Many years ago Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer took a gamble. Not two productions companies known for taking risks, they’re more likely to base their decisions on market research more than creative ingenuity, so it’s unusual that they took the chance. In hindsight it hardly seems like much of a risk at all but you have to look at things in their original context. Pirate movies hadn’t been in vogue for decades and the last one to give it a go – Cutthroat Island – was a massive bomb. Throw in new-comer actors, a relatively unproven director, a water shoot, heavy use of special effects and an art-house focused actor heading up the poster.
When the movie proved to be a success far beyond anyone’s expectations the producers rushed into production on not one but two sequels (which concluded with a lead into a fourth) without pausing to proof-read the script, re-negotiate contracts or even let everyone catch their breath. The sequels all performed below par and received reviews that were mediocre at best.
It really shouldn’t have been difficult. And if they’d listened to me, they could’ve gotten it right.
10. Keep the CGI subtle.
For those old enough to remember Terminator 2 or Jurassic Park arriving in cinemas, you’d remember that the first thing people talked about upon leaving the cinema was the amazing computer effects. That was decades ago. While we do recognise the vast amount of technology and man hours that goes into producing a CGI Kraken the achievement itself doesn’t impress us any more. Unless the effects are well shot, have some interesting design work going into them and form part of a strong story it’s not going to interest us. In fact, the more time you spend creating scenes for us the gawp at, the quicker we’re going to get bored. Verbinski and Marshall needed to think of effects like Peter Jackson who is quoted as saying that ideally an audience wouldn’t pause to note the effects because they’re so well integrated into the movie. ‘Pirates’ did manage this on occasion – Davey Jones’ beard for example – but mostly it was fail.
- This is a little much.
9. Don’t make every character a lead character.
Do you know what was funny? That guy with the wooden eyeball and his wisecracking mate! Of course they won’t be in the sequel, it wouldn’t make any sense – unless they turn up having escaped capture somehow and switch sides for some reason that everyone accepts and somehow play a part in a story that has no part for them. Wait, they did that? What the hell for?! There are exactly three characters who were required to appear in the sequels and everyone else should’ve been left behind, or if you had a contract to fulfill, perhaps make someone like Norrington the new villain since his motivation is already laid out.
8. Remember that bigger does not mean better.
Ask anyone what their favourite scene from the four movies is and no-one will tell you it was the bit when the voodoo lady turned into a giant god and they all fought insight a massive whirlpool. That’s not even going to rank as the best action sequence in the movie. Spending the most money of a scene and blowing it out of proportion is not going to do anything to make it more interesting.
- Pictured: Not Better.
7. Don’t introduce characters who serve no purpose.
It’s bad enough that they keep dredging up everyone who made a cameo in the first film for pointless roles in the sequels, but then you start introduces characters who serve no purpose on top of them. Remember Chow Yan Fat being in the third film? Remember what purpose he served? None. Ditto the priest dude in the fourth film. Cut them out, reduce cost, screen time and pointlessness.
- “Down here? I’m looking for a reason for my character to be in this movie.”
6. Direct your actors.
If you’ve seen the fourth movie in the franchise you’ll know what I mean when I say that quite often the actors repeat the routines that they’ve already done with less enthusiasm and a slight sense of confusion. When a movie gets made, it gets made out of order. Part of a directors job is to ensure that the actors know what is happening in a scene and how they should play it. As great as Depp and Rush were in the original, it was a result of collaboration with the director and sitting back saying ‘be Jack Sparrow’ isn’t going to cut it.
5. Keep it simple.
Once your script is written take a close look at it and cut out every single scene that does not directly contribute towards driving the story forward. Just because trilogies are in fashion doesn’t mean people won’t go and see your film unless it’s part of one. The combined story in the second and third films had enough substance for a two hour film and they mercilessly padded it out with nonsense just to milk everyone for another ticket sale.
4. Keep yourselves in check.
What makes the characters in the first film so entertaining to watch is that they’re having a great time playing pirate. Sadly this extended to them feeling pretty pleased with themselves in the sequels. They well deserved the acclaim they received for the original film, but acclaim isn’t enough to build a good movie. Instead of celebrating their success, maybe they should’ve looked at ways to challenge themselves before succumbing to ‘Ocean’s 12 Syndrome’.
3. Keep things bright or colourful.
Sorry, did someone forget to pay the electricity bill after the third film? Everything that isn’t obscured in shadow is bathed in a dark blue light. These used to be bright and colourful adventure films and now it’s as visually stimulating as a mattress. You’re set in a bright, eye-catching locale, you can at least make the most of it.
- “I left my boat around here somewhere…”
2. Let the dead characters stay dead.
When a major character gets killed off it marks a significant moment in a narrative. When you bring back a character who’s already had a major death scene it takes away all the significance that moment had. When you bring back a dead character for completely pointless reasons it makes it even more frustrating. Now it doesn’t matter that Jack breaks the curse and finally gets his revenge on Barbossa because he’ll come back from the dead (somehow) and they’ll team up and become BFFs. The death of Jack Sparrow is even more pointless because they were posters for the next film in the series featuring him front and centre. We knew going into the movie that he was bulletproof, so don’t waste our time.
- Honestly, by the time they look like this it’s time to let them go.
1. Remember who your main character is.
It’s not Jack Sparrow. It’s Will Turner. The movie began and ended with his relationship with Elizabeth Swan, and said relationship became the driving force behind every action in the movie. Sparrow was along for the ride, providing much needed guidance and skills in helping Will rescue Elizabeth. Saying Jack Sparrow in the hero in Curse of the Black Pearl is akin to saying Han Solo was the main character in Star Wars. He’s our favourite character because he is funny and doesn’t care about anything – something you can’t do if you’re the protagonist.
- Remember me?
When the sequels rolled around the producers got distracted by the money crowding up their office and got it into their heads that Sparrow should be the main character, leaving the roles of Will and Elizabeth uncertain and ultimately distracting. Making Jack Sparrow the lead role also meant he’d have to take things a bit more seriously, which is not what we wanted at all.
Really, the next time you want to make a Pirates… movie, give me a call.