It is still somewhat beyond belief that a series of pirate movies based on a theme park attraction could become a 21st century multi-billion dollar entertainment franchise. Yet, as Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides proves, Disney's hottest entertainment property still remains commercially viable and surprisingly, critically bulletproof. It sails into home entertainment venues this week.
I passed on seeing this latest POTC adventure in a multiplex setting, preferring to wait for a high definition living room experience (a $25 Blu-ray remains a substantially better value than a family of four night at the movies with bloated concession stand prices and 3D surcharges). My verdict? It was an exceptionally well-crafted and often visually stunning endeavor with an engaging cast that manages to entertain despite some rather muddled storytelling. I am an enthusiastic fan of the original POTC trilogy (At World's End included), so I was likely more forgiving of the film's flaws than most. And although Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow remains the driving force of the franchise, it is Geoffrey Rush's Captain Barbossa, quite prominently featured in On Stranger Tides, that I personally find the greater draw. With all due respect to Depp, it is the Barbossa character that seems the most rooted in the style and themes of the original theme park presentations. Penelope Cruz is an adequate if not wholly inspired addition to the ensemble, while Ian McShane's performance as Blackbeard proves somewhat low key and understated. The script, certainly less complex than previous POTC entries, still frequently suffers when necessary expository dialogue is performed in rather quick and heavily accented pirate-speak orations.
Disney Home Entertainment continues to frustrate with its increasingly maddening strategies of content distribution among its release packages. Be aware that there are very distinct differences between the normal Blu-ray package and the Blu-ray 3D set that runs an extra $10. If you are without the need for a 3D copy (which the vast majority of consumer still are), you will be slighted a digital copy of the film and an additional Blu-ray disc of bonus features. In that regard, I am unable to speak to the quality or significance of these features: Legends of On Stranger Tides, In Search of the Fountain, Last Sail/First Voyage, Under the Scene: Bringing Mermaids to Life, and Deleted and Extended Scenes with Rob Marshall. The normal Blu-ray does contain a scant handful of bonus features, most significantly the Disney Second Screen. Also included are Bloopers of the Caribbean and Lego Animated Shorts: Captain Jack's Brick Tales. It is a shame that Disney continues to penalize consumers who have no need for a 3D Blu-ray version of the movie.