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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

By
John P. McCarthy
Source: Catholic News Service

The fourth movie in the series inspired by the Disneyland attraction, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (Disney), spins a yarn that leads to the Fountain of Youth. No wonder it makes the popular franchise feel long in the tooth. While not a bust or a bore, "On Stranger Tides" would benefit from more vim and vigor.

After 2007's convoluted, never-ending installment "At World's End," producer Jerry Bruckheimer hired director Rob Marshall to do just that. In exchange for a leaner, more compact entertainment, this picture lacks awe-inspiring visuals and a grand scale.

"On Stranger Tides" amounts to miniaturized hooey—the cinematic equivalent of a ship in a bottle. There's not much memorable swashbuckling and the humor isn't particularly jolly. Johnny Depp doesn't appear enthused about reprising the role of foppish Captain Jack Sparrow, despite being given a worthy new love interest played by Penelope Cruz.

Much of the enervating aura can be attributed to the fact that few scenes take place on the open ocean. Marshall heightens the sense of claustrophobia by favoring medium shots and close-ups, adopting the perspective of a spectator in the front row of the orchestra section rather than that of a viewer in the back of the auditorium positioned to take in the full breadth of the spectacle. On the plus side, the scenario doesn't attempt to incorporate previous story lines or introduce a confusing array of new characters.

In mid-1700s London, we learn of Jack's interest in finding the Fountain of Youth discovered by explorer Ponce de Leon two centuries earlier. Reluctant to join his rival Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) on an expedition backed by England's King George (Richard Griffiths), Sparrow is conscripted by sword-wielding old flame Angelica (Cruz). Angelica's father is the malevolent pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), a character schooled in the dark arts and the only one wearing more eye mascara than Jack. They set sail aboard his vessel Queen Anne's Revenge, crewed by zombie officers.

Meanwhile, the Spanish crown has dispatched three galleons to the island where the font of eternal life is supposedly located. The ritual necessary to unlock its regenerative powers entails obtaining a mermaid's fresh tear. The movie's centerpiece is an aquatic melee involving a host of these enticingly beautiful yet predatory creatures. Philip Swift (Sam Claflin), a missionary clergyman in Blackbeard's custody, falls in love with one, whom he dubs Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey).

Their romance adds a youthful note to "On Stranger Tides," but Swift's faith also affords screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio the chance to fortify the plot by contrasting his theistic worldview to one rooted in magic, including voodoo, and a pagan belief in Fate. There's considerable banter about the salvation of souls promised by Christianity and the fountain's superficial kind of redemption. This includes some mildly provocative comments regarding religion, and Catholicism in particular. They needn't deter potential viewers, however, especially since the values of compassion and kindness championed by faithful agents are appropriately affirmed.

And yet plotwise, the tension between theology and magic does end in a sort of a stand-off. As regards the handling of almost any substantive topic in a mainstream summer movie, "On Stranger Tides" hedges its bets, taking great care not to offend—or to say anything of real consequence.

The film contains recurring action-adventure violence and peril, including nongraphic knife play and swordplay; some lightly suggestive humor and innuendo; several scary sequences; one rude expression; and frequent alcohol consumption.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.




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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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