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Depp, “Dead Man’s Chest” sail onto DVD

Sean Sweany | Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Robotic pirates have been singing it for 40 years – “Yo, ho, yo, ho, a pirate’s life for me.” The theme song from the popular Disneyland attraction “Pirates of the Caribbean” is known worldwide for bestowing a “pirate’s life” to its bard. This past summer, Walt Disney Pictures had a pirate’s life at the box office and with the release of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” on DVD, it was a pirate’s Christmas as well.

The sequel to the hit 2003 film “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” again took viewers on a whirlwind ride with Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and crew across the high seas of the Caribbean.

“Dead Man’s Chest” picks up soon after the events of the first movie, with the arrest of the soon to be wedded Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, “Kingdom of Heaven”) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley, “King Arthur”) on the charge of aiding Jack Sparrow. In what turns out to be an epic quest for their freedom, the two must work with sparrow to obtain the Dead Man’s Chest from Davy Jones (Bill Nighy, “Love Actually”), which controls the fates of dead souls.

The plot is grand, and slightly confusing, but this is intentionally done with the knowledge that a third film, to be released in May 2007, will wrap up the numerous loose ends concocted in “Dead Man’s Chest.”

Director Gore Verbinski (“The Weather Man”) handles the enormous production, including its complex story, with a deft touch that balances action with softer moments akin to the first movie and ultimately gives a greatly entertaining film.

Perhaps Verbinski’s biggest accomplishment is that he elicits even better performances from his actors than in the first “Pirates” film. Bloom and Knightley cease being merely background characters and become compelling, rounded people. Bill Nighy, whose movements were recorded and overlaid with a CGI figure, is delightful as Davy Jones, even though the character is completely computer animated.

The movie, however, belongs to Johnny Depp and could just as easily be titled “The Captain Jack Sparrow story.” Depp steals every scene he appears in, which is essentially the entire movie. His quirky, off-kilter style is more prominent and more pronounced than in the first film, and this is what helps “Dead Man’s Chest” accomplish a difficult feat – to exist as a sequel but rival the first film in a series in quality.

The two-disc collector’s edition DVD of this film has a treasure trove of special features and is a must have for even the most casual fan of the films. Numerous special features include in-depth featurettes on Jack Sparrow and the film’s top-notch production design, which endured hurricanes, tropical storms and budget problems while filming the picture.

An “Anatomy of a Legend” feature looks at the process behind creating the Davy Jones character, showing the technology the filmakers used to bring the otherworldly creature to life. A very unique feature examines how Disneyland added the iconic characters of Sparrow and Captain Barbossa from the “Pirates” films to the original, 1966 Disneyland attraction.

The video and sound of “Pirates” have an excellent transfer onto DVD, especially the Hans Zimmer score, which is as good as the first film’s soundtrack. The incredibly lifelike CGI in the film – from Davy Jones and his otherworldly crew to the Kraken – are crisp and detailed even on the small screen.

Amidst skepticism about its success potential and criticism of its length and twisted plot, “Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest” triumphed, becoming one of the most successful films of all time while delighting audiences and critics alike. As a middle film of a trilogy, “Dead Man’s Chest” sets the stage well for the third film, but ultimately succeeds because it can stand alone against its forebear as one of the best swashbuckling films of all time.