How's the movie?
It sounds diplomatic, but if you've found all three of the prior Pirates of the Caribbean films to be all equally great adventure films, you're probably still going to have a lot of fun with On Stranger Tides even with Rob Marshall replacing trilogy director Gore Verbinski. If, however, you found that things started great with Curse of the Black Pearl and descended into convoluted, big budget, what-is-going-on wackness with At World's End, this new entry isn't really going to hook you back.
It would be easy to dismiss it as lesser Pirates, and to an extent that's true. Marshall doesn't have the knack for ridiculous set pieces and actions that Verbinski did, but it's not the subdued scope of the movie that holds it back, it's the lack of refreshing character work. Series regulars like Depp, Rush and McNally are still fun, but newbies Penelope Cruz, Sam Claflin, and Ian McShane are just less interesting substitutes for Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom and Bill Nighy. There's still an appreciable amount of production and costume design, and a few standout sequences, but overall the sparks of inspiration just aren't quite as bright as they once were.
But what say the numbers?
Rotten Tomatoes: 33% Rotten with critics, 61% liked by audiences
Metacritic: 45 out of 100, with a 6.5 average user score
Box Office: A whopping $1,039,571,802 world wide
What are the vital stats on the disc?
Studio: Disney / Buena Vista
Release Date: October 18, 2011
Edition: Standard BD/DVD Combo Pack (A 5-Disc 3D version is also available)
Number of Discs: 2 (1 50GB BD, 1 DVD)
Digital Copy: Not with the standard combo pack, but the 5-disc set does include it
Runtime: 136 minutes
Video: 1080p, MPEG-4 AVC; 2.40:1 Aspect Ratio
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1, French DTS-HD HR 7.1, Spanish DTS-HD HR 7.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
How does it look and sound?
Rob Marshall's contribution to the Pirates franchise is considerably darker, not in tone, but just overall aesthetic. While you could put on any of the prior three films and expect to be treated to a lush HD package filled with vibrant colors and vistas, On Stranger Tides contains many more night time scenes that are all shot with the intention to make night look as 'real' as possible. And while that's a fine approach to take, the result is a movie that often hides its best assets - the production, costume and make-up work - in a muted layer of darkness. There's more night time greys here than pitch blacks, and that lack of sharp contrast unfortunately makes for a technically accomplished film but one that's often flatter and more noisy than you'd expect from a visually refined franchise like this.
The sound front is much more in line with the series' typically great sound design. Hans Zimmer's more guitar-infused score really shines and there's plenty of stormy ocean and untamed island sound effects to fill out the rest of the mix. If only what we were seeing was as well-conceived as what we were hearing.
Anything exclusive to the Blu-ray?
If you opt for the standard, single-Blu-ray combo pack, the only thing exclusive to the Blu-ray is Disney's Second Screen app, which lets you watch the movie redundantly on a tablet, phone or secondary PC while it's on the TV right in front of you. The 3D version of the Blu does have some exclusive features, but you'll have to pony up a few bucks more and based on reviews elsewhere, they don't exactly sound anything more than standard press kit hype videos.
What about non-exclusive features?
The disc isn't entirely without features, but what little is there also happens to be on the DVD. There you can find:
Bloopers of the Caribbean (3 minutes, HD) - A standard montage of actors doing silly things. There's nothing particularly great contained within, though Depp saying he'll put anything up his nose is kind of funny.
Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: Captain Jack's Brick Tales (5 minutes, HD) - This glorified commercial for Lego video games isn't worth your time if you're an adult. Even if you enjoy Lego's series of games, this is just a compilation of five quick retellings of key scenes from the movie. But they're not particularly accurate retellings, which kind of makes them the CGI Lego equivalent of those Taiwanese animated news stories.
Audio Commentary with Director Rob Marshall and Executive Producer John DeLuca - This is a surprisingly insightful commentary track. Not because of the wealth of information it provides, but because of the glimpse it gives us into the mind of Marshall and DeLuca. Throught the track they repeatedly marvel at how complicated the movie was to make, particularly its action and effects sequences. But unlike filmmakers who are used to these kind of blockbuster films who can explain in great detail what the obstacles were and how they were overcome, Marshall kind of has a, "Gee, this really was a hard movie to make, but somehow we got it done" nature to him that reveals why the movie isn't quite as accomplished as its predecessors.
If you really do love the Pirates of the Caribbean series, On Stranger Tides is still going to be worth your time. If that's the case, you'll probably want to opt for the 5-disc 3D set instead, as the features here are pretty paltry. If you're not an existing fan, this might be worth a rent once it finds its turn in your queue.