Pirate Week Wrap-up: My Review of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

The first thing I will comment on is that the film wasn’t as bad as some of the reviewers are saying, but it is clear that the franchise has lost steam. I don’t know how much of this is the doing of the director or how much is due to the fact that one a small number of the characters from the first three movie are present (including the Black Pearl). That said, it was all that I expected it to be and I had a very good time watching the story unfold.

The mission in this movie is to find the Fountain of Youth, as we expected from the very end of the last movie. Three different factions are trying to get to the Fountain, and only two solicit the help of Jack Sparrow, and he jumps back and forth between the two: Captain Barbossa has sided with the Royal Navy to help claim the fountain for England and Blackbeard and his daughter Angelica seek the fountain to avoid a prophecy that Blackbeard would die at the hand of a one-legged man. The fact that this prophecy exists is a testament to the amount of stretching the writers had to do in order to write the script. The One-Legged Man is Barbossa. We figured that out early. The only question is a matter of how, which we figure out long before the final battle. As much as I enjoy the movie, that doesn’t mean I enjoy predictable scripts.

The other party after the Fountain of Youth is the Spanish, but their reasons are less personal and much more noble. Beyond that, I can’t say without giving away too many spoilers.

The Fountain of Youth and Jack’s role in its finding is a really interesting way to end the Pirates franchise. Many of the lines in this film point to the end in ways that they didn’t in the last one. So even though there are rumors of a fifth script out there, it would be a disservice to the franchise to go with it after wrapping it up so nicely. The Fountain of Youth is believed to bring eternal life. In the Pirates mythos, two people are required to drink from the fountain. One person drinks water without the mermaid tear and the other drinks water with the mermaid tear (hence the need for two silver chalices). The one who drinks without the mermaid tear gives their remaining years to the one who drinks with the tear, a sort of age donation. It’s not eternal life, though I guess with enough victims, one could live forever. Or at least longer. And that’s the message of the movie.

The Pirates originally set sail in 1967 with the opening of the Disneyland attraction, and it is by far one of the most popular attractions at all Disney theme parks. They don’t need a Fountain of Youth to live forever. They have a permanent home in our hearts and in our entertainment history. And so will the films.

Afterall, while Dead Men may Tell No Tales (haha), Audio-Animatronics and movie characters tell tales as long as we keep the power turned on.

I saw it in 3D, and like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, this is one of those films that does not require being seen in 3D. So, unless you insist on going to a particular theater that is only showing it in 3D (as I did), then I do recommend watching it the old fashioned way. I like the eye-candy of 3D, but I wish they’d realize that people wear glasses and that the 3D glasses they distribute at the theater are really uncomfortable to wear over regular seeing glasses.


Pirate Week: Pirates Day–Trilogies vs. Quarternities

it’s here! It’s here! Huzzah! Huzzah!

So yesterday, the fabulous Roger Ebert posted on his Twitter feed, his review of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. He begins by saying, “Before seeing ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,’ I had already reached my capacity for ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies, and with this fourth installment, my cup runneth over.” Indeed, the franchise started losing steam after the second installment, Dead Man’s Chest, and came to a nice and tidy completion after the third, At World’s End. But the ending of the third movie, left open the possibility of a fourth movie, giving us the hint that – should it happen – it would involve the hunt for the Fountain of Youth. So I’m seeing the movie tonight, meaning that tomorrow I’ll write my review. I’m very ready for the franchise to come to an end, but nonetheless very excited that they gave me one more installment.

In good proper Jungian terms, the franchise should end with this movie. Trilogies are nice containers for mythic stories. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Just look at the original Star Wars trilogy or the Lord of the Rings. No one would ever think of making a fourth version of those movies. Indeed, Pirates also was a nice trilogy, if you follow it from the Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann subplot. Reading these movies thusly, it becomes quickly apparent that a) Jack Sparrow is a charismatic minor character and b) the ENTIRE point of the series is for both of these characters to realize who they are, who they want to be, and how they intend to do that together. In other words, the point is for Will and Elizabeth to individuate and then conjugate. The first movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, established this trajectory: Will had to come to terms with the fact that he’s a pirate’s son, and Elizabeth, in all of her spirit and spunk, could not be confined to the life of a New World aristocrat. Both characters turn to the seas, the classic symbol of the unconscious, to go find themselves. Dead Man’s Chest shows Will embracing more of his pirateness as he works through some daddy issues, while Elizabeth, in the mean time, moves from being helpless maiden to an independent woman. These two journeys nearly tear their relationship apart, but it is more essential that they sort these things out before they’re married, methinks.

Then At World’s End, they travel to the ends of the world, to Davy Jones’ Locker, to bring Jack Sparrow back from the dead. Notice that at the end of the second movie, Elizabeth killed Jack. Jack, for her, represents something, and I’m not going to call it Animus. Jack Sparrow, as pirate, is more of a figurehead of the total abandon of structure. Elizabeth went from an extremely controlled structure with her father to a complete lack of structure with Jack. So she kills him. But he’s an important part of her, or maybe she’s an important part of him, because she, though claiming she is not sorry for killing him, feels profound remorse for doing so. She believes that bringing Jack back will make everything better. But that’s only half of it: Jack is chaos. The East India Trading company and the Royal Navy is control. Elizabeth needs both sides to to balance her out. Yet, in the process of rescuing Jack and heading toward the Brethren Court, she is betrayed by Will and loses her father and Norrington, her socially-acceptable fiancé. Again, by siding with Jack, she loses all sense of control.

Will ultimately embraces his pirateness by becoming captain of the Flying Dutchman (I’ll spare the spoilers), which comes with a price: he has to ferry the dead to the Locker, and can only come ashore once every 10 years to be with his loved one. So, while Will turns into a symbol of chaos (Pirate), he comes with a controlled structure (a very specific schedule), and this makes him the perfect balance to Elizabeth. She still has the chaos of piracy, but she has the control over her own destiny.

A beginning, a middle, and an end, with a lot of growth and development involved. A recurring theme in the series is the idea that the treasure for which one is seeking is only found when one is good and lost.

So now we have a fourth installment, that does not bring Elizabeth and Will back into the fold. This one is entirely Jack’s story, and is necessary because they left Jack’s story hanging. Rumor has it that there is a Pirates 5 floating around, and if the movie on the Lego Pirates of the Caribbean video game is any indication, I can see where it would go. But, for all my love of the franchise, I don’t want to see it happen. 4 is the number of completion. it is the unit that rounds out the trilogy. 5, on the other hand, is the quintessence: the transcendence or the number of discord. Plus, they are looking for the Fountain of Youth. We assume they find it, based on the reviews, and we assume Jack does something heroic with its waters, based on the Lego game. However, if the franchise drinks from the proverbial Fountain, and makes more movies, it will live on forever, but eventually it will lose its flavor, as Barbossa learned when he was cursed by Aztec gold. And, as I tell my Humanities students, art that does not have any staying power is not good art. This is not something I wish for the franchise because it is among my favorites.

I love Pirates because it tickles my psyche, but it is also good escapism. I don’t go to those movies to think, but I wind up thinking anyway, which is why I like them.

Pirate’s Week: Yo Ho and X Atencio

So I’ve always been profoundly curious just what those pirates were singing on the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction:

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.
We pillage, we plunder, we rifle, and loot,
Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.
We kidnap and ravage and don’t give a hoot,
Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.
We extort, we pilfer, we filch, and sack,
Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.
Maraud and embezzle, and even high-jack,
Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.
We kindle and char, inflame and ignite,
Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.
We burn up the city, we’re really a fright,
Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.

We’re rascals, scoundrels, villans, and knaves,
Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.
We’re devils and black sheep, really bad eggs,
Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.
We’re beggars and blighters, ne’er-do-well cads,
Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.
Aye, but we’re loved by our mommies and dads,
Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.

Legend has it that Walt came to X and tapped him to join the Imagineering team in the 60s, including to write the attraction and the music. X was an animator/artist, not one for story and music. But this legend is often used as an example of how Walt could bring the latent talent out of people.

I know that today is totally a cheater post. I have a morning meeting to discuss dissertation-related stuff. I promise to make up for it tomorrow.

Pirates Week: Mermaids and Siren Songs

One of the new characters in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a mermaid named Syrena (I haven’t met the prounciation of her name yet, but I’m hoping it’s a proper play on “siren”).

Mermaids are half women (or men)/half fish (type thing). They are personifications of the sea itself, being both beautiful and seductive but also highly destructive. As Tamra Andrews notes in her Dictionary of Nature Myths, the “image of the mermaid probably stemmed from fish-tailed gods of early civilizations who had power over water. Mermaids date back to Babylonian myths and to the sea god Oannes and his female counterpart, Atargatis…. Both Oannes and Atargatis were at first depicted as mortals in fish cloaks, but over time, their cloaks were modified to tails. Oannes was perhaps an earlier form of the Sumerian fish-god Ea or Enki, and he represented the positive side of the ocean, rising from the waves each morning and sinking below the waves each night, like a sun god. Atargatis, conversely, was worshipped as a moon goddess and represented the ocean’s dark destructive side” (118). Mermaids tend to have long hair, like seaweed or the sun’s rays on the water. They often “hold mirrors to reflect the light of the moon to identify them with the moon’s control over the tides” (ibid.). While they live in the sea, they are known for basking on the rocks brushing their hair. But they are frightened of mortals, and quickly swim back into the water when they are spotted. If a mermaid was spotted from a ship, it was usually seen as a sign of foreboding, such as a storm or a shipwreck.

Some legends claim that mermaids long to capture a human soul, and to do this they must capture the heart of a mortal. Among other means of capturing said heart, mermaids are associated with sirens, luring men to the sea with their beautiful song, only to pull them under. Which helps explain why it was so tragic for Ariel to lose her voice in The Little Mermaid….

From what I’ve read about On Stranger Tides, mostly from the latest issue of twenty-three (the D23 magazine), Syrena’s mermaids are sirens, luring pirates to their death; however, Syrena is an odd one. She’s not vicious, and has no mal-wishes for humans. In fact, she falls in love with a missionary.

By the way, as a total OT aside, how really cool is it that Rodrigo y Gabriella are features on the On Stranger Tides soundtrack?!

Pirate Week: the Legend of Blackbeard

The villain in the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie is Blackbeard, which is a name I have recognized since I was little (likely because the Disney movie, Blackbeard’s Ghost was on the Disney Channel at some point, and I’m sure I watched it, though it apparently didn’t make a lasting impression on me). This is a really good choice for a Pirates villain, and a really good choice for a Disney villain. Here is a pirate soaked in history, which of course makes for a greater challenge to write about him here. So I’m going to cheat: I don’t normally refer anyone to Wikipedia, but the Blackbeard article (as of today) is one of the most comprehensive ones I found on my cursory Google search. It looks as though he is famous because he was one of the last and most notorious, though the Wiki article points out that he was not the most “successful” as far as the value of his treasure is concerned.

File:Edward Teach Commonly Call'd Black Beard (bw).jpgWe do know that his name was Edward Teach and that he died in 1718 (I’m curious if this puts an official date on the Pirates franchise?). He earned or adopted the name Blackbeard because of his bushy black beard, into which he supposedly put lit fuses to frighten his enemies. His peak piracy years were from 1716/1717 to 1718 (peak piracy year?) when he, his crew, and his ship the Queen Anne’s Revenge terrorized terrorized the Caribbean, and apparently the Atlantic coast up to North Carolina.

A shrewd and calculating leader, Teach avoided the use of force, relying instead on his fearsome image to elicit the response he desired from those he robbed. Contrary to the modern-day picture of the traditional tyrannical pirate, he commanded his vessels with the permission of their crews and there are no known accounts of his ever having harmed or murdered those he held captive. He was romanticised after his death, and became the inspiration for a number of pirate-themed works of fiction across a range of genres. (Wiki)

He was so frightening, that people considered him the Devil incarnate (I’m guessing this is where the Pirates writers got the idea of describing Barbossa as a pirate so evil, even Hell didn’t want him). When Blackbeard was killed by the Royal Navy, which was no easy task taking five gunshots and twenty-seven cuts, he was decapitated and his body was thrown into the sea. As the body hit the sea, legend has it (borrowed from the link below), the head shouted, “Come on Edward” and the headless body swam around the ship three times before sinking. It is said that since that day, the headless body is trying to find its head and haunts the area where he died, now known at Teach’s Hole. There are some who claim to see a headless body floating on the surface of the water or swimming around the Hole. Others claim to see a light, called Teach’s light, on the Pamlico Sound of Ocracoke Island. They say that if the wind is blowing inland when the light appears, you can hear Blackbeard’s ghost stomping around asking where his head is.

Here’s another interesting website about the lore of Blackbeard, as retold by S. E. Schlosser.

Blackbeard is returning to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.

Pirate Week: The Shadow and Jack Sparrow

Fairy tales are fine, but my psyche is ready to delve into the shadow for a little while, and this was the case even before it dawned on me that Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opens this week, or even before I remembered that the Lego Pirates of the Caribbean video game was about to drop. Like I said, fairy tales are fine, but my psyche – probably to prepare itself for the movie – decided a couple weeks ago that it was ready to move into the shadow. I just haven’t gotten there yet because I was waiting for the official start of Dissertation Summer. Anyway, enough about me

Jung describes the shadow as the “’negative’ side of the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal unconscious” (CW 7, par. 103n). It is the easiest of the unconscious archetypes (which include anima and animus) for us to encounter, and is frequently among the first archetypes encountered during therapy. He further says:

The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. this act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance. Indeed, self-knowledge as a psychotherapeutic measure frequently requires much painstaking work extending over a long period. (CW 9ii, par. 14).

So what then do we make of the cultural shadow? It’s not exactly as though we can place our entire country down on the therapist’s couch, hand them a sand tray and a dream journal, and bring up the shadow. That’s what myths are for, and what better place to look for American myths than in cinema. Throughout Hollywood’s history, there have been countless shadow figures expressed in films, usually calling our attention to some dark aspect: of our individual psyche’s, of our culture’s psyche, of our culture’s history.

Hands down, Jack Sparrow is by far one of the most endearing shadow characters of the past decade. He is cunning and intelligent, but you wouldn’t get that from his completely mad exterior. His name evokes an archetypal everyman (Jack) who is springy, flighty, not-down-to-earth (Sparrow). His most common tool is a magical compass which shows the holder whatever they most desire. For Jack, this usually entails his ship (a pirate’s floating home – his reunion with the Black Pearl recalls Odysseus’ reunion with Penelope) or treasure (a pirate’s MO – bringing a mystical unconscious element to the surface is the shadow’s job). The only time when it did not lead him was when he was unsure himself of what he was looking for. This loss of direction can occur when the shadow is at the helm (so to speak), because it means that the unconscious has taken over, and it’s not exactly interested in telling us where we’re going.

However, The success of this pirate coincides with a trend of loving the shadow. Pirates, vampires, zombies, and Skellingtons are all shadow figures. They represent deeply embedded nightmarish figures. They do things that we would normally abhor (pillage/plunder, drink blood, eat brains, kidnap Sandy Claws), but they learn in the process something about them that endears them to us. They learn from their ways, but not necessarily to change them; rather, to use them as building blocks to become a more sustainable hero. These heroes help us, as a culture, navigate in and out of the collective/cultural unconscious, and they help us therapeutically by providing us with some necessary catharsis. (By the way, this trend isn’t anything new. As far as my own growth and development is concerned, Edward Sissorhands and Jack Skellington were both introduced to us in the early 1990s, along with the revival of the Addams Family. In a few years either direction from these films, we have the Batman film franchise and our first encounter with a cinematic Lestat.)

The trend of Johnny Depp’s successful characters and their ties to the shadow is not lost on me. Not many actors can navigate the shadow realm while also succeeding in bringing depth to their characters: Edward Sissorhands, Raoul Duke (Hunter S. Thompson), Ichabod Crane, Dean Corso, John Dillinger, Willy Wonka, the Mad Hatter, and of course Jack Sparrow, to name a few (not to mention some delightfully romantic characters, and many more that I haven’t seen yet).