PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES
It is safe to say there’s not much left to milk from the delightfully itinerant Jack Sparrow. Johnny Depp’s flagship character in the blockbuster series Pirates of the Caribbean had run out of surprises in the third instalment itself, with confounding threads in the story, and director Gore Verbinski weighed in by the need to densify.
In the fourth, On Stranger Tides, director Rob Marshall (who earlier made Chicago and Nine) does the unpalatable opposite. Jack and his world are populated by characters who rarefy this world to such an extent that the 3D adventure borders on silly. There are no strange tides here or they’re entirely lost in the big, splashy, banal enterprise. If this is to be the beginning of another series of sequels, which the story seems to suggest, Pirates of the Caribbean has lost all promise.
But for Depp, On Stranger Tides wouldn’t even float. Jack still has enough bravado—and he cavorts and ho-hos his way through the journey to Spain in search of a mythical Fountain of Youth. There’s no new jaggedness to his character except he confesses to having experienced “stirrings” for Angelica (Penelope Cruz, feisty and disinterested in turns), daughter of the menacing Blackbeard (Ian McShane). His old enemy Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, in the movie’s only role performed passionately) is back, on a mission launched by a juvenile and frumpy King George. Keith Richards makes a little appearance as Jack’s father, as if straight out of a grave.
Uninspiring: (top) A still from Pirates of the Caribbean; and 404.
Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner and Keira Knightly’s Elizabeth Swann are sorely missed. Instead, there is Angelica and Jack’s insipid past romance, never really rekindled on the high seas. A missionary (Sam Claflin) hovers around centre stage, expressing penance for ordinary, wicked pirate behaviour.
The ride is somewhat redeemed by the efficient 3D technology. In the middle of the film’s running time is a staggering sequence of mermaids attacking a ship of Blackbeard’s sidekicks, who are supposed to collect a drop of mermaid’s tear, adding it to water from the Fountain of Youth to attain eternal youth. Ethereal mermaids turn nefarious in what is the film’s most unforgettable visual episode.
The first film, The Curse of the Black Pearl, was an unapologetic triumph of the dark hero in a beautifully imagined universe. Here I feared, as the film progressed, that Jack might actually take his romantic “stirrings” seriously. The mermaids largely saved the day. Marshall tried to strike a new tone for producer Jerry Bruckheimer, but he is not audacious enough.
Prawaal Raman’s 404 is a psychological thrilled trapped in the form of a classical horror film. Raman’s directorial portfolio consists of Darna Mana Hai, Gayab and Darna Zaroori Hai, but this film is entirely different in treatment—far from the Ram Gopal Varma kind of horror films.
The psychological thriller is a thin and ambitious genre. The best recent example is Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Films of Alfred Hitchcock such as Psycho and Manoj Knight Shyamalan’s Unbreakable are other examples.
Set in a medical college with a small cast of characters, 404 begins with Abhimanyu (Rajvvir Arora), a bright new entrant, choosing to live in a room in the hostel which has been locked for years because a student had committed suicide there. Prof. Aniruddh (Nishikant Kamat), who taught psychiatry and specializes in bipolar disorder, takes special interest in Abhimanyu. Older students, led by Chris (Imaad Shah), use violent tactics to rag the new batch, and with Abhimanyu they adopt especially harsh means such as hypnosis, which leads him to hallucinatory obsessions. The story answers why Abhimanyu is special and who the “ghosts” are in this hostel.
The screenplay is extraneously fleshed out, including long speeches on psychiatric disorders. There are way too many expository scenes, slackening the pace substantially. The strength of 404 is its story.It is classical in plot and sensibility, and the director’s treatment complements the story. The Super 16 camera lends the film a rich visual texture. Even so, because of the script’s inherent drudgery and some glaring clichés, this isn’t quite the thriller which keeps you waiting for a climactic twist.
Kamat, a director—of films such as Dombivli Fast and Mumbai Meri Jaan—has the lead role. As an actor, his tools are conventional, which perhaps a story such as this could have done without. The character of Chris has layers and the actor infuses some humour and life into it. Arora, a debutant, is capable.
404 is not crafted or astute writing, the hallmark of the genre Raman is working with, so it falls short of a satisfying thriller.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and 404 released in theatres on Friday.