Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Blu-ray Review

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by Chris McEneany May 24, 2007 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review


    Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £21.69


    You've heard nothing but good things about this transfer, right?

    Well, let me just confirm something right here and now for you - Dead Man's Chest has the best image quality that I have seen, thus far, on this or any other format. A perfect score of 10 out of 10 on BD is really something to behold ... and this release takes you places, visually, that no other disc has shown the technical ability to do. The SD release had a glorious transfer, but this picture is literally light years ahead of it in every department.

    Okay, folks, prepare yourselves for superlative overload!

    Dead Man's Chest is equipped with an image that is, frame for frame, an immersive, richly detailed and astonishingly three-dimensional experience that fully delivers the high-resolution goods exactly as all the new-format blurb originally announced. Every shade and every detail is accurately conveyed, from close-up and personal to far-off against the horizon. Blacks reveal oodles of detail, even within the darkest shadows. Motion is perfectly smooth and there are absolutely no instances of compression defects, noise, edge-enhancement, pixilation or smearing. Well, I say no noise, but I think I did see some against some of the pale blue skies during the three-way-duel, but hey, I really am nit-picking with that, folks.

    Colours are magnificently produced and the screen literally shines and glistens with all the shades of the rainbow and all the gloopy residue of the deep. The orange-hued lantern-light below decks, or the firefly glow of the Tia Dama's bayou creep sinuously against shadows so exquisitely textured that the film looks positively embroidered onto the screen. The putrid greens and yellows of Davy Jones' barnacled crew concoct colours that are as fascinating as they nauseating. The costumes of one and all are splendidly realised throughout their chaos that they go through, from the reasonably well-kept when first introduced, to the utterly drenched and dishevelled come the end of the film. The tribal paint on Jack and the cannibals is absolutely clear and sharply delineated - you can even see the pores of Depp's skin beneath it. The darker scenes, such as when Will first meets Davy Jones, or when he ventures below decks on the Flying Dutchman, cannot even hide the wonderful levels of colour, although it is important to note, here, that the lighting effects throughout remain brilliantly evocative and authentic to each individual scene, and nothing about the image looks detrimentally artificial or bogus.

    Detail is where the transfer really comes into its own, with every shot providing what may as well be a window onto the movie's events, so crisp and so completely clear is the visual information presented. Nothing is soft or flattened by the transfer, even the most minute nail or groove in a ship's hull, or the furthest leaf on the cannibal island stands proud with absolute realism and a depth of field that feels, quite literally, as though you could reach into it. Skies and the horizon - especially during the protracted duel across the beach - are so vividly and indelibly etched that on larger screens (I viewed this on a 52 inch LCD) the resulting view is actually quite disturbing, in that your living room seems to have been opened out before your eyes. When Will is first carried into the tribal village, look far into the distance down the ravine, and you can clearly see a flock of birds taking flight miles away. The bone-cages hanging deep into the chasm offer up a staggering amount of detail in the long shots of them swinging from side to side, really upping the ante from the previous high-definition benchmark of King Kong. Then, when there comes a real treat when the Flying Dutchman plunges beneath the waves - every bubble, ripple and watery tremor is accurately and convincingly filtered across the image - and, of course, its crew are literally reference material for detail in their own right. Shots when they are all stood together - be they on the deck of the ship, or gathered amidst an island's lush foliage - just beg to be frozen and studied, such is the level of sharpness and clarity afforded the complex makeup they wear. Check out the popping eye effect for fan-headed Macchus. Hell, even that lousy effect when the Kraken rears up behind Jack at the climax looks better and more visually integrated into the frame with the benefits of the higher resolution rendering a much less jarring CG/live-action blend.

    Definitely demo quality, folks, and the new transfer-trendsetter.

    Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man


    Well, if the picture left me agog with awe, then the PCM Uncompressed 5.1 track took my ears to Heaven and back. Encoded at 48kHz/24-bit, the sound design is exemplary. Spatial separation is exquisite and the round-speaker panning is seamless and transparent, with many occasions when effects and score swirl effortlessly around you and allow for total audio immersion. Dialogue is completely clear and smoothly presented throughout - from jungle babble and on-deck banter to crow's nest enunciation and Davy Jones' final howl of anguish.

    The mix caters for gloriously sharp high-ends and a full and warm mid-range that swells around the room with enticing conviction. The rear speakers are called in for action throughout and supply many moments of perfectly steered whip-around effects, such as splintering timbers and explosions. The two sequences of “BIG ROUND THINGS ROLLING THROUGH JUNGLE SETTINGS” provide some great combinations of snatched voices, acute directionality, crunching impacts and ebullient scoring, every element coming together on one majestic mix. But there is also plenty of enjoyable and acoustically satisfying ambience to keep the track bubbling along. Hubbub in the taverns and along the docks, jungle noises and the sound of crickets and birds in the bayou, squabbling crewmen topside on the decks of various vessels and the endless creaking and groaning of wood sluicing through the waves. Nothing here quite matches the sheer realism of the sound design in Master And Commander for authentic, natural-sounding seafaring audio (just wait for that to be unleashed in PCM uncompressed!) but the effect is still amazingly buoyant and ear-catching as to have you feeling quite queasy at times, and perhaps swaying from side to side.

    Sub-fans can rejoice, too! Dead Man's Chest provides such deep bass rumblings that you could forgiven for thinking that King Neptune, himself, was clambering up between the foundations of your house. The impacts have such weight, presence and reach that even the little moments, such as pistol shots and the roll-back of ships' canon have convincing authenticity. But the great thing about the bass level found within this PCM mix is that it has not been overly bolstered to drown out the rest of the soundscape. Even the real ship-smashing moments of Kraken-carnage have been painstakingly kept within the parameters of the overall design, when it would have been so easy to have overstepped the mark. The movement of said beastie beneath the hulls of doomed ships is also wonderfully presented and tremendously atmospheric, as is the eerie sequence of Davy Jones playing his gothic organ. The original DD 5.1 has been supplied, as well, but as good as it is, it is simply no match for the more open, bombastic and much more “organic” sounding PCM.

    More top marks here, folks.

    Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man


    This release ports over all the extras that were to be found on the original SD disc - and adds a couple more. Disc 1 contains the movie, a commentary from the film's writers Terry Rossio and Ted Ellitott, some sneak peeks for forthcoming releases, including a cool look at At World's End, and the revolutionary BD-Java game, Liar's Dice.

    The chat track is pretty decent, although a cast commentary would have been infinitely preferable. The pair converse fluidly and with good-natured delight at their film, following the action on-screen quite closely. We get to hear about the nixed idea for showing us the fate of Jim Hawkins' father at the hands of the sadistic Mr. Mercer - that's Jim Hawkins from Treasure Island - and there are one or two hints about what is to come in Part 3. The pair have the screenplay to hand to quickly reference and compare their text to the finished film, and there is a certain amount of fun to had from their Americanised pronunciations of words like Kraken and Edinburgh. They are also honest about areas of the script they'd have liked to revisit to make events and motivations clearer to the audience. It is also nice to hear what became of my (and my son's) favourite line from the teaser trailer - Will's abrupt “Never mind ... let's go!” when he sees Jack being pursued by the entire cannibal tribe across the beach. It really is much better than the line that ended up being kept in.

    So, not a bad track, overall.

    Disc 2 the real haul of goodies, though sadly, like me, you may find that the law of diminishing returns applies.

    First up a pre-production walk-through called Charting The Return (25.39 mins). This gives us a little insight into how the movie was brought about without the aid of anything even barely resembling a script, and the notion of the trilogy is addressed. We spend time with Verbinski, Bruckheimer and various others as they discuss the problems of creating two films at once. However, the main scripting issue is quite conveniently mentioned (and, perhaps, erroneously, left in) when someone actually says matter-of-factly that they just came up with cool sequences they'd like to see and then found a way of stringing them together. There is also some casting footage - check out the skinny guys! - location-scouting, set construction and some tests of the huge water-wheel.

    According To Plan (62 mins) basically covers the actual filming. We get to see lots of shooting taking place and monitor watching, but what this feature does primarily is focus on how the vast production crew became a family and enjoyed themselves so much - in that time-honoured and sycophantic fashion we all know and hate. “Hey, you get fit on a Gore Verbinski picture!” says one crewman sprinting uphill to the location, with a patently for-the-cameras smile on his face. There are lots of talking head interludes, but precious few snippets from Depp, Bloom, Knightley, Davenport and McNally etc - which is shame. But there is some good footage from the water-wheel fight, though.

    Captain Jack - From Head To Foot (26 mins with a Play All). Doing exactly what it says on the tin, this slight set of mini-featurettes just supplies the background to all of Jack's clothing and accoutrements under the wise steering of costume designer Penny Rose, who proves to be both personable and full of anecdotes.

    Mastering The Blade is just a trio of little features on how Bloom, Knightley and Davenport trained with their swords, and reveals a little bit of the stuntwork, as well. Running for roughly five minutes per person, this is just filler. And where is Johnny Depp, I wonder? Oh yeah, that's right - his character seems to have forgotten that he is a great swordsman in this film.

    Then we get the real disappointment for CG fans. Meet Davy Jones: Anatomy Of A Legend (12.30 mins) and Creating The Kraken (9.58 mins) are special effects featurettes that don't really do their creations justice. Davy Jones benefits from a nice CG strip-down montage that gently peels away the digital layering that actor Bill Nighy underwent to bring the barnacled buccaneer to life. But this is too slight and much too brief to do justice to one of the greatest CG characters ever realised. For the Kraken, the best bit reveals the huge prop tentacles that take down a ship via heavy explosives and even heavier weight. But, really, these little docs only just scratch the surface.

    Dead Men Tell New Tales (12.58 mins) is a nice little piece about the actual Disney Ride and how the movie characters have now been incorporated into it.

    Fly On Set: The Bone Cage (3.46 mins) focuses on the construction and filming of the hanging bone cage sequence, with the real actors suspended high up and swinging forwards and backwards against a huge blue screen. Looks like great fun, folks. They should put this in the Disney Ride.

    Photo Diary (4.37 mins) is just Jerry Bruckheimer's love letter to his most bankable cash cow. Set beneath Zimmer's score, we see some of his on-set and location photos, intercut with some of his thoughts on the project.

    Pirates On Main Street (3.56 mins) is just press-junket World Premier footage ... and a waste of time.

    The Blooper Reel is pretty good value, with the cast goofing up or forgetting their lines. Depp has a couple of good one - I like the “I did not!” bit best.

    There are also a couple of new additions to this BD release. The first is Liar's Dice, which is an interactive BD-Java game based on the somewhat confusing, and long drawn-out game that Davy Jones' crew indulge in below decks. Using video-clips, you play against an unseen opponent, whilst Lee Arenberg's Pintel and Martin Klebba's Marty, amongst a gaggle of other cutthroats, react to your skills and the development of the game at large, amounting to around 45 mins of footage. This feature does bode well for similar interactivity on future releases - the video footage is excellent - but, as much fun as it is, I doubt you would return to play it very often. A little instruction booklet accompanies this, supplying you with the low-down on the rules.

    Then we have Pirates On Location: Cannibal Island and Tortuga is a brief look at the filming that took place on these colourful islands. Although there is some repetition here from previous features, it is nice to hear from some of the cannibals.

    Stills From The Set is a selection of production, cast and making-of photos.

    And then we get the ubiquitous Movie Showcase feature to highlight the scenes that Disney believe are the best moments to savour the picture and sound transfers.

    Well folks, although at first glance there appears to be a deluge of treasures here, they turn out to be just a scattering of well-worn trinkets. Davy Jones and his crew are not given enough coverage and, worst of all, there is precious little input from the main stars throughout the seven-odd hours of extras for the biggest film of last year. Not that impressive, after all, but enough to supply a taster of what went into creating the middle part of what will, no doubt, prove to be one of the most successful film franchises ever made.

    Oh, and the animated menu screens on the discs are pretty funky, too.

    Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man


    You don't need me to tell you that this, and its predecessor, are absolutely essential additions to your Blu-ray collections, do you?

    Although the exhaustive-sounding package is ultimately a bit of a damp squib, Dead Man's Chest proudly displays an image to die for and an audio mix to set your ears alight. The new benchmark for high-resolution transfers has arrived and, even if the Part 2 becomes self-indulgent and way-lays some of the established characterisation from the first one, this remains eye-popping entertainment of the highest smirk-inducing variety. My fondness for the film has grown considerably, but not enough to mask its shortcomings. But I know that when I am in the mood to show off the capabilities of my home theatre, Dead Man's Chest will be the first thing I reach for.

    Very highly recommended for pure AV bliss. This gets a 9 going-on-10! And it is nice to see that they kept the lenticular packaging of the US SD release to round things off in appropriately 3D fashion.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £21.69

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