Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Review by Claire Ramsey May 2011

Strange and stranger, indeed, or perhaps, to quote from Lewis Carroll, curiouser and curiouser.

The subtitle of the latest installation of the popular Johnny-Depp-headed saga is appropriate in more than one way.  First, the strangers – which means the majority of the cast.  Familiar faces include Kevin McNally as Gibbs, Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa, another cameo by Keith Richards as Jack Sparrow’s father Captain Teague, and, as goes without saying, Johnny Depp back in the eyeliner and dreads of the notorious CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow.  Everyone else is a stranger to the storyline, from Penelope Cruz’s piratical Angelica to Captain Blackbeard himself.  I never thought I would miss Pintel and Ragetti, or the bumbling redcoat guards Mullroy and Murtogg (turned pirate in At World’s End), but I actually did.  I guess we can assume Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth (Swann) Turner and son are still watching for the green flash on their island while William Turner fulfills his duties as the next Davy Jones and visits her every ten years.  But they don’t enter the story…
…which has been, with the exception of the characters mentioned, basically rebooted.  The only connection with the first three movies is the section of map purloined from Captain Sao Feng/Barbossa’s map to Davy Jones’ locker which is implied to show the way to the Fountain of Youth.  I am relieved about that too, since I had the feeling that that was the only way to make the movie work – simply start over.  The question now is – is Stranger Tides more than just a new story and a strange story, but a good story?

(Spoilers below – if you haven’t seen it, skip the next 2 paragraphs…)

New has already been covered.  It is new – or at least revamped, since you will see below that some ideas from the previous films have just been reworked.  After viewing, the strangeness of the story is beyond doubt.  I got the feeling that it took the idea of a captain in a symbiotic relationship with his ship (Davy Jones, from Dead Man’s Chest), added a historical pirate captain (most of the pirate captains in the Pirate Court in At World’s End were historical pirates), plus the undead from Curse of the Black Pearl and created the film’s Captain Blackbeard.  Why, exactly, his sword controls the rigging of the Queen Anne’s Revenge was not clear to me.  Or how he managed to ‘survive’ his death at the hands of Robert Maynard in order to fanatically pursue the Fountain of Youth.  Or how he secreted the Black Pearl in a bottle.  Maybe he can just do these cool things because he is Blackbeard, the world’s ultimate pirate (at least until Jack Sparrow appeared on the scene.  Though that still doesn’t explain how Barbossa manages to use the sword to control the rigging at the end either…)  All of this strangeness began to seem just strange for its own sake.


1) …there is enough interest and beauty in the movie to make it worth a ticket price, certainly if you go to the Raleigh Road Drive In or similar theaters.  The mermaids are more explicable than Blackbeard’s supernatural powers, and simultaneously lovely and frightening.  The relationship between the captured mermaid and the religious sailor is perhaps a trifle predictable, but is beautifully played out and has the occasional surprise to keep the audience watching intently.  My favorite quirk of the movie was that, intentionally or not, it seems to me as if the Fountain of Youth itself becomes a character.  Alien, of course, and silent but for the sound of its falling water, but by the time we reach it it almost seems to have attained a personality of its own.  At least an awareness, as if it is watching … waiting to see to what purposes its water will be put.  Like the mermaids, it is lovely but also dangerous; drinking the water preserves life, but at a cost only the desperate might be willing to pay.

…and 2) I will have to see the movie again to decide if On Stranger Tides qualifies as a good story, or even a narrative that holds together.  The dividing of my attention among my empty stomach, feeding fussy twin boys, and the action on the screen may effectively have made me miss the essential dialogue that would have explained some of the strangenesses of the movie.  Explained not so as to ruin their strangeness, but just enough to understand the plot points.
But for now I can say that I will be happy to see it again.   I will be looking to enjoy Richard Griffiths’ cameo as King George (Uncle Vernon Dursley, to you Harry Potter fans) – and keep an eye out for a short surprise appearance by Dame Judi Dench!! – , the effects of the mermaids and Fountain, Geoffrey Rush’s inimitable Barbossa, and, of course, the return of my favorite antihero, Jack Sparrow.  Excuse me, CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow.  Hope to see you at the theater!


Claire Vera Ramsey discovered storytelling by drawing stories in pictures when she was still too young to write. Claire’s storytelling upgraded from hobby to her business Stories With Claire after she took a university storytelling class.  The “premier storyteller” of Wake Forest and ex officio president of the North Carolina Storytelling Guild, Claire Ramsey believes storytelling help people value education and learn from one another.  And have fun – Claire certainly has fun when portraying costumed characters like the Pirate Captain at the Raleigh Road Drive In last weekend for the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides!

More information about Stories With Claire: www.storieswithclaire.com