The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (2012)
Directed by: Jeff Newitt, Peter Lord
Written by: Gideon Defoe
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Ashley Jensen, Brendan Gleeson, Brian Blessed, David Tennant, Hugh Grant, Imelda Staunton, Jeremy Piven, Lenny Henry, Martin Freeman, Salma Hayek
THE PIRATES! IN AN ADVENTURE WITH SCIENTISTS: in cinemas now
DIRECTED BY: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt
WRITTEN BY: Gideon Defoe
STARRING: Hugh Grant, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Given, Brendon Gleeson
RUNNING TIME: 88 mins
DISTRIBUTED BY: Sony Pictures Releasing
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Pirate Captain is an ambitious but not too competent amateur pirate with a very strange crew which include Pirate With Gout, Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate and Number Two, who is, of course, his number two. Every year he tries to win the coveted Pirate Of The Year award, and every year he fails, hardly surprising when his opponents are the cream of the pirating crop such as Black Bellamy, Peg Leg Hastings and Cutlass Liz. This year, he is trying one last time, and with his crew sets out to pillage as much booty as he can. He takes over the ship of Charles Darwin, who is on a scientific voyage looking for rare animals. Darwin reveals that Captain’s adored parrot Polly is, in fact, a dodo. If the crew will sail him to London and enable Darwin to present the bird to his fellow scientists, he suggests they will have the riches that they have so long desired……
I don’t know what it is about Aardman and especially Wallace And Gromit. I am in total admiration for the painstaking craftsmanship employed, and do like their work, but I don’t love it, which seems to annoy many people, Wallace And Gromit being one of those things that everyone is supposed to love. So far my favourite Aardman productions have been collaborations with other studios such as Flushed Away [my favourite] and Arthur Christmas. Then again, I’ m the kind of heathen who prefers the Shrek franchise to the Toy Story franchise! Now I actually expected rather a lot from Pirates!, which is Aardman’s second collaboration with Sony Animation, and it seems to be getting uniformly good reviews, but I found it a bit of a disappointment. It’s certainly an enjoyable hour and a half, and it will certainly keep most young children occupied, but it is not really anything special. Perhaps Gideon Defoe, who adapted his book for the screen, was the wrong person to do it?
The basic premise is certainly an irresistible one, and Pirate Captain is a wonderful character, a totally ineffectual pirate with a misguided sense of his own importance and his beard. I was reminded a little of Captain Jack Sparrow, who is told he is “probably the worst pirate on the world”. His crew, who most amusingly include a fish with a hat, are a colourful lot, but are not characterised much and not enough is done with them. Instead we spend more time with a less interesting Darwin, who bemoans the fact that he can’t get a girlfriend. There is a hilarious sequence near the beginning where Captain and his crew unsuccessfully attack a variety of ships including a children’s tour ship, a leper ship and a ghost ship, but for the most part the humour is more mildly amusing rather than side-splitting. Some of the funniest bits are actually in the background, such as a wanted poster for a notorious pirate, offering as a reward “12 doubloons and a free pen”. Overall though, I often smiled, but only sometimes laughed, which surprised me a little, as much of the comedy is of an absurdist nature not that far from Monty Python at times. I also find certain things, such as a monkey with subtitle cards which was also used in A Monster In Paris, rather familiar.
There is undoubtedly a wonderful surreality to aspects of the film. A pirate arrives at a town emerging from the mouth of a whale. An early chase set piece involving a bath, stairs, an Easter Island statue [don’t ask] and other things is astoundingly imaginative, and the climactic action includes such bizarre sights as a huge blob-like creation, the unintended result of mixing vinegar and dough mix. The plot winds up being less interesting and more conventional than expected, but does throw in a few surprises. You may be surprised to see Queen Victoria as a villain, and a really nasty and clever one at that, one who is able to do the most amazing things. The film only sometimes reaches the heights it ought to though. That is not to say it’s a bad movie; it certainly isn’t. It’s fairly good, but fairly good isn’t really enough. Every now and again, there is a great image or idea, and, just for a second or two, there is the sense of a truly magical, awe-inspiring, funny movie, but a movie which is not really the one we have been given.
Like the second, third and fourth Pirates Of The Caribbean efforts, Pirates! skirts around the issue of what pirates were [ or should that be are?] like and romanticises the plundering and pillaging, which has always left an awkward taste in my mouth though of course you couldn’t show the reality in a ‘U’ certificate film! Technically of course Pirates! is superb. Unlike last year’s Arthur Christmas, which approximated the Aardman character look through computer animation, Pirates! is a welcome return to plasticine and stop motion, and it took them five years to make. CGI has been used for the backgrounds, and it actually goes smoothly with the hand- made action at the foreground. The amount of tiny detail everywhere is incredible; though I wasn’t ‘wowed’ by the film, I do want to see it again at home to pick up on all the background things I missed first time round. I was especially impressed with the water, some of the best CG water I have ever seen. Of course, like most films that are released in the format, I had no interest in seeing the 3D version, and I doubt that it adds to proceedings much.
The voice work is very well done in this film and I can safely say that Hugh Grant, voicing Pirate Captain, gives a really good performance, which certainly surprised me. In fact, it might be the best performance he has ever given, of course helped by the fact that you don’t see him. There’s a nicely eclectic use of songs, from The Clash to Flight Of The Concordes, which works considering the free-wheeling nature of the film. There is a great deal to like in Pirates!, there’s nothing bad in it, but not much to love, at least in my opinion, except for perhaps the technical wizardry. Much like Wallace And Gromit, I suppose. In my opinion…..of course!