Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

This month we check out the latest installment of the highly successfull Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, with returning favorites and new characters, have they milked the franchise a little too much or is lots more from the ever unpredictable Captain Jack Sparrow?

“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” follows the three previous high-grossing, audience-pleasing films in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, subtitled: “The Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003), “Dead Man’s Chest” (2005) and “At World’s End” (2007).

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer says that audiences fell in love with the pirate genre all over again after an absence of some three decades, and they certainly fell head over heels for Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow!  There are more adventures for Captain Jack to take on, and our screenwriters, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, have created a whole world to explore.

Johnny Depp, who had fallen unabashedly in love with the character of Captain Jack Sparrow over the course of the first three films, was certainly game for another adventure. “The idea of a fourth one after finishing ‘Pirates 3’ was somewhere in the back of your head, thinking ‘I sure hope so,’’’ notes Depp. “When you’re done playing Captain Jack, there’s a real decompression getting out of that skin, because I like being in that skin. There’s a great comfort in playing Captain Jack, because you have license to be completely irreverent, completely subversive, absolutely abstract in all situations.  I know him so well that it just comes naturally.” 

Getting the Right Director

Both Jerry Bruckheimer and Johnny Depp were in complete agreement of who should direct “On Stranger Tides”: Rob Marshall, who had directed “Chicago,” an Academy Award winner for Best Picture of the Year, followed by the greatly ambitious “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Nine.” 

“Rob is a filmmaker unafraid to take on the biggest challenges and take real risks,” says Bruckheimer. “What’s more, his background in musical theatre and film and choreography were huge benefits to direct a ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie.  You need somebody who can stage huge action and understands movement. Rob is also a wonderful storyteller, and he’s got impeccable taste.”

Rob Marshall is a real force in contemporary American film whose on-set style has been accurately described as “iron covered in velvet.”  The gentlemanly-but-strong Marshall’s very first feature, “Chicago,” was nominated for 13 Academy Awards® and took home six, including Best Picture of 2002. His next two films, “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Nine” were nominated for a combined 10 Academy Awards, winning three. He was drawn to “On Stranger Tides” by his deep affection for the first three films in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, his love of the original Disney attraction, and the prospect of working with Johnny Depp and Jerry Bruckheimer. 

“Like most people, I always loved the Disneyland ride, and for me the idea of doing an action/adventure film, which I’d never done, was incredible.  I’m the first in line to see those films during the summer, so as a filmmaker, to change it up from ‘Chicago,’ ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ and ‘Nine’ was really exciting.”

Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, the acclaimed team that previous to the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film had already written such classics as “Aladdin” and “Shrek,” dug even deeper into the treasure chest of pirate and seagoing history, lore and mythology for “On Stranger Tides,” with suggestions from the much-admired novel of the same title by Tim Powers. “The main guideline was to create a stand-alone story rather than a continuation of the trilogy,” notes Rossio. 

The New Supporting Cast

With the stories of both Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) resolved in “At World’s End,” Elliott and Rossio sought to create new characters, while retaining some of the franchise favorites, particularly Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin R. McNally) and, of course, Captain Jack Sparrow. 

Tim Powers’ novel included the legendary Blackbeard, most feared of all pirates, as a primary character, and a better villain for the film could hardly be invented.  A new female protagonist was created in Angelica, a woman who can match Captain Jack blow for blow.

“There aren’t many actors that I can think of who can really go toe-to-toe with Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow,” says Rob Marshall. “You need an actress who embodies so many different things: humor, sex appeal, power, strength, beauty and passion. Having worked with Penélope, I knew that she has this unique combination of all these qualities.”

Angelica played by Penelope Cruz

“Angelica had a relationship in the past with Jack Sparrow, but he betrayed her and broke her heart,” explains Cruz. “Now she enjoys looking for revenge. Angelica has the mind of a pirate and she’s a great manipulator, a great liar and a great actress in life.  She can really trick people, but she’s a very clean soul with a good heart. She needs Jack Sparrow, as he needs her, to get to The Fountain of Youth.”

Blackbeard played by Ian McShane

For the challenging role of history’s most notorious pirate, Bruckheimer and Marshall turned to actor Ian McShane, whose remarkable career in film and television—which has now spanned nearly 50 years—has been hotter than ever since his thunderously acclaimed performance as Al Swearengen in HBO’s western series “Deadwood.”  

“Blackbeard is probably the most infamous pirate who ever lived,” notes McShane.  “There’s a legion of stories about him, and whether they’re true or not, he’s now part of pirate mythology.” 

“The beauty of the character of Blackbeard,” reflects Johnny Depp on Captain Jack’s nemesis in “On Stranger Tides,” “is that on the surface he seems to be a rational man.  But then the more you get to him, the more you realize he’s a stone-cold killer without an ounce of heart. He would screw over anyone and everyone to get to his objective, which is what makes him so dangerous. And I don’t think there’s a better choice than Ian McShane, certainly, to play him.”

Syrena played by Astrid Berges-Frisbey and Philip played by Sam Claflin

To portray the two younger leads of the story—the beautiful, alluring mermaid, Syrena, and stalwart missionary, Philip Swift—Bruckheimer and Marshall, along with U.S. casting director Francine Maisler and U.K. casting directors Lucy Bevan and Susie Figgis, embarked on a classic worldwide talent search. Selected from thousands of candidates were France’s Astrid Bergès-Frisbey and England’s Sam Claflin, both in their early twenties with some acting experience in their respective countries, but as yet unproven on an international level. 

“Astrid and Sam both did screen tests that excited us enormously. We just knew that they both had what it takes to make a major impression on the big screen,” says Jerry Bruckheimer.

“I play a missionary named Philip Swift, who stands up for what he believes in and tries to right Blackbeard’s wrongs,” notes Claflin. “In the course of the story, Philip goes through a surprising journey, especially when he meets Syrena.  He’s never really had any contact with women, so that’s quite a turn of events, to say the least.”

Bergès-Frisbey, describing her character, says, “Syrena is different from the other mermaids because, in the story, she connects to the human characters, which changes her. Philip changes Syrena, and Syrena changes Philip, because from the first moment they see in the other something similar to themselves.” 

The New Ship

As envisioned by John Myhre, the “Queen Anne’s Revenge,” Blackbeard’s vessel, is an imposing, terrifyingly beautiful, brutal beast of the sea—an extension of Blackbeard’s own dark vision of life…and death. Featuring the bones of Blackbeard’s victims in the design—moldings out of leg and arm bones, walls out of skulls—and the notion that Blackbeard actually burned his victims in a giant, flaming lantern on the stern of the ship, the set, a fully-functioning ship, is a sight to behold. Its figurehead is based on Blackbeard’s real flag, which was a great horned skeleton holding a goblet of wine in one hand and a spear in the other as if he were toasting his victims.

The “Queen Anne’s Revenge” was not only the setting for numerous scenes of action and supernatural mayhem, but also for a moonlit dance of romance, deception and double-dealing between Captain Jack and Angelica, choreographed by executive producer John DeLuca to mandola music played by Stephen Graham as Scrum.

POPCulture Online was also at the Gala Premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides held on May 16 in conjuction with the grand opening of the all new Shaw Theatres at Lido. Check out the video below.

POPCulture Online TV produced by Nick Tan

Photos and notes courtesy of Walt Disney Motion Pictures Studios Singapore

POPCulture Online June 2011 All Rights Reserved

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