[Review] - The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

First off, let me clarify something. In the UK, the title of the film is as written above. In North American the sub-title was changed to Band of Misfits. The suggestion was, in certain parts of America, people would be unwilling to take their children to see a movie about scientists because Science is mistrusted, or at the least, uninteresting. If this is true, then it is truly a dark day indeed, and that isolated cave in Wales I've got lined up is looking better and better. What a shock those sorts of people must have gotten if they did go to see The Pirates, only to discover that Science played a huge role in the plot. Must they have had little recourse but to walk, fuming from the theatre, demanding their money back, all the while exclaiming how their precious little snowflakes were damaged by the introduction of rational, reasoned, substantiated fact, even in the smallest amount. What a dark day for those sort indeed.

OK, that was something of a small tirade, one usually reserved for not a film review of a motion capture pirate movie. But it gets my dander up... no, no... the film.

Aardman, the clever fellows behind Wallace and Gromit have seen fit to grace us with a second film in a year, following on after the wonderful Arthur Christmas last... ah, Christmas. While that one was CG, a la Flushed Away, The Pirates returns them to their roots, with traditional stop frame clay animation, a format I hold in high regard because of the painstaking, laborious nature of the craft. But was the film worth the task? I'd say definitely... maybe.

Hit the jump for the spoiler-meringue review.

I was never taken with The Pirates as I have been with other Aardman projects. And yet, at the end of it, I had a big goofy smile on my face that had been there the entire time, so I obviously I enjoyed it. It's simply mid range for the studio, who is always at the top of their form in the short film variety, but whose feature length movies have taken a while to reach full potential. I'd say Arthur Christmas is as close as they've gotten to approaching the level of Pixar.

The movie is wonderfully anachronistic, playing fast and loose with history, with persons, places and things. It delivers a demented kind of joy, seeing how much they fuss with something to make it serve their purpose. From a sword wielding Queen Victoria, to a sycophantic Charles Darwin, to the whole Macguffin of the piece centring around wanting to eat a dodo, which was notorious for tasting rather blandly. This is a thinking man's film, the majority of jokes requiring a base or first level of knowledge of history and science to fully enjoy it. Which pretty much dooms it's American box office, I think.

Bigger issues arise when it comes to the slapstick. The first gag of the piece, setting up a running joke about ham, falls almost completely flat, and any time the movie treads away from the intellectual humour towards the sort of high velocity sight gags that made Wallace and Gromit such a blast, they fall short. Unfortunately, perhaps to placate the children in the audience, they keep coming back to these gags, and it slows down the film, an amazing trick for a movie only 88 minutes long.

The cast though, pulls their weight, for the most part. I was disheartened to learn that American actors were brought in to replace British ones for the North American cut of the film in certain roles, again so as not to frighten a certain sot of people that can't understand why everyone is talking funny. It amazes me that Aardman would let Sony Animation do that, and I certainly found it distracting. Of course, this is a film that removed it's trailers and changed a line in the film because lepers took offence, thus proving that it had little in the way of backbone. That change of dialogue ruins the bit, mostly because it now makes no sense.

Unfortunately, aside from Darwin (David Tennant) and Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant), we never really get to spend much time with the assorted crew members, and more then once the viewer might think that the entire ship is crewed by three people, as that's all we get to see. I thought that the presence of a woman pretending to be a man in the crew might have set up a plot point, but nothing comes of besides a couple soft gags, and a punchline at the end of the film that speeds by.

In the end, I left conflicted. I've been looking forward to this one, as I do all Aardman films. And I wanted so badly to enthusiastically like it. But thinking back, all that comes to mind are the things that bothered me. In the beginning, the film promises "this can only end brilliantly," but I don't honestly know if it does. It is very funny in places, and a few of the action sequences are top notch. And, it features BRIAN BLESSED as the Pirate King, and anything with Mr. BLESSED instantly gets an additional point. Perhaps a second viewing would loosen me up, allow me to better appreciate it for what it is, but on first impression, I just don't know.

Because it seemed vaguely related, here is one of the DC Nation Aardman shorts.

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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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