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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: Blu-ray + DVD Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) movie poster Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Theatrical Release: May 20, 2011 / Running Time: 136 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Rob Marshall / Writers: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio (screen story, screenplay, and characters); Tim Powers (suggested by novel); Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert (characters)

Cast: Johnny Depp (Captain Jack Sparrow), Penélope Cruz (Angelica), Geoffrey Rush (Captain Hector Barbossa), Ian McShane (Edward "Blackbeard" Teach), Kevin R. McNally (Joshamee Gibbs), Sam Claflin (Philip Swift), Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey (Syrena), Stephen Graham (Scrum), Keith Richards (Captain Teague), Richard Griffiths (King George II), Greg Ellis (Groves), Damian O'Hare (Gillette), Oscar Jaenada (The Spaniard), Anton Lesser (Lord John Carteret), Roger Allam (Prime Minister Henry Pelham), Judi Dench (Society Lady), Gemma Ward (Tamara - First Mermaid)

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Though 2007's At World's End provided as much closure as anyone could ask for and set series lows in critical ratings, viewer assessment, and domestic attendance, the Pirates of the Caribbean saga continued with this year's On Stranger Tides.

Recognizing that there was some fatigue to combat, this fourth and latest installment offers a dramatic overhaul of the franchise.
Gone are all but three principal cast members. Heart, soul, and bankroll Johnny Depp reprises his iconic signature role as Captain Jack Sparrow. Kevin R. McNally returns as his mutton-chopped first mate Gibbs. And Geoffrey Rush is back as ambiguous, death-defying Captain Hector Barbossa, now a peg-legged and decrepit privateer.

Personnel changes have also occurred behind the camera. Though writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, two of four credited for the original story and characters and the only two attributed with the series' every screenplay, are still onboard, director Gore Verbinski is not. Leaving on his own terms, he is replaced by Rob Marshall, a man best known for helming musicals on stage and screen, including the films Chicago and Nine.

Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is ordered to halt by an armed British redcoat not long for this world. Captain Jack's impersonator is none other than former love Angelica (Penélope Cruz).

While young Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner were ostensibly the protagonists of the original trilogy, the franchise has always belonged to Johnny Depp, whose offbeat performance earned an atypical Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards and turned him into one of the world's biggest movie stars. Without Captain Jack, there is no Pirates of the Caribbean; even the classic Disney theme park ride on which the first film was based had to be updated to incorporate the beloved character throughout. With him in tow, the other absences are barely noticed.

On Stranger Tides opens with Jack getting out of yet another pickle, this one involving the British legal system. It is only a matter of time before he is back on the water and engaging in the kind of piracy where good and important people rarely get hurt. Angered that someone has been impersonating him, Sparrow is surprised to learn that someone is none other than Angelica (Penélope Cruz), a Spanish former love who blames him for her 180-degree career change from a nun about to take her vows into the duplicitous pirate before him today. Angelica and her father Edward Teach (Ian McShane), better known as the dread Blackbeard, are in pursuit of the fabled Fountain of Youth, the very thing that the British monarchy has enlisted Jack to locate.

Naturally, danger and double-crossing arise on the quixotic mission, with Jack forced to lend his resourcefulness to Blackbeard, tracking down the needed chalices of Ponce de León. The journey also requires collecting the tear of a mermaid, which entails a set piece in which the ladies of the sea are depicted as Homeric sirens who turn nasty and vampiric, slinging webs to capture their smitten prey. One of these mermaids (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) is caught and named Syrena, becoming the captive romantic interest of young, devout missionary Philip (Sam Claflin). Their relationship is the most prominent supporting thread to the search for the Fountain and the complicated Captain Jack/Angelica entanglement.

Angelica's father is Edward Teach (Ian McShane), a pirate known as Blackbeard, though the beard looks more white to me. Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is back again, now as a peg-legged privateer in the King's Navy.

The streamlined design is in sharp contrast to the disappointing At World's End, whose cast of about two dozen major characters brought juggling, compromise, and excess to its nearly 3-hour runtime. On Stranger Tides doesn't devote time to sidekicks and subplots. Even the animal comedy relief, Jack the Monkey, is dropped. Scaling back is in the film's best interest.
The series had become bloated and epic. Checking in on all the different supporting personalities felt more like a chore than fun. No one would dispute that Captain Jack Sparrow was the main attraction; time spent away from him slowed and elongated the story without good reason.

Sparrow is almost constantly onscreen here, which strengthens the storytelling somewhat. Alas, the shtick has gotten tired. Nearly all the charm that Depp oozed at the onset with his mascara, braided goatee, and rock star demeanor has faded. It is a larger than life personality and that's always interesting, but we've now spent ten hours with the character and he has yet to reveal any real depth, humanity, or genuine emotion. It is a bold creation and one which Depp could now perform in his sleep but it is just not enough to drive a movie on its own.

If no new sides of the hero are to be revealed, then we need a truly compelling story not to mind. On Stranger Tides' tale is adequate at best and hardly raises any stakes following Captain Jack's bouts with Davy Jones and the Kraken. It's refreshing to minimize the periphery and simply accompany Jack Sparrow on another fantastic adventure. And you can argue that a nearly serious romantic relationship uncovers new layers to the character. But ultimately, it's not terribly interesting or fun, the latter being the one adjective so many applied to the unexpectedly inspired The Curse of the Black Pearl.

It doesn't help that the movie passes through the same old filters of producer Jerry Bruckheimer and writers Elliott and Rossio (who this time take inspiration from Tim Powers' 1987 novel On Stranger Tides, which also influenced the Monkey Island video game series). If we've tired of this universe after merely watching a few movies set in it, imagine how they must feel having endured one behemothic production after another. Obviously, it's their baby and they can opt to move on just as easily as Verbinski and most of the cast members did. Who would, though, considering the huge payouts offered to churn out more of the same but with some differences? Director Marshall either has no desire or opportunity to put his own stamp on the series. If there are qualities to attribute to him, they are a reduced interest in effects fantasy and an increase in innuendo, some of it sure to soar over the heads of young moviegoers still able to find this exciting.

Though opening with a seductive song, mermaids like Tamara (Gemma Ward) soon get nasty. Captain Jack (Johnny Depp) pays notice to a drop of water falling up his finger.

On Stranger Tides reached a new low in critical reception, earning a measly 33% on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer (and just 29% from top critics). Viewer reactions also appear to be noticeably less enthusiastic than even on the sequels, judging from the already lower user ratings on IMDb, Yahoo!, and Rotten Tomatoes. Furthermore, the movie wasn't even a hit domestically, its $241 million gross shy of the $250 M production budget and a distant series worst financially, an achievement that doesn't even have to take into account ticket price inflation or the premium prices of 3D engagements.

And yet, the movie can hardly be painted as a commercial failure because of its outstanding performance in foreign markets. On Stranger Tides has grossed almost $800 M overseas, which is more than all but three releases in cinema history (Avatar, Titanic, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2). That adds up to $1 billion in worldwide earnings, a number reached by only ten movies (three of them, recent Disney/Depp collaborations). With this, I think we can put to bed the old notion that the rest of the world has more cultured film tastes than us Americans. They're eating up 3D while we avoid it and they're accounting for more than ¾ of the earnings on things like this, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and 2012.

The global success of On Stranger Tides ensures that Disney will extend the franchise as long as the creators wish to. And Rossio does, having turned in a fifth movie script (his first without Elliott) in early May. In early July, sources claimed that Depp was close to signing a deal to return to the series that had earned him a reported $350 million through the first four films purely as actor and largely due to gross profit points. Before that, Depp will board the next stop on the Disney tentpole tour, reteaming with Bruckheimer and Verbinski yet again, this time to play the Tonto to Armie Hammer's masked avenger in a $215 million filming of The Lone Ranger, now scheduled to start shooting in February 2012 and open May 2013.

On Stranger Tides, meanwhile, makes the franchise's fastest trip from theaters to home video when it debuts this week as a Blu-ray + DVD and as a 5-disc Blu-ray 3D + 2 Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack. Those same 5 discs also turn up in a 15-disc Four-Movie Collection packaged in a replica pirate's chest. Those who would like the movie on DVD alone will have to wait until November 15th, when Stranger Tides is released that way, without the 2-disc set option all of its predecessors had. For review, we only got the 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD combo, and thus look at it here.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Blu-ray + DVD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English, French), 7.1 DTS-HD HR (French, Spanish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Both: Dolby Surround 2.0 (English, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: October 18, 2011
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Reflective Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in DVD case ($39.99 SRP), 5-Disc Blu-ray 3D + 2 Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy ($49.99 SRP), and in 15-Disc 4-Movie Blu-ray + DVD Collection ($169.99 SRP)
Available on DVD ($29.99 SRP) on November 15th


One area where On Stranger Tides cannot be faulted in any way is in its feature presentation's picture and sound. The 2.40:1 visuals boast the dark yet saturated visuals the franchise is known for without any noticeable shortcomings. The perfect sharpness and rich detail do a little to satisfy you in ways the film dramatically cannot. Even on just a 5.1 system, the 7.1 DTS-HD master audio provides a lively experience, supplying aural excitement from all directions with consistent volume levels.

The DVD's anamorphic and Dolby Digital 5.1 transfer deserves similar commendation. The lower bit rate and higher compression don't dampen the proceedings much, but the difference between standard and high definition remains noticeable, particularly in back-to-back viewing.

This introduction from the Pirates of the Caribbean skull is as much of the Disney Second Screen experience as I could enjoy. Johnny Depp takes Captain Jack Sparrow to new heights of silliness in "Bloopers of the Caribbean."


Though Pirates of the Caribbean has been as well-documented as any film series, this time around, the majority of the making-of material is kept exclusive to a bonus Blu-ray included in the 5-disc combo. Because if you like bonus features, you must also like getting a Blu-ray 3D and digital copy too.

The Blu-ray's extras begin with Disney Second Screen, the newest technology the studio has been pushing. With an Internet-connected iPad or a plain old computer, you can delve deeper into the film while it plays on your TV. At least, that's how it's supposed to work. As on the recent Lion King, I was unable to download the supplemental material from the Second Screen website. This time, even trying the Blu-ray on my computer yielded no success. Maybe it will work better after street date arrives. For now I can only assume that you might be able to sync playback of the movie to the application so that concept art, storyboards, and activities appear at an appropriate part of the film. It's a good idea, but the execution clearly needs work.

"Bloopers of the Caribbean" (3:29) is a standard outtakes reel consisting of giggles, goofs, and ad-libs to helicopter flyovers.

A CG-animated LEGO Jack Sparrow is the star of five 1-minute shorts. The "On Stranger Tides" DVD main menu offers a rotating Fountain of Youth map, showing more creativity than a standard clip montage.

Next, five 1-minute LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean shorts (5:19) recreate scenes from On Stranger Tides in computer animation resembling LEGO figurines. Random as this may seem, entire movie video games have been made with these designs for the likes of Harry Potter and Indiana Jones. These cartoons seem like they might have been made early in the process, since their stories differ slightly from the finished film.

Last and most substantially is an audio commentary by director Rob Marshall and executive producer John DeLuca. They bring newcomers' perspective to this old franchise, which makes this more enthusiastic and flowing than it might otherwise have been.
Alas, their gratitude for the opportunity renders the track very one-note. They're so complimentary of Depp and his every co-star that they identify. It's a very press release-friendly discussion, but at least the two talk consistently and touch on things like filming in 3D, a subtle ride homage, and the blue sock used for the peg leg effect. Though shorter than all its predecessors, the movie is still long enough to grow tired of the rehearsed praise, but it's the biggest morsel tossed to those not willing to spring for the 5-disc set or more.

DVD viewers don't even get the audio commentary, only the LEGO shorts and bloopers reel. The November 15th DVD-only release won't even add a second disc to the mix, making this by far the lamest Pirates DVD released to date. Aside from synching, the Second Screen content could have so easily been made available to DVD viewers too, but Disney would rather deprive them of content than expand awareness of this new way to experience bonus features.

Other listed features worth mentioning but not remembering: a "What is Disney Second Screen?" (0:50) tutorial specific to this film and three standard inclusions: Timon and Pumbaa's short film promoting Blu-ray 3D (4:23), a promo for Disneyfile digital copies (1:04), and the Blu-ray's "Info" (unnecessary commentary legal disclaimers).

The distinctive menu moves around the Fountain of Youth map, while the round parts rotate and score plays. The Blu-ray unfortunately opts for a single listing per screen, a design which reduces screen clutter but also makes navigation just a bit less viewer-friendly. The DVD's secondary screens lazily just fixate on one portion of the map while other score selections play. Typical for Disney, the BD doesn't resume or support bookmarks, but it does remember where you left off on the movie after powering your player off.

Both discs open with ads for Disney Studio All Access, The Muppets, and Cars 2. They replay from the menu's Sneak Peeks listings, by which they're followed by promos for Disney Movie Rewards, "Phineas and Ferb", and Disney Parks and trailers for John Carter and Treasure Buddies.

My review copy packaged the two discs in a Blu-ray case, topping it with a cardboard slipcover whose front has the reflective areas like other entries in the series. (A "DVD + Blu-ray" variation on the combo is sold in a DVD case.) The colorless DVD is covered by three booklets, promoting Blu-ray 3D, combo packs, Disney Movie Rewards (including a Pirates LEGO sweepstakes), and a variety of Pirates and pirate merchandise (including $5 off any of the first three movies' Blu-ray + DVD combos).

Blackbeard (Ian McShane) orders Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) with a gun in his hand.


Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides cannot be charged with simply giving us more of the same, but it also can't be credited with breathing new life into a franchise that has overstayed its welcome. When a movie like this can make $1 billion at the global box office in spite of critical drubbing and muted public sentiment, Disney, Johnny Depp, and the film industry at large have little reason to try being new and original.
Even the most warmly received of new and original movies almost never make that kind of money.

While sequels shouldn't be able to alter the reputation of their predecessors, it's difficult to hear or see something Pirates-related and not groan at the overextension. Disney could have quit while they were ahead and had one of their all-time best live-action movies bear the same name as one of their all-time best theme park attractions. By not doing that, they've earned an additional $3 billion at the box office and who knows how much in home video sales, merchandise, and vacations. Commerce has clearly won this major battle in its never-ending war with art.

If you aren't at all sick of Pirates, then see this latest movie and probably enjoy it to some degree. If you've started to tire of the franchise, this fourth movie will likely give you another push in that direction. On Blu-ray and DVD, On Stranger Tides is treated to a terrific feature presentation, but uncharacteristically little in the way of extras in this 2-disc set. For more, you'll have to turn to the movie's 5-disc combo or the entire series' 14-disc collection. In the case of this series, less is starting to feel like more, but it's still annoying to witness standard touches fall to the wayside in the interest of promoting the latest formats.

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Related Reviews:
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black PearlDead Man's ChestAt World's End
Johnny Depp: RangoAlice in WonderlandThe TouristFinding NeverlandDead Man
Directed by Rob Marshall: NineChicago | Ian McShane: Case 39 | Geoffrey Rush: The King's Speech
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer: Prince of Persia: The Sands of TimeNational TreasureThe Sorcerer's Apprentice
Fourth Installments: Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireIndiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
New Combo Packs: The Lion KingWilly Wonka & the Chocolate Factory | Summer 2011 Movies: ThorZookeeperX-Men: First Class

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Reviewed October 17, 2011.

Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 Walt Disney Pictures, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, and Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.
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