What I Love: Pirates of the Caribbean
After finishing with my review of Star Wars, I confess: I just can't get out of the mode of watching movies and thinking about what I love about them. Is any movie perfect? No (even Rogue One, if you can believe that). But for many films there's something to like, and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is no exception.
Since there's a new movie coming out and I recent rewatched this film with my folks, I figured now would be a good time to reminisce about this film. Thank you for indulging me.
I. Good First Impressions are Awesome
One of the reasons that the first Pirates movie was so successful was because our first impressions of the main characters is so good. Our first interaction with Elizabeth Swann is her singing of pirates and finding them all fascinating, so are we surprised when she accepts Will and sides with Jack at the end? No, because the characters are legitimately fascinating.
Norrington is first introduced as a man clearly devoted to British rule of law and the punishment of pirates (the line "a short drop and a sudden stop" is still one of my favorite lines in all of cinema because it's both quippy and telling of his character). Will Turner doesn't reveal much about himself when he's first picked up on the boat, but his first interaction with Gov. Swann tells us a lot about who he is, what he does for a living, and that he is a man who wants to do what is noble and right. And all in the span of about a minute.
And Jack Sparrow - sorry: Captain Jack Sparrow - needs no commentary on his introduction to us. Without a single word we know basically everything we need to know about Jack just by the music, carriage, and actions of the character in his first scene.
So keep in mind, whether you're introducing your player character or an NPC, that first impressions are important, as they shape a lot of what the players/GM will see of your character, and affect how they treat him/her. Make it memorable.
II. Stereotypes Done Right are Awesome
We've been doing a Rethinking series to get us past stereotypes, but something we mention there (and should reiterate regularly) is that stereotypes can be done very well, and when they are they are awesome. Captain Barbossa is your stereotypical plundering pirate: he's cunning, has an "honor" that is different than your honest gentleman, and is merciless in his pursuit of what he wants. And it makes for an awesome antagonist, as he has that conniving side that you can hate while also being smart enough to be a real challenge to the heroes.
Will Turner is your idealist hero, holding to romantic ideas of honor, courtship, and even piracy. Is that a stereotype? Yes it is. Does it provide a good relief against the actions of Barbossa, Sparrow, and Norrington? Yes it does.
And yet, not all of the movie is stereotypes. Elizabeth Swann is perhaps the best example, as she is the "damsel in distress" and yet a capable, resourceful person: she's not just dead weight that needs to be taken care of by the heroes. So if you use them correctly, stereotypes can be awesome.
III. Variety Is Awesome
There's a lot of variety in this movie. The honorable Brits are Norrington, who on an alignment chart would be Lawful Neutral in this movie, and Will Turner who likes to idealize the Lawful Good alignment but is actually very Neutral Good (if not Chaotic Good). Together they show, through their variance, a spectrum of "good guys."
We have two pirates: Hector Barbossa, who is fast and loose with the Pirate Code and does what he wishes, and Jack Sparrow - sorry, Captain Jack Sparrow - who is fast and loose with women, truth, and most rules but not the Code. There's also Mr. Gibbs who embodies the superstitious pirate who follows the Code because he needs to have an anchor, but is willing to bypass it in some circumstances.
Then there are the Swanns. Elizabeth is being trained to be proper (like her dad is), but she's got a wild streak in her, allowing us to get a look at nobility without stifling the other characters.
All of this is good: you want to have variety so that not everyone feels or sounds the same. This makes your world seem more complex, and thus more real.
IV. Mystery Is Awesome
Now, we warned about mystery boxes when discussing The Force Awakens, and the same principle applies here: if you're going to include mystery, map it out before you jump in, or you might find yourself in a corner. I think Gore Verbinsky does a good job with how he handles it here, though: when he presents a mystery in the series - the Isla d'Muirta, the curse of the Black Pearl, Jack's compass, and later Davy Jones, Calypso, and more - he takes the necessary time to unpack it so that you know how it works.
But he also unpacks it at the opportune moment, and that's what makes it awesome. He lets the mystery hang there, leaves it tantalizing you, and then explains how it works and what that means for the plot. The result: we get our mystery, we know the stakes, and then the characters act (with the audience knowing the importance of those actions).
This is a wise approach: let the players (or audience, for writers) have some time to unpack the mystery, learn how it works, and then take their actions. This way they learn what they are up against and can plan accordingly, but only after having to live in the world of the mystery.
Since my wife and I are in quarantine right now (for those coming here years from now the Conoravirus of 2020 is going on), I'm hoping to watch more films and review them for you here, but I'm not intending this to be the predominant series on the blog. We'll be resuming the Rethinking series and thoughts on plot development in the next few weeks.
Until next time,