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Last year, at the start of June, I visited the editing room where Gore Verbinski was hard at work trying to finish PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 2: DEAD MAN’S CHEST. I got my first look at finished Davy Jones in that room, my first sense of the larger world that the filmmakers were trying to create. I was enthused about what I saw, and I thought the final film was pretty damn fun. I’ve heard a lot of complaining about the second movie, but I absolutely stand behind what I said then: I think these are dense entertainments, and I like the complex juggling routine that Elliott and Rossio have set up for themselves as screenwriters. The ultimate artistic success of this series depends on how this third film plays out. The second film introduced about a half-dozen story threads that have to play out now, and this new movie is all about how those threads are completed. Can this team stick the landing? This year, I met Bruckheimer in the same exact place I met him last year, in one of the mixing theaters on the Fox lot. We talked a bit about what I’d seen of the other summer movies as we walked back to where Stephen Rivkin, the film’s editor, was waiting. I’ve visited Bruckheimer during post several times in this last year, and it’s always the same sort of experience. He’s a gracious host, direct, and I never feel like I’m being hyped. He’s content to just show you the footage and let it speak for itself. He told me that the first bit of footage I’d be seeing would be the opening of the film. And so I saw the first shots of Singapore. Kiera Knightley as Elizabeth, heading into the city in a small boat by herself. Singing. It’s a pirate song, but it’s not one we’ve heard before. Some of the people she paddles past know the song, though. It draws attention. And when she finally pulls up to dock and she gets out, she’s immediately approached by some rough-looking Chinese pirates who warn her about singing that song, especially when traveling alone. She’s not alone, though. In fact, Singapore is positively crawling with other characters from the films. There’s the crew of the Black Pearl, for example. They’re making their way through the underbelly of the city, almost at a parallel to Elizabeth. When she’s dragged into the presence of Sao Feng, played with remarkable charisma by Chow Yun-Fat, she’s not alone. Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) is there, a prisoner. Barbossa is there. This is basically the Jabba’s Palace/Barge scene from JEDI, but without any shitty musical numbers or Muppets. It’s a nice build-up, a cool way of dropping us back into the world of the films. We can tell that things are changing. The net is closing. It’s the end of an era. And the only way our characters can see to fix things is to get hold of the charts to the end of the world. That’s what Sao Feng has that they want. Deals are made. Double-crosses are set into motion. The actual trip into the afterlife is surreal. I’ve only seen a bit of this, but what I saw is wild, and I’m dying to see the rest of it. Here’s where we get a whole lot of Johnny Depp. I have a feeling this is the closest we’re ever going to get to the heart of what makes Jack Sparrow tick. His rescue is suitably absurd, and the return to the land of the living is positively Gilliam-esque. Yeah. That’s right. I said it. After the return to the world of the living, the crew of the Black Pearl has to get to a meeting that’s been called of all the Pirate Lords. Each of them carries an item with them that is the symbol of their membership in the Pirate Brethren. This is one of the most outrageous sets in the film, at least based on what I saw. This is also where the movie’s primary mystery is laid out: the nature of Calypso. It turns out that there was a time when pirates were afraid to sail the open ocean because they were afraid of Calypso’s fury. Then they found a way to bind her, to make her take on human form, and in doing so, they were able to tame the oceans. Now, with the East Indian Trading Company using the heart of Davy Jones to tighten the net around every single pirate still working, it’s time to consider radical solutions to the problem at hand. Like releasing Calypso and surrendering the oceans without surrendering to the East Indian Trading Company. Which raises the question... who (or what) is Calypso? Of course, that’s not the only thing the film has to accomplish. There’s a reason this one is skirting the three hour mark... they’re going to resolve everything they’ve put into motion, and just like with DEAD MAN’S CHEST and the first film, there’s even a little bit of extra movie at the very, very end after all the credits. Among the many storylines to be resolved, we see Elizabeth deal with both her betrayal of Jack and her relationship with Will. We see Will resolve his attempts to rescue his father Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) from the service of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), who is now under the thrall of Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) and Admiral Norrington (Jack Davenport), who are commanding a tremendous naval force that is imposing a new order on the entire world. Even supporting characters like Ragetti (Mackenzie Crook) and Pintel (Lee Arenberg) and Gibbs (Kevin McNally) and Marty (Martin Klebba) get some degree of resolution. Double crosses are revealed. New deals are made. I was amazed by the scale of this final film in the series. In the hour or so that I was shown from the film, the most amazing stuff by far was from the end of the film. You’ve seen a hint of it in the trailers, with the ships fighting back and forth across a giant whirlpool. That scene starts outrageous and then just keeps getting bigger and bigger and wilder and more insane. There are things going on all over the place, different planes of action and comedy and drama playing out. After watching the footage, I walked with Bruckheimer back to the mixing stage where Gore Verbinski was working. When I saw him last year, he looked exhausted. This year, he had that stare like Private Pyle in FULL METAL JACKET. The screen in the stage played a scene involving Calypso, and I got a pretty long look at who that is and how they finally appear. Verrrrrrry interesting. The volume on that mixing stage was painful, and they just kept playing the same few sound effects over and over. Verbinski made a reference to the Chinese Water Torture, and then we were on the move again, leaving him to it. I asked Bruckheimer if he misses being able to test-screen these movies. He told me that he showed it to a group of friends and family, and that they made some adjustments based on that screening. He says it’s just not possible to finish one of these movies early enough or well enough to show to a test audience. And indeed, when I was there, they were still basically waiting on a set number of shots to be delivered from ILM each and every day. Amazing how close these giant movies come in terms of delivery dates. Even so, as I left the studio, I called my writing partner to talk to him about how anything is possible in movies now. You can pretty much do anything. The old crticism "That's too big, and it's impossible to film" no longer applies. This ending is so bizarre, so bold and audacious that it seems like almost a dare from the writers to Verbinski: "Let's see what you can really do." This certainly isn't a case of a sequel just doing what's been done before in the series. I’m seeing this movie soon. Right now, I’m confident that what we’re getting is a fitting end to this trilogy. I think you have to think of this and DEAD MAN’S CHEST as two parts of a film, then the first part was all set-up and this one is all pay off. At least, that’s what I hope it is. For now, I think this looks like a really satisfying third entry in a series, and about as much bang for the buck as anything any studio’s releasing this year. Thanks to Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer for having me in on this one.

Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles

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