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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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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog To replace our sins with virtues may seem like a daunting task, but fortunately we can follow the example of the saints who have 
successfully defeated these sins in their lifetimes. They provide us with a way forward so that we, too, can live holy, virtuous lives.

 
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