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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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Gregory VII: The 10th century and the first half of the 11th were dark days for the Church, partly because the papacy was the pawn of various Roman families. In 1049, things began to change when Pope Leo IX, a reformer, was elected. He brought a young monk named Hildebrand to Rome as his counselor and special representative on important missions. He was to become Gregory VII. 
<p>Three evils plagued the Church then: simony (the buying and selling of sacred offices and things), the unlawful marriage of the clergy and lay investiture (kings and nobles controlling the appointment of Church officials). To all of these Hildebrand directed his reformer’s attention, first as counselor to the popes and later (1073-1085) as pope himself. </p><p>Gregory’s papal letters stress the role of bishop of Rome as the vicar of Christ and the visible center of unity in the Church. He is well known for his long dispute with Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV over who should control the selection of bishops and abbots. </p><p>Gregory fiercely resisted any attack on the liberty of the Church. For this he suffered and finally died in exile. He said, “I have loved justice and hated iniquity; therefore I die in exile.” Thirty years later the Church finally won its struggle against lay investiture.</p> American Catholic Blog In Christ, true God and true man, our humanity was taken to God. Christ opened the path to us. If we entrust our life to him, if we let ourselves be guided by him, we are certain to be in safe hands, in the hands of our Savior.

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