Sunday, May 22, 2011

Setting Cast as Character in Pirates of the Caribbean - On Stranger Tides

Lengthy passages of description are not in vogue with modern readers. HOWEVER, without a doubt, setting is still character. Case in point -- Pirates of the Caribbean - On Stranger Tides -- the movie I was excited to see on Friday night.

Where would Blackbeard and his mutinous crew be without the Queen Anne's Revenge on which to dangle from bewitched rigging? Or where would those heinously beautiful mermaids live out their revenge but in the eerie, mist-covered Whitecap Bay? And especially, how would we be lured into the unique appeal of Captain Jack Sparrow's quest without the backdrop of jeweled waters lapping against a sparkling white shore, craggy green cliffs being beaten by dark blue waves, or -- the setting that really got me thinking in terms of its character -- the deep, mysterious jungle gorge where we perch intrepidly, wondering if we are truly about to discover the long lost Fountain of Youth?

When the camera shoots the angle from the descent inside the cave to the adventurers standing in its wide mouth, I realize quite forcefully that the setting has become another character in the story, and I'm wondering what it might do to imperil the other characters I've come to care about.

That's the thing with setting. We need not belabor it in our story-telling, but we do need to offer a snapshot or, on occasion, a panoramic moment reminding our reader of the role it has to play.We need to include it to heighten peril, deliver romance, impend doom, or simply make readers feel sunny inside.

I love the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. As a sequel -- number four in the series, no less -- it suffers slightly from the "been there, done that," type of forced heroics that are typical in such a genre, especially for a series that was never intended to be more than a single, stand-alone motion picture. But it was such a frolicking, fun, escapist film, that none of that mattered.

The introduction of mermaids into the tale, and even the inclusion of real life figure Edward Teach (Black Beard) so well cast, made the story sing for me, as did a host of well-played one-liners. And the various settings made for an additional cast of intriguing characters. For a little under two hours, I was swept away on the tide.

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