It has been said that time heals all wounds. Perhaps the best example of this idiom would be that of pirates. Unfortunately, pirates (like the ones in Captain Phillips (2013)) still exist today, but the swashbuckling sailors of yesteryear have become romanticized over time. There’s no mention of the nasty diseases and nastier morals that plagued the seas in the “golden era” of piracy, but instead we have a cleaned up version that idealizes swordfights, maritime battles, and the freedom to do whatever you wanted. Perhaps this nostalgia around pirates is partly due to these vagabonds ultimately being pitted against the British empire, which was a similar struggle Americans could relate to in the early years of the original colonies. Needless to say, this week’s two films highlight more of the idealized pirates we see today.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Length: 88 minutes / 1.46 hours
The interesting thing about pirates is that they have essentially “switched sides” and have now become the protagonists of many forms of media. From the anime, One Piece, to LEGO sets; pirates have been cleaned up and marketed toward children, especially young boys. Instead of focusing on the themes of theft (which is what piracy is inherently all about), these childish pirates are mostly concerned with the freedom to do whatever they want. That being said, nobody really likes thinking about scurvy, gangrene, and the other gruesome deaths that most pirates (and other sailors) suffered while on the high seas. If we want entertaining pirates, they need to be cleaned up. Some of the most entertaining pirates have been animated. From the aforementioned One Piece, to the “Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything” from VeggieTales, these pirates are actually quite humorous.
We all want to be the best at what we do, and Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) is no different. To prove his skill, of which he has none, Pirate Captain enters the “Pirate of the Year” competition with his crew. After a series of failures, they finally manage to capture Charles Darwin (David Tennant), who himself is trying to prove his skill by entering the “Scientist of the Year” competition. Darwin feels he can win if he uses Pirate Captain’s pet bird, Polly, the last dodo in existence. Unfortunately, the crew’s involvement with Darwin brings them smack-dab in the middle of the court of Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton). However, Pirate Captain is offered a pardon and a large amount of plunder if he lets the Queen have Polly. This trade will inevitably end with Polly’s death, as Victoria’s hobby is eating rare and exotic animals. Will Pirate Captain do anything to be the “Pirate of the Year”?
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Length: 136 minutes / 2.26 hours
What’s nice about creating stories around pirates, is that there is a rich and detailed history from which to draw inspiration. In addition to the lore associated with the sea, a lot of creative connections can be made to craft a plot around pirates. With all the tropes of peg legs, parrots, and eye patches, a pirate movie can easily be made to include any number of new ideas, as long as it has the trappings of a swashbuckling adventure. As such, a lot of supernatural material has been covered in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which was based on the amusement park ride of the same name at Disneyland (thus linking to the “child-friendly” pirates again). The first three films in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise focused mostly on mutiny and the legend of Davy Jones, while the fourth film in the series tackled such topics as the Fountain of Youth, mermaids, and Blackbeard himself.
Much like Pirate Captain in The Pirates!, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is offered a job by King George II (Richard Griffiths) to find the “Fountain of Youth” before the Spanish do. He refuses and escapes, only to find that someone is impersonating him. This imposter is none other than Angelica (Penélope Cruz), the daughter of Blackbeard (Ian McShane). On board the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Jack leads Blackbeard to the Fountain and the two silver cups needed to extract the Fountain’s power. The other piece to the Fountain’s puzzle is the tears of a mermaid, one of which is captured by Blackbeard and falls in love with another captive: missionary Philip Swift (Sam Claflin). With all the pieces in place, the ritual can begin. Unfortunately, the ritual requires one person’s life to be drained in order to provide the other with eternal youth. Who will sacrifice their life for Blackbeard’s immortality?
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 perfunctory pirates