Pirates with Spoilers

I totally want to have a discussion of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, but I don’t want to spoil it for anybody.

So I’m putting the rest of this post behind a cut tag.

Some critics are complaining that the ending is unsatisfactory. This is because the film ends in the middle of the second act of the three-act play.

Here’s a refresher on what usually defines the “acts” in modern western cinema, at least in terms of the core conflict:
Act I: the protagonist(s) set out to resolve a conflict
Act II: (first half) progress is made on resolving the conflict.
Act II: (second half) we learn that the REAL conflict is something bigger, or something else entirely.
Act III: All conflicts are resolved.

In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest the audience may be tempted to view that film as a single, complete, three-act play.

Act I: Will sets out to save Elizabeth
Act II: Will discovers he’s really saving his Father, as well as anybody else in Davy Jones’ “employ.”
Act III: Will and Elizabeth are reunited (check!), Davy Jones’ weakness is discovered (check!) and successfully exploited (oops…)

That “oops” in Act III causes the third Act to fail to satisfy many viewers.

So look at it this way instead:

Act I: Will sets out to save Elizabeth, Elizabeth sets out to save Will, and Captain Jack Sparrow sets out to save himself.
Act II: (first half) Will, Jack, and Elizabeth all reach their goal simultaneously.
Act II: (beginning of second half) Commodore Norrington foils their plans to destroy Davy Jones, turning control of Jones over to Lord Beckett and the East India Trading Company. We (the audience) realize that the EITC suddenly has not only the force of law (Beckett has deposed the Governor, usurped his authority, and controls the British fleet in the area) but the force of Davy Jones (who can theoretically be threatened with destruction, and pressed into EITC service.)

What happens in the NEXT movie? Well… it should be obvious:

Act II (second half): Beckett and the EITC are exposed to the protagonists as the real threat.
Act III: the conflict is resolved… because, you know, it’s western cinema. The conflict HAS to be resolved.

For the second film to work, however, it can’t just complete the first. It also has to have a three-act structure itself… otherwise us antsy-pants western viewers won’t know how to sit still through it. We need cues to tell us when to cheer, and when to feel threatened. We expect to be manipulated, but it has to be done pro forma, or we’ll complain.

Using the standard conflict formula for a three-act play, then, and mapping it onto the existing one-point-five-act arc, we should end up with the following:

Act I: Jack Sparrow’s crew sets out in search for Jack, led by (spoiler alert) the my-he-looks-fresh Captain Barbossa. During the quest, they discover how huge a threat the EITC is now that Davy Jones reports to Lord Beckett.
Act II: (first half) Jack is back, but there are strings attached.
Act II: (second half) Barbossa betrays them, all looks bleak. Oh, and something I have no ability to predict happens.
Act III: Barbossa, Jones, and Beckett are all put down, the strings still attached to Jack are cut, and he drops out of the Jack-Elizabeth-Will love triangle. Whatever unpredictable thing came up also gets resolved.

Clear as mud?

On a related note… do you know why the second Act is so often broken into two pieces? Because that’s where the intermission goes. And that’s where we are, right now: in a one-year intermission, in which we’re allowed to leave the theater and eat whatever we want.

I smell fried chicken upstairs. Yum!

30 thoughts on “Pirates with Spoilers”

  1. I don’t mind a discussion. Although I can’t delve into the proper dramatic format (absolutely no drama background, I was the tech geek) I can speak quite well about the movie and special effects. I caught the midnight showing last night at our local theatre (nephew is a huge fan of the franchise), and despite the 2.5 hour run time, we enjoyed it completely. Lots of people were unhappy with the abrupt ending, but unless you’ve been in a hole, most people know they shot 2 and 3 together. I thought they picked a good point to transistion into the next one. My only complaint had to be Davy Jones’ crew. 100 years of forced service upon the Flying Dutchman as and undead sailor can take a toll on the body (rotting, blotting, barnucles, sea life taking up residence in your walking corpse, etc), but at what point does it change you into sea-life. I’m refering specifically to the hammerhead shark guy and the hermit crab head one. Everything else seemed to fit well (even the guy who had rotted away so much that he had basically become a lamp stand), but the guys that were ‘transforming’ seemed out of place. But all in all we enjoyed it quite a bit and are looking forward to the next one.

    1. My only complaint had to be Davy Jones’ crew. 100 years of forced service upon the Flying Dutchman as and undead sailor can take a toll on the body (rotting, blotting, barnucles, sea life taking up residence in your walking corpse, etc), but at what point does it change you into sea-life.

      At what point did Davy Jones’ deal with the devil turn Jones into sea-life? THAT’s the key, really. The magic that allows DJ to have an octopus for a head, a crab claw for a hand, and (most importantly) breathe underwater is probably “bestowed” upon his crew in parts and parcels for each year they’ve worked with him.

      Poor Bootstrap Bill… Eight years of service (certainly no more than 10, based on what we know) and all he’s got is some crusties and a starfish attached to his head. He still looks like a common swabbie.

      1. Poor Bootstrap Bill… Eight years of service (certainly no more than 10, based on what we know) and all he’s got is some crusties and a starfish attached to his head. He still looks like a common swabbie.

        Haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m BETTING somewhere in there is a joke about him getting crabs…

      2. I might buy that, but now that I think about it, there was one other sticking point. When the crew returned the cursed gold in the first movie, they all became mortal again…right? I’m not hitting on why Barbosa is still around, I’m sure they’ll explain it in the next one. But since the rest of the crew, turned back from the undead, why is the monkey still undead (besides all the fun of shooting an undead monkey)?

        1. I don’t know why the monkey is still undead, but it was a hilarious touch, and it’s obviously a clue as to Barbosa’s condition: Sandra pointed out to me that when the monkey went into the back in the witch’s shack, there was a pair of boots to be seen, and the monkey looked up at SOMEBODY.

          What was Barbosa doing with the witch? What was she doing with him?

          In my analysis in the original post above, I’ve left out a heart-warming possibility: the plot twist in the next film may involve the witch turning on everybody, and sending zombie gator-men after them.

          1. I caught the boots and that the monkey recognized the wearer. Kinda figured it be Barbosa, everyone else that was a principal was already accounted for one way or another. There’s obviously something going on with the witch and Barbosa (somethings got to explain why he’s still alive). Not to mention that the witch has what looked like a duplicate of the pendant/music box that Davy Jones had on his organ. We figured that she’s the one that he was supposed to marry, kinda explained the piratey wedding style dress that she was wearing as well. Of course, since there’s a year until the sequel, I’m sure there will be alot of speculation as to what’s going to happen next.

          2. The reason for the undead monkey is the very, very end-clip from the first movie. If I recall correctly, the little after-the-credits tag from the first movie had the monkey returning to the chest and stealing a coin. So, while the curse was broken on everyone, the monkey basically recursed himself, which would not affect anyone else.

            Oh, and Barbossa being back? Well, come on! She’s a witchy-voodoo woman! Were you really all THAT surprised? 😀

          1. That makes sense. I’ve watched the first one a half dozen times and don’t remember that. I’ll have to dig out my DVD and watch the end again.

  2. I was greatly amused to wake this morning and read that you would be seeing the 9:30 am show – since I read it as my wife and I readied the children to be dropped off on our way to the 11 am show.

    We quite enjoyed it. Especially the part where the alien invaders ate the brains. Ooops, maybe that should have had a spoiler warning?

    Seriously though, I agree with your perception of the problems with three-part presentations in Western Cinema. Fortunately, I felt like the end of Movie:The 2nd was well done. That is, while obviously it presented the plot for the remaining acts, it also gave some closure.

    My wife pointed out that this is the sort of movie that she likes best. Some romance, and quite a bit of action and comedy. Like Star Wars, or something.

      1. It’s the obvious comparison to the modern american audience who usually doesn’t see an original trilogy with a middle chapter that ends on a “downbeat”.

        I actually wasn’t going to see this until a certain cartoonist said favorable things about it. So I went tonight and was rather amazed that they could make the second chapter so… well, well.

  3. I’m not sure if/how this fits into your theories in regard to the next film (which IMDb is now reporting is entitled PotC: At World’s End), but reports (I’m thinking in Premiere and Entertainment Weekly magazines) have it featuring Chow Yun-Fat as an additional lead (a villain?) and taking place (at least partially) in the Pacific. For what it’s worth.

    Speaking for myself, having just emerged from a screening…I liked it, but not a whole lot farther than that. I thought it was amazingly well-made, even if storywise it was very much in the tradition of Back to the Future Part II and The Matrix Reloaded–i.e., moving the pieces around the board to get them set up properly for endgame. (The fifth Harry Potter book was like that, too.)

    1. Besides the early reports of POTC: At World’s End including Chow Yun-Fat, there are also reports of Keith Richards (who Johnny Depp based the Jack Sparrow mannerisms off of) appearing in the final installment as Jack Sparrow’s father.

  4. Re: You weren’t the only one to see the film!

    Except we have a realtime link to Howard, and that “Rose” strip has been waiting in queue with the syndicate for at least two weeks.

    1. Re: You weren’t the only one to see the film!

      Oh, probably, but given all the hype that went along with this (including the Volvo stunt), it’s still funny…. 🙂

  5. I enjoyed it while I was watching it, but was left unsatisfied. Jack/Will/Elizabeth face a pirate ship with a bizarre immortal crew in a race to find a treasure that holds the key to defeating said pirates. Hmmm, have I seen this before? The actors are brilliant in their roles, but besides that, there is no real reason to ever watch it again, which is my usual standard for judging a movie.

    1. there is no real reason to ever watch it again, which is my usual standard for judging a movie.

      I’ll second that. Plus, I’ve just finished immersing myself in some vintage Akira Kurosawa. Pretty much anything pales in comparison.

    2. I went and saw a late showing the night it came out, and then again the next day because a friend wanted to see it with somebody. Honestly? I was dissapointed the first time I saw it, it seemed disjointed, unexplained, and the ending wasn’t what I expected. The second time I saw it, however, I was able to follow it quite a bit better, and I was able to sit back and just enjoy the movie now that I knew the plot. It’s something I’ll buy on dvd.

  6. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had known there was going to be a “too be continued” at the end. Since I wasn’t expecting it, I left the theater disappointed, dispite it being a really good movie.

    1. Exactly my feeling. I didn’t even know they had filmed a third movie until just before I saw it. As it stands, I felt like they gave me half a movie…. If I had expected it, I’d be able to hold more onto my response of “that was cool!”

  7. As a counterpoint to your slight complaint:
    This is classic Light Entertainment Theater. Originality isn’t part of the expectation. 😉

  8. I thought it was wonderful. Rather than feel disappointed at the lack closure at the end of the movie I channeled that energy into excitement over the next movie which lies merely a year away.

  9. Oddly enough, this was exactly the framework I was looking at in. Mainly, I remembered this in the context of a conversation about Star Wars, and it really does map out quite nicely:

    1st Movie: Introduce and defeat original threat.
    2nd Movie: Introduce more threats, dig the protaganists into a deep hole (and, apparently, ‘kill’ one with options for future retrieval (Han Solo in carbonite anyone?)
    3rd Movie: Resolve everything and kill the Emperor and Dar… I mean Becket and Davy Jones

    This actually occurred to me walking out of the theatre (saw it on opening night), and it matches quite well in my opinion.

    Three acts to three movies…

    As someone said elsewhere, I’ve seen this before… with starships and lightsabers instead of schooners and cutlasses. Doesn’t make it any less fun!

  10. I do think it was too long.

    And I don’t think it needed the Kiera-Orlando conflict. I just didn’t buy her being interested in Cap’m Jack.

    Stuff I didn’t like: how did Davy Jones teleport over to the Black Pearl (when Jack offers 100 souls in exchange for his own)? I mean, why couldn’t he use that power to teleport to the chest? Or to the Pearl later on, when it was getting away?

    And that kracken sure is fooled easily.

    And why again did Jack need to have Davy Jones alive? Was it because the kracken would keep hunting him or something?

    I was surprised the sand didn’t actually DO anything for him.

    Why were the two cages racing? Was it because whoever got to the top first wouldn’t wait for the other cage, or somesuch?

    Elizabeth swordfighting the sea-men. How can you beat guys that can’t be killed? We see them stabbed a bunch, but what is that supposed to do, really?

    Elizabeth passing as a man so easily. For heaven’s sake, rub some grease on your face, woman!

    All the good guys getting killed by that mean kracken.

    Stuff I did like: The effects were amazing. Well, the sets and costumes and makeup and the effects. Like, the Black Pearl, beached? Holy cow. That was cool to see.

    Bootstraps Turner’s reason for joining up with Davy Jones.

    The undead monkey.

    Lots of jokes here and there.

    Jack getting crunched into the rolling wheel.

    The commodore! Man, he was cool, all roughed-up like that. But I would’ve liked to know his goal — getting back in the service — before it popped up. Have him sneak after them, rather than being totally trusted.

    Cap’m Barbossa turning up. That was fun.

    Overall, it had some great stuff, but I definitely preferred the first one. Yar!

    1. She wasn’t interested in captain jack. The compass pointed to him because at that moment what she wanted most was to know who was responsible for will’s conscription into Davy Jones’s crew. She kissed jack to distract him while she made him sacrifice himself.

      The problems that I had with the film were,

      Barbossa: why was he alive? I guess we’ll find out next film, but it’s a little annoying.

      the kiss: where did she get the idea that the kraken was after jack? it was clearly attacking the pearl when jack was a half mile away in a rowboat.

      the end: why did they all want to find jack? at that point in the film he’d been generally a jerk and tried to doublecross pretty much everyone in the room.

      Still, I agree it was a fun movie. And I really liked having the thinly veiled, accidental Al Gore reference.

      1. oops

        Forgot to type what the reference was…

        It probably only made sense to my own deranged wit, but I couldn’t help but chuckle at the fact that the MacGuffin they sought so desparately was Davy Jones’ Lock Box.

Comments are closed.