I can very easily liken the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy to The Matrix trilogy. Both featured smash-hit first films that exceeded everyone’s expectations and both of those films spawned the studios to ramp up production on the sequels, providing un-heard of budgets to make it happen. And, with both series, there was a noticeable decline in quality as the films went by. Sure, they’re still fun to watch (and I stand by that judgment for both Pirates and Matrix series) and that’s what it’s really all about in the end. Despite this, the sequels will never be able to match what the originals brought forth: something new to the genre and something that audiences hadn’t seen in theaters in a long time.

After leaving audiences hanging at the end of Dead Man’s Chest, the cast and crew return for the series final (supposed) installment in the Pirate trilogy, At World’s End. Going to the ends of the earth to rescue Jack Sparrow from Davey Jone’s Locker is but the first element of the film, with the remainder finding the Pirate Lords and convening on Shipwreck Island. Once there, the council declares war on the East India Trading Company, who now control the seas with Davy Jones and the Flying Dutchman. Culminating in a battle between the Black Pearl and Dutchman, the final hour of At World’s End is easily one of the most exciting in the trilogy.

With all the entertainment that At World’s End packs in it is easily the weakest of the trilogy. This isn’t a slight against the film in the least; the film is entertaining, but there was just so much packed into the film that the exposition and introduction of new characters at this juncture just slowed things down at times, stretching the films run time to approach the three hour mark. The film also ran relatively low on the humor, sans the moments with Sparrow (obviously), and that perhaps hurt the film the most. The Curse of the Black Pearl excelled in setting up this universe and was overwhelming the viewer with smart, funny writing along the way, but the subsequent sequels took a darker turn and while there was still humor to be had in each, they didn’t quite compare to the first one.

Things to note in this film are the much talked about (and confusing) scene with the multiple Sparrow’s aboard the Black Pearl. While the documentary on this DVD helps de-fuzz that whole situation a bit, nothing can quite explain the bewilderment that washes over you as you begin to see the multiple Sparrow’s. Of course it’s all in his head, but their re-appearance later in the film goes to show just how off the deep end Jack had gone from being in Davy Jones’s locker.

Also new to the film was Chow Yun-Fat as the Pirate Lord Sao Feng. His character sets up the notion that throughout the film we’ll be allying ourselves with new pirate captains, although he is really the only one whose character is fleshed out; all other captains we see are mostly background and rarely speak. We never see them in battle and they’re really just there to fill up the cast sea with ships and new faces. They could probably build films around each one of the pirates…which I’m sure someone inside Disney has already pitched that idea at this point.

Without a doubt the most jaw-dropping thing in the film was the maelstrom sequence in the last half. The special effects are amazing and to see all of the fighting and exploding pieces of ship flying everywhere at once is just a real sight to see. The only downside to this fight was the Elizabeth/William sequences, as their marriage by Barbossa kind of slowed the whole sequence down. Still, the fight between Jones and Sparrow, as well as all of the other minor characters getting their small chances to shine, made for a very entertaining final sequence.

I had few real qualms with the film, aside from what I mentioned above. The Elizabeth/William scenes really were getting old, however; in the first film they were cute and new. By the second they were like old friends, but in the third you just wanted them to end. Their defiance of one another eventually ended in them getting married and having children together anyway, so it seemed like an unnecessary way to create tension between them. Here’s hoping the fourth film won’t see the return of them in anything more than cameos.

Overall Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is a fine film that comes Highly Recommended. It may be the weakest of the trilogy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining.

Arriving in single and two-disc DVD as well as Blu-Ray, there will be a few choices for buyers to pick over when its December release date comes nearer. For the two-disc DVD edition (which I’ll be reviewing), we get a fair amount of extras packed onto the second disc, as well as a rather fancy slipcover for the exterior of the DVD case. Embossed and reflective foil combine with a strange type of texture that puts to shame the previous DVDs slip covers. When slipcovers actually provide a purpose, I don’t hate them nearly as much—and this is certainly a case of that.

Inside the two-disc amaray case (complete with child locks) is an insert detailing the contents of the two discs (as well as a notice that this two-disc edition is only being produced through September 30th of 2008), a coupon book with the Disney Movie Rewards code and a second booklet advertising Pirates merchandise. Moving onto the menus themselves, we get a nicely animated main menu, which mirrors the circular map from the film. Only the first disc sports this menu; the second disc has a different menu style altogether, with much brighter colors and simpler navigation to all of the extras and featurettes.

Video and audio for the film is quite clean and clear. The Dolby Surround 5.1 track (also available in a Spanish track) is nice and robust, making frequent use of the surrounds, as well as the LFE. The track isn’t quite as booming as Dead Man’s Chest, but it’s still remarkably loud at times, especially during the maelstrom sequence. Video shows a few moments of grain at times, but aside from that it looks very nice.

Moving onto the extras we have a “Bloopers of the Caribbean” on the first disc…and…that’s it. No commentary of any kind accompanies this first disc, merely a single blooper extra. Oh well. Moving onto disc two, we get our first featurette right away with “Keith & The Captain: On Set with Johnny Depp and The Rock Legend.” This extra is basically what everyone wants to see and know about: Depp’s inspiration for Sparrow’s unique personality is here in full pirate regalia, complete with swagger. There’s plenty of great one-on-one discussion between Richards and Depp and it’s clear that both men respect one another greatly. This featurette was a lot of fun to watch and ran just the right amount of time.

“Deleted Scenes” follow with commentary by director Gore Verbinski. There are only two deleted scenes here, both of which were cut for time. The funnier of the two scenes, “Two Captains, One Ship” would’ve been great if it had been included in the film as it would’ve added another element of humor to it. At least we get to see it here; “I Like Riddles”, the second deleted scene, is extremely short and focuses on our two favorite pirate renegades (Ragetti and Pintel) quibbling with one another.

“The Tale of Many Jacks” goes into the details of how this idea of the multiple Jack personality came about. Depp explains the methods he used to develop and split the various versions of Jack on the ship. We also get to see that the hair that the mini-Jack’s on Sparrow’s shoulder that show up later in the film was actually a fully-built set. The writers of the films defend their reasoning behind including this new quirk to Jack’s character and overall they do a fine job—it does mix up and add something new to the formula, after all.

“Anatomy of a Scene: The Maelstrom” is absolutely jawdropping. I’d no idea that such a set was built (holding both the Black Pearl and Flying Dutchman at a tilt, with people swinging two and fro throughout) and the amount of work that went into making it is just astonishing. The set is apparently one of the largest and most expensive ever built and it shows—I was dumfounded throughout this extra. Both at the vastness of the set and the money spent on it, the oil it took to run and the electricity to light the thousands of lamps that kept it properly lit. With environmentalism being so prominent in Hollywood culture, I’m actually surprised Disney let this feature out on this DVD—it’ll certainly make more than a few environmentalists faint.

“Masters of Design – Creating The Pirates World” is a five-part mini-documentary series that goes into the world of each of the designers, including Jim Byrkit’s Sao Feng map, Crash McCreary’s Cursed Crew of the Dutchman, Rick Heinrichs designing of the Singapore elements in the film, Penny Rose on Captain Teague’s costume and Kris Peck’s creation of the Pirate Code Book. All total the featurettes run over twenty-five minutes and give a fair look into behind-the-scenes work that went on for this film.

“The World of Chow Yun-Fat” is a featurette praising the man and his works. While I’m sure he’s a wonderful man and apparently nearly worshipped as a god in China, I’m not entirely sure why we get a featurette that focuses more on him than his character in the film…but whatever. It’s a decent extra, even if it is laden with a bunch of back slapping.

“The Pirate Maestro: The Music of Hans Zimmerman” is a ten minute look inside the production of the soundtrack for At World’s End. Zimmerman details his feelings about the film and the music he wrote for it, while Verbinski adds his own comments about how unique an excellent each soundtrack for the films are. “Hoist the Colours” is a tale of the creation of the song that opens the movie and features interviews with Zimmerman, Verbinksi and cast cand crew.

The final extra, “Inside the Brethren Court”, has a short intro and then we’re taken to a little interactive menu with the bowl from the film and each of the Pirate Lord’s nine pieces of eight. Obviously Sao Feng, Barbossa and Jack Sparrow have the longest histories to tell, as we see more of them in the films than the others, but the other five pirates all have equally interesting back stories. We get to see more of their outfits in the film, as well as the personality of each. This is perhaps the most interesting extra on the set, simply because it delves into the biographies of these pirates more than the film ever did (admittedly it didn’t have time for it).

There is no real making-of documentary that encompasses this film, nor is there a commentary from Verbinksi. The lack of both is a disappointment, but after the exhaustive material that the Dead Man’s Chest DVD provided us with, it’s no surprise that At World’s End is a bit lighter on the special features front.

Overall this two-disc set comes Highly Recommended. There are a few things here and there that disappoint, but overall what’s here is a real treat, just like the film.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray on December 4th.

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