" I’ve got a government job to abuse "
— John Travolta, Face/Off

MRQE Top Critic

Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace

Does the original trilogy justice in terms of heart, action, and fun —Marty Mapes (review...)

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Dead Man’s Chest does what all good sequels do; it doesn’t necessarily top its predecessor, but it does build on, rather than repeat, events in the previous chapter.

Yo Ho, Yo Ho…

The greatest treasure: the characters get the chance to develop further
The greatest treasure: the characters get the chance to develop further

This episode starts off with arrest warrants being issued for Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, Kingdom of Heaven) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley, Bend It Like Beckham). The two lovebirds are wanted for assisting a man condemned to death and their punishment, naturally, is also a death sentence.

The man in question is none other than Cap’n Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, Ed Wood), a pirate who represents the best — and worst — of all the job title implies. As with The Curse of the Black Pearl, Jack is once again given a marvelous entrance. Simply put, Jack Sparrow is the best, most “lived-in” international man of adventure since Indiana Jones. It’s clear Depp enjoys playing him and the writers enjoy writing about him.

It takes a while for all the players to return to the stage and get the main story in full swing, but once Dead Man’s Chest gets its mojo going, it becomes an excellent lark that holds up well in comparison to the original adventure. And this time the story is quite a bit more complicated as returning writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio playfully pile on the subplots.

New to the scene is Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander, Pride & Prejudice); he wants Jack’s faulty compass, which he says will point him to the location of a key which will in turn unlock Davy Jones’ treasure chest. The chest contains Davy’s still-beating heart and he who controls the heart controls the high seas and the evil Kraken, a huge sea monster of mythological origins that, at Davy’s command, can capsize ships and take their crews to a watery ever-after.

It’s an interesting storyline that presents Davy Jones (Billy Nighy, Love Actually) as a squid-faced man in charge of a crew that’s half-human, half-sea creature. Among the crew is Will’s father, Bootstrap Bill, a character referred to on a couple occasions in The Curse of the Black Pearl.

As for Davy, Jack still owes him, and as payment Davy wants Jack’s soul.

I Left My Heart in Tortuga

In Dead Man’s Chest, Elliott and Rossio pinch heavily from the Lucas/Spielberg playbook. Like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, this one leans toward the darker side of adventure and mysticism. Perhaps there’s a little less laughter here than the first time around, but fret not. There’s still enough humor and plenty of romance and swashbuckling adventure.

And, like The Empire Strikes Back, this one leads up to one humdinger of a conclusion that primes the pump for next summer’s third installment. That one, if the rumors pan out, will indeed feature legendary Rolling Stone Keith Richards in a cameo as Jack’s father.

To that end, the mystic Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris, After the Sunset) plays a critical role as the source of Jack’s wayward compass. As it turns out, the whole intent of the compass is not to point north but instead to point in the direction of the holder’s fondest desires.

That revelation points to the ever-more complicated romantic entanglements between the quadrangle of Elizabeth, Will, Commodore Norrington, and, yes, Jack.

Therein is the greatest treasure in this Dead Man’s Chest: the characters get the chance to develop further, making them at once more familiar and more sympathetic, it’s a simple concept that sets this mega-budget blockbuster apart from most of its mega-budget colleagues.

Like the first installment, be sure to stick around through the end credits for one last bit of kibble. Savvy?

DVD Extras

As with Curse of the Black Pearl, Dead Man’s Chest has been given a stellar DVD release.

Disc One features an excellent running commentary by the film’s writers, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. It’s interesting to hear their take on the trickery of expanding what was to be a single movie into a full-blown trilogy (and perhaps more). They also offer some nice insights into subtle story elements that play off events in the first episode.

The disc also sports a mildly amusing blooper reel, conspicuously “sponsored” by a nationally recognized telecommunications company. Watch it once and move on.

Disc Two is, as with the first installment’s DVD, another treasure trove of good stuff.

Charting the Return is an interesting 25-minute look at pre-production efforts, from concepts to casting.

According to Plan is an excellent hour-long documentary on the making of the film. The best thing about it is that it focuses on the location shoots, which in turn makes this documentary feel like something of an adventure in itself, as the crew is beset by challenges brought on from obscure, hard to reach locations and hurricanes.

Fly on the Set: The Bone Cage offers a brief look at the making of the scenes in those dangling bone cages. The most interesting aspect is how totally unglamorous and untechnical the actual shooting is in comparison to the eye-popping end result.

Perhaps the coolest feature is the featurette entitled Meet Davy Jones. It’s about how Bill Nighy is transformed, by the magic of computers, from an actor in a funny grey suit to the tentacled nemesis. The split-screen comparisons of the actor and the finished result are neat to watch.

Along the same lines, Creating the Kraken is another techie look at the latest in Disney’s Imagineering ways.

Also well worth watching are the segments revolving around Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport and their efforts at Mastering the Blade. They include good behind-the-scenes footage.

The DVD for Curse of the Black Pearl included a segment on the original Pirates of the Caribbean Disneyland ride and how it inspired the movie. Now, in the true spirit of what goes around comes around, this DVD includes a segment on how that ride has been retooled to feature characters from the movie, most notably Cap’n Jack. It’s a fun little segment. Especially when Johnny Depp stands next to his animatronic rendition.

Jerry Bruckheimer: A Producer’s Photo Diary is worth checking out, just to see how the producer of sometimes questionable talent is indeed a talented photographer.

On the overdone side is Captain Jack: From Head to Toe, which chronicles Jack’s wardrobe design. It’s kind of interesting, but it’s mostly one for the pirate fashionistas out there.

Purely sugar is the brief segment on the film’s premiere, entitled Pirates on Main Street. Watch it. Ogle the lovely celebrities. Then watch the movie again.

Picture and Sound

The film’s picture quality is excellent, featuring a beautifully detailed 16:9-enhanced presentation in the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

The film offers English, French and Spanish tracks, all in 5.1 Dolby Digital. The sound is full and rich, providing plenty of atmosphere during rain storms, treks through the jungle and all those other scrapes Cap’n Jack gets into.

The feature also sports English captions for the hearing impaired as well as French and Spanish subtitles.

How to Use This DVD

Grab a bottle of rum, watch the movie. After that, follow your personal compass and decide what you really, really want.

The audio commentary is in order for aspiring screenwriters and fans alike. While the disc is in the player, you also might as well spend a couple minutes and check out the bloopers. Savvy?

After that, grab another bottle of rum – or two – and navigate through the second disc. While the trip to Main Street for the film’s premiere and the breakdown of Cap’n Jack’s wardrobe are the least of the disc’s offerings, the rest is well worth a gander.