can’t really tell.  This is a win for Disney Digital 3D as the film’s use of the 3D technology does not disappoint.  The swords retain their depth when thrust at the screen and the leafy greens of the islands are fully engaging with clarity and presence.  Certainly, filming for 3D with 3D cameras is the way to go, Hollywood.  Converting 2D into 3D will get you nowhere with audiences.  This film delivers a spectacle of an adventure that the 3D only magnifies.  Gloriously captured on film (once again) by cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, the film – while being presented in 3D for the first time since the series’ birth – retains the look and feel of the first three films.  Pirates’ purists need not worry.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a welcome addition to the already established canon of films and doesn’t miss a beat in its tale of high seas adventure in its change of guards.  Marshall and Depp have delivered a fantastic farce that will surely float alongside the rest of the trilogy with a familiar buoyancy that should be enough – in due time – to garner a fifth and sixth film.  Yo ho, yo ho!

{2jtab: Film Details}

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: PG-13 for action/adventure violence.
Director: Rob Marshall
: Ted Elliott
Johnny Depp; Penelope Cruz; Geoffrey Rush; Ian McShane; Keith Richards
: Action | Adventure | Fantasy
Memorable Movie Quote: "Did everyone see that? Because I will not be doing it again."
On Stranger Tides.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date: May 20, 2011
Blu-ray Release Date:
October 18, 2011

Plot Synopsis: "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" captures the fun, adventure and humor that ignited the hit franchise --this time in Disney Digital 3D(TM). In this action-packed tale of truth, betrayal, youth and demise, Captain Jack Sparrow crosses paths with a woman from his past (Penelope Cruz), and he's not sure if it's love--or if she's a ruthless con artist who's using him to find the fabled Fountain of Youth. When she forces him aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge, the ship of the formidable pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), Jack finds himself on an unexpected adventure in which he doesn't know who to fear more: Blackbeard or the woman from his past.

{2jtab: Blu-ray/DVD Review}

On Stranger Tides Blu-ray Review

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
4 stars

3 Stars

Blu-ray Experience
3.5 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - October 18, 2011
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1; French: DTS-HD HR 7.1; Spanish: DTS-HD HR 7.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); DVD copy; Mobile features
Playback: Region A

Disney's 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer gets a dimly lit workout on ship and at sea and it delivers the goods with black levels that are never inky or blotchy and a bit of gold-tinged splendor in the lighted scenes.  The photography is – by design – dark and full of magical smoky settings.  The color palette is warm and vibrant and darkly bold with earth tones and blazing reds.  The muscled DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track shows its chiseled abs in moments full of soundtrack vibrato and heroics.



  • Via anecdotes and other notes, Executive producer John DeLuca and director Rob Marshall are our commentary guides.  While they keep things on the straight and narrow by talking about the difficulties with the shoot, their enthusiasm during the commentary is a bit measured…even if they do spend entirely too much time praising their work.

Special Features:

The 2-disc blu-ray packaging comes with a reflective cover and the DVD copy of the film. Disney doesn’t spend a lot of time with meaningful featurettes, though. Disney’s Second Screen is the highlight of this feature which is great for iPad owners as it allows you to expand your look into the film with bonus content and other interactive menus. What’s left is a blooper reel and a LEGO animated short. On Stranger Tides gets a bit of the shaft here; a disappointing release for fans of the series and its usually whimsical featurettes.

  • LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean (5 min)
  • Bloopers of the Caribbean (3 min)

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