When “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” hit theaters as the fourth installment in the blockbuster film series, reviews were mixed. While I thought it was the best “Pirates” film since the original, appreciating its smaller budget and cast, affording more screen time to its stars and less spent on computer-generated characters and confusing story lines, others felt it was a misstep to lose the high dollar effects. In the translation to the new home release, hitting store shelves tomorrow on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD, and movie download, Pirates of the Caribbean 4 succeeds in bringing fans of the series into the middle of the adventure, following Captain Jack Sparrow in stunning quality, and even pulling back the curtain to see how it all came together.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” places the small core group of characters (Captain Jack, Barbossa, Gibbs, Blackbeard, and Angelica) in exotic locations in search of the Fountain of Youth. From thick jungles to dark caves, the film never falters in its Blu-ray presentation. Bright outdoor scenes offer bold looks at carefully scouted areas of Hawaii and the Caribbean, with green foliage and blue waters drawing viewers’ eyes in. Darker scenes, such as Angelica’s flame-lit sword battle introduction with Captain Jack, still appear crisp, with details present and no noise cluttering up blacks and other dark hues.
Adding 3D to the mix only serves to enhance this picture, as it did in theaters. Despite the usual slightly darker picture created by 3D glasses, all scenes are still perfectly enjoyable in 3D, with many shots framed and displayed with the added dimension in mind. Strangely, the film almost feels hyperreal when viewed on Blu-ray 3D, as the high frame rate (30fps for each eye) almost makes the motion too smooth, losing the 24fps film look that has been associated with Hollywood movies for decades. Watching something as simple as Jack Sparrow and his companions walk across the screen is so fluid in 3D, that it does at times feel like you could reach out and touch them. But at other times it feels unnatural, as if watching raw footage rather than a final processed movie. It’s a mixed result that can be blamed on new technology. Ultimately, it’s an enjoyable viewing experience, with or without 3D.
Beyond the film itself, the release’s bonus features contain exactly what any fan of the “Pirates” series wants to see. Behind the scenes cameras were rolling throughout production, from finding shooting locations to what took place on-set between takes. “Legends of On Stranger Tides” and “In Search of the Fountain” provide glimpses into how the film was made, not only featuring interviews with the movie’s lead actors, but also focusing on many of the secondary and background characters as well as the crew, giving equal importance to everyone who worked on the film. From casting extra to walk foggy London streets to following Johnny Depp as he arrives in costume on a Hawaiian island via helicopter, if it happened in the making of “On Stranger Tides,” these features show it.
And then there are the mermaids. These beautiful yet frightening creatures are given a bonus feature of their own, called “Under the Scene: Bringing Mermaids to Life,” showing all the work that went into casting and coaching the sirens, including three different sets of girls: the “pretty” ones, synchronized swimmers, and stunt swimmers.
Careful attention was given to making sure these mermaids came off as both sexy and scary at the same time and this feature shows how it was achieved, with a focus on the performance of Astrid Berges Frisbey in her supporting role as Syrena. Here’s a video clip from the bonus feature:
The Blu-ray release also has an exclusive feature called “Johnny vs Geoffery,” featuring chat about the characters Depp and Rush play. It’s amusing but not as interesting as the others. In another bonus feature, deleted and extended scenes are introduced by director Rob Marshall, with the most interesting being a single short shot inexplicably cut from the film that featured a tribute to the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride, in which a drunken pirate is slurring to a pair of meowing cats. (“Here kitty, kitty, kitty…”)
This release also feature’s Disney’s Second Screen technology, allowing those with an iPad or laptop to access additional artwork and information in realtime while viewing the film on a separate display. While the bonus material offered using Second Screen is wonderful, I have felt since the technology’s launch that it should be accessed on-screen via Internet-enabled Blu-ray devices, rather than splitting the viewer’s attention between two screens.
Those who liked “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” in theaters as I did will thoroughly enjoy this home release, particularly the longer bonus features diving deep into the making-of the film. Those who didn’t enjoy the film as much as previous installments in the series will still enjoy these same features, as they can offer a glimpse into how a lower budget with fewer computer generated effects is created, a good comparison to the making-of features on the last two films, featuring CG-heavy work. It’s a win-win for “Pirates” fans of any of the movies. Yo ho.