DVD Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Movie ••• Picture ••••½ Sound •••• Extras ••••
This being a Jerry Bruckheimer production and a Gore Verbinski film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest does have plenty of rewards, despite the fact that it's based on a theme-park ride. Of course, there are striking, Peter Pan-like aerial shots of boats at sea. But the movie is also full of set pieces that ooze visual and sonic craftsmanship.

Thankfully, this two-disc set is technically exemplary. Keira Knightley's hair glistens in the rainy twilight, each strand defined. You can see every crag in the pirates' rugged faces and rotting teeth. And Johnny Depp's mascara challenges the fundamental properties of absolute black.

Many scenes take place at night, illuminated only by lantern or candlelight. Here, the transfer is at its best. You'll clearly see fine detail lurking in the shadows, and colors are always bold enough, without any blooming or edge enhancement.

Digital effects are everywhere: the waving octopus tentacles protruding from the head of Davy Jones (played with humor and pseudo-evil elegance by Bill Nighy), his shipmates' crustacean-encrusted faces, a giant wooden wheel that rolls across an island while supporting a three-man sword fight within its spokes. Yet, not once did I see even a shimmer of a compression artifact. When Captain Jack stares into the maw of a savage sea-beast, it's as real as these things can get.

Sound excels as well. There's plenty of mid- and low-bass, and the sonic effects occur in an appropriate 360º arc around the onscreen action. There are also some welcome subtleties. Hans Zimmer's score is given enough energy to punctuate the action without overwhelming it. When cannibals threaten the gang, tribal drumbeats and shouts stay within earshot as a steady presence, gradually coming to the fore in the mix as tension builds. And when rain pounds the ship's deck or two swords clash, you hear the exacting results of careful sound design and engineering.

Everyone loves a good battle scene, though. In the final one, there's excellent realism as cannonballs fly all around, wooden deck beams crack apart, and people scream on and off camera. All I ask from good seabound sound is that it makes me feel like I'm actually on a ship & and in that, this DVD succeeds mightily.

The voluminous extras are sure to please behind-the-scenes junkies. Ten different featurettes exhaustively chronicle the travails of 200 days of location shooting for both this movie and the next one, due summer 2007. Topics include the sea-monster effects, sword-fight choreography, costuming, and the inherent difficulties of planning a production without a finished script. Certainly, cowriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio could have used a little more time to tweak the logic and the expositional holes in the screenplay. On their commentary, the two add more (thinly veiled) excuses and apologies.

Depp appears very sparingly in all of this, and he confines his comments to rote Hollywood marketing drivel. But Bruckheimer is happy to share everything, including his own production photos. Turns out the guy is a pretty decent photographer, too. [PG-13] English, French, and Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1; letterboxed (2.35:1) and anamorphic widescreen; two dual-layer discs.

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