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Pirates of the Caribbean 2 – not poorly written, just poorly reviewed

Sci Fi Wire has an amusing interview with screenwriter Terry Rossio, who was promoting the DVD release this week of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST.

Regarding critical reaction to the film – which was bloated, overlong, and poorly structured – the interview implies, without stating outright, that the problems were not with the film itself but with critics.

“The thing that you really want are reviews that are critical, that are analytical, eloquent, insightful, and actually help elevate the understanding of hte movie,” said Rossio. “A lot of times critical reviews are sort of disconnected from the actual movie, and that’s not insightful or helpful.”

Rossio did find some insightful reviews, he says – in Internet chat rooms.

“I do think it’s sad that in order to see any discussion of the existentialist themes that underlie the movie, I had to go to the fan boards, because it was not anywhere in any of the professional reviews. You’re tyring to look for a deeper analysis, and the deeper analyses are now coming in the new media.”

Pardon me, but this sounds a little bit like Don “Rummy” Rumsfeld’s “Old Europe” statement: if the establishment doesn’t like you, find some fringe group of sycophants who will worship your every utterance as if it were some profound wisdom.

Not that I want to defend mainstream film critics, many of whom are probably as superficial as Rossio suggests. It’s just that, in the case of DEAD MAN’S CHEST, the flaws are so glaringly obvious, that it doesn’t take in-depth analysis to find them. The nation’s film critics may not be particularly insightful, but even a blindman could hit a target this big.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To to problems transferring old posts to our new website, the following exchange of comments has been added to the body of the post.

Terry Rossio:
Case in point. A film cannot be ‘bloated.’ That’s actually physcially impossible, the film would not go properly through the projector. What do you mean by ‘overlong?’ The film was exactly the length it needed to be in order to tell the story — if anything, some key scenes were truncated. (Why are critics so concerned with running time?)

On to “poorly structured.” Please explain … we did not employ a traditional three act structure, true. How would you have improved the structure?

If the target is so big … let’s see you strike it.

(Cue the crickets.)
Thursday, December 7th 2006 @ 8:47 PM

Posted by Hollywood Gothique:
Forgive me for doubting that you are really Terry Rossio, but whatever my feelings about DEAD MAN’S CHEST, I would expect the man whose credits include CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL, MASK OF ZORRO, ALLADIN, and that wonderful, unfilmed GODZILLA script to come up with something better than pretending to take the word “bloated” literally. I would be happy to take on your challenge; unfortunately, to go into detail would require subjecting myself to the film again. Who knows? Maybe I’ll have an epiphany and reverse my opinion but I rather doubt it.
Thursday, December 7th 2006 @ 10:21 PM

Posted by Terry Rossio:
So you’ve just illustrated my point.

Movie critics seem to feel a need to present themselves as superior to the work reviewed, so they’ll through out assesments as fact without analysis. And so Dead Man’s Chest clearly has ‘too much plot’ according to some, ‘no plot at all’ according to others, yet no one is willing to step up with anything more insightful.

And sorry, but ‘bloated’ is one of my pet peeve non-statements, along with ‘noisy’ and ‘the film collapses under its own weight.’ Of course you don’t mean the film stock itself is bloated, but then what do you mean? It could be you think that there are elements present that are not necessary; okay, fine, then say that, and back it up, and do some freakin analysis.

Hate the movie and find some legit flaws, please do. Back up your opinion with some film history or at least logic.

If you can’t be bothered, you might as well just say you didn’t like it and leave it at that. But to claim it is overlong — when it in fact is not — you might just as well call it ‘too green’ or ‘too wet.’ It’s lazy pretentious cricism masked as insight.

I guess the target has suddenly shrunk.

But thanks for the nice call out on our Godzilla script.
Friday, December 8th 2006 @ 1:18 AM

Posted by Hollywood Gothique:
You want criticsm to be thoughtful and analytical, rather than just mindless bashing. Fair enough, but you overlook the salient fact that I was not writing a full-length review. You suggest there are only two options for discussing your work: a point-by-point dissection or a simple thumbs up/thumbs down. I just don’t accept this false dichotomy, and as a writer, I will continue to use figurative language, metaphors, and/or generalizations to convey my point. In the context of a lengthy critique, you may expect and deserve in-depth analysis backed up with specifics, but that’s hardly possible in the context of a brief post, like the one that started this conversation. True, my post offered no insights into DEAD MAN’S CHEST, but I didn’t pretend to. If I took you literally, I would end up like the title character in Borges’ “Funes the Memorious,” a slave to an infinite number of specifics, unable to synthesize details into condensed conlusions. Also, I’m not sure what’s pretentious about calling a film “too long.” You can argue about whether the assesment is correct, but it says something basic that readers can understand (unlike calling a film “too wet” or “too green”). Even “bloated” conveys a sense that the reader can grasp, whether you like it or not. (If there is a problem with the wording, it’s that it might be considered redundant.) And let’s be honest: if I had called the film “lean, refined, wonderful, and exactly the right length,” you would not be calling me pretentious and complaining that I cited no examples to support my conclusions.
Friday, December 8th 2006 @ 12:06 PM

Posted by Terry Rossio:
Actually I do not suggest there are only two options for discussing a film. And I do not call for a point-by-point dissection … nor do I want a simple thumbs up thumbs down … and (sense a pattern?) I’m not in favor of an infinite number of specifics.

Those are your suggestions and interpretations; authorship of those ideas stays with you.

For myself, I am perfectly able to imagine a two line review, or a one paragraph review, that is both short and insightful or accurate, rather than formulatic.

Yes of course one can choose to use figurative language and generalizations, and one can always attempt to be concise. But when a non-fan looks at a fantastic Superbowl game and observes, “It’s just a bunch of big guys running around in tights for three hours” there is not the implication this is a condensed version of some more thoughful analysis.

Your review is the equivalent. I would like to think it is the result of some deeper understanding, but I see no evidence.

Now if you had called the film lean, wonderful and refined, you are correct I would not have argued, the distinction being that you would in that case also be correct. But I do rail against ‘it has a nice beat and I can dance to it’ praise; uniformed is uniformed — there was a positive review of the film Deja Vu that praised the ‘dual time car chase through the streets and tunnels of New York.’ Of course there were no tunnels and the film takes place in New Orleans.

Now, there is the danger that in fact our movie *is* the equivalent of ‘a bunch of guys running around in tights’ and that a quick review, though amaturish and based minimal analysis, could be correct.

In which case I would invite you to consider the inventive dialogue of the film (how many summer movies have you seen that use “the dichotomy of good and evil” as a punchline?); the unique multi-dimensional villain, a man hurt by love so much that he cut out his own heart and hid it from himself; the unique  non-hero’s journey structure, intricately weaving three storylines into one (shades of Good, Bad & Ugly?); the exploration of the themes of existentionalism and what it means to be a good man in an evil world; the use of foreshadowing; the unique performances (especially Bill Nighy and Naomi Harris); the memorable visuals, especially the trademark rolling water wheel, rolling bone cages and Kraken attack (hey, spectacle is one of the Poetics); the creation of memorable secondary characters who possess real story relevance, again not seen much in summer movies; and the exquisite craftmanship of props, locations, costuming, and stuntwork, etc., where the top artists in their fields spent years carefully crafting each aspect of the film, with considerable invention.

And the humor.

And consider there are many people who have discovered quite a lot in the film. I think it’s far more likely that you may have missed elements, rather than they are seeing stuff that isn’t there.

If all you see is ‘bloated and overlong’ well then that’s all you see. Seems to me, then, from a wildly inventive and unique film, all you’ve managed to give back is — ironically — an uniformed, formulatic review.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I just want to add that all these years later, I still do not believe this was Terry Rossio. It sounds too much like a fan boy’s defense of their favorite idol.