The Queen and I went to go see Pirates of the Caribbean. Twice, actually. The first time we entered the theater and found it packed to the gills, so we wandered down the hall and caught Seabiscuit instead.
In retrospect, watching Pirates from the first row might have been preferable. This became apparent early in the film, when Jeff Bridges rises at a dinner party and says “As corny as it sounds, I’d like to propose a toast. To the future!” Attention screenwriters: if even your characters are worried about sounding corny, you are probably writing a corny movie.
Also: if you want to screw up the adaptation of a best-selling book, try taking a real and inherently inspirational story and making it even more inspirational. So it’s not enough that Seabiscuit — a horse that had been written off by everyone but nonetheless went on to win
the Triple Crown a buncha races — serve as an inspiration to a nation shaken by the Great Depression; now every character has to rise from humble beginnings and overcome adversity to reach Greatness. And in case you don’t get the analogy, Jeff Bridges periodically gives impromptu monologues wherein he explains to a large and nodding crowd how the horse is symbolic of the country as a whole. Seriously: he gives this speech, like, three times.
A side-effect of this relentless inspirationilzation is that nearly every scene is a little too emotional and significant. Conversations 30 minutes into the film are accompanied by the kind of Overbearingly Sad But Heroic Music that is usually reserved for the finale. Every phrase uttered by the characters has some deeper portent. Things can’t just happen, they have to happen for a reason. Seabiscuit even has my least favorite Required Hollywood Movie Moment — you know, where The One Guy says something pithy to The Other Guy, and then later in the film, when The One Guy has lost his way, The Other Guy says the exact same phrase back to him, thereby enabling him to remember what’s Really Important In This World Of Ours? You know that moment? It’s in there.
So even though I knew that Seabiscuit is based on a true story, I spent much of the film rolling my eyes and muttering “c’mon — that didn’t happen!” whenever the filmmaker couldn’t resist interjecting some tried and true Screenwriting For Dummies inspirational gimmick. Which isn’t to say that Seabiscuit is bad — objectively I’d probably give it 3.5 stars out of five. But I can’t stand it when moviemakers mess up a true story with fictitious enhancements. This is why I’ll choose a documentary on a subject over the dramatization each and every time.
Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (which we managed to see on the second attempt) is equally the Big Hollywood Spectacle, but at least it has the good sense to not even pretend to be grounded in reality. It unabashedly throws every Adventure Movie Staple (state of the art special effects, over the top fight scenes, big name actors) and pirate clich