There’s this thing I have a phrase for. If you’ve ever been in a theater, you’ve felt it. When a good movie is playing and the house is packed from front to back, you could never mistake it for being anywhere else in the world. It’s like you are but a single leaf on a shaking tree, trying desperately to hang on along with everyone else. When someone cracks a joke, we all laugh. When the mood is tense, we’re all frightened. Being in a crowded theater on opening night is like sitting in an echo chamber for your feelings. All of your emotions are amplified by being around people who are experiencing the same things. And I like to call this phenomenon “audience feedback” or “emotional feedback”.
Robert Rodriguez isn’t the world’s best director, but he understands the importance of emotional feedback in watching a movie. That’s why he includes, on the home copy of every movie he’s made, a separate audio track that contains the audio from the premiere of the film. It’s not exactly being in a theater, but it comes close. If you want to know how important audience feedback is in determining the quality of your movie in the mind of your audience, go into a theater this weekend and watch Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. It will make a believer out of you in terms of the grave importance the audience has in how your movie is seen. I watched Pirates 4 in a crowded house–though far from full–and I could actually feel the audience’s will to believe draining from the theater, like water from a tub with the plug pulled out. It was almost heartbreaking, how quickly these people who waited in line for this movie outside the theater gave up on it. It would have been heartbreaking if not for the fact that Pirates 4 is a bland, uninteresting adventure with absolutely no redeeming value. It’s not offensively bad. It’s not offensively good. It’s inoffensive.
I remember when the first Pirates came out, The Curse of the Black Pearl. I saw that movie on DVD long after it had left the theater because I didn’t really buy into the hype. Yeah, swashbuckling fun, Johnny Depp (the world’s most boring actor) in eyeliner and waving his arms about like he’s drunk, Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom–it just seemed like a movie designed from the ground up to be sold to the most people for the most money. And so it should, being produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. This is the innovative mind that brought us Top Gun, the first movie sold not on its script or the actual quality of the film, but instead on the basis of Tom Cruise in a movie where he flies a plane and shoots gun. This is the guy you should blame for all of the premise sold things you’ve seen this new millennium. The great movies keep getting made but the good movies are going to crap because all they are now is crappy adventure movies, superhero adaptations and the occasional film about pirates.
You wanna know what the best story about pirates is? There’s a story called “Shipwrecked”, I think it was, collected in Tales of the Black Freighter–it’s a comic, so there’s no chance of seeing it at your local cineplex, but it does exist and it is good. It’s a tale of a man whose boat is wrecked at sea–you might’ve been able to guess–who sees the Black Freighter heading for his home. He fashions a raft of the bodies of his crewmates and sets sail for his home island to keep the evil Black Freighter at bay and protect his wife and children. By the time he gets there, though, he has gone entirely mad and believes the Freighter has inevitably arrived. He kills two “sentries”–actually a young couple on a date–and rides back to town to his house. Enters his house and in a fit of rage, kills one of his children before realizing what he’s actually doing. Going mad from the revelation and bloodsoaked from his raft, he goes to the beach–where he sees the Black Freighter awaiting him. Its course was never for the island–it was for him.
That’s a summary of the pirate comics in the alternate 1985 presented in Watchmen, the comic by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Alan Moore has also written about swashbucklers elsewhere, featuring nautical adventures in his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series by way of Captain Nemo. And yes, this movie is indeed so boring that I can’t really summarize its plot. It starts off with–it’s a load of meaningless action that moves no one nowhere, changes nothing and gets to flounder about like a mermaid drying out in the sun. It is literally Jack receives orders, Jack follows orders, Jack sails to Fountain of Youth for 100 minutes of the movie’s 2 hour run time, Jack gets there, stuff happens, they all go home, credits, sequel hook. Yeah, that’s right–they’re banking on the success of this movie to get another movie into the franchise. Two trilogies.
And this is really a shame cos it’s the kind of sequel I expected them to make after I saw the first Pirates movie. And I honestly don’t know if it would have been any better released after the first one, but I didn’t want a story-rich, character driven Pirates movie, I wanted fun stuff happening and swashbuckling adventure. Well. Sort of. See, I never really liked the first Pirates of the Caribbean either. I found it so blandly inoffensive that throughout its runtime, I was looking for other things to do. And indeed, sitting in the theater for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, I was looking at the ceiling. Waiting for it to spawn aliens or rain acid or something, who knows. Hey, maybe if the Rapture had struck while I was in the theater, it would have been a welcome change. ONE STAR