- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2006

LOS ANGELES

The odds against 2003’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” could not have been stacked much higher.

Not only was the pirate genre long since buried, but the film was based on a Disney theme-park attraction. The last movie with such limited inspiration was 2002’s “The Country Bears,” a certifiable flop.

Last, but not least, there was “Pirates’” star, Johnny Depp, a great actor but veritable kryptonite to box-office success.

But, as futuristic pirate Han Solo tells C-3PO in “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Never tell me the odds.”

“Pirates” turned out to be the summer’s biggest surprise, an exuberant romp fueled by Mr. Depp’s Oscar-nominated turn as Captain Jack Sparrow. It also grossed more than $300 million, according to published reports.

So what do producer Jerry Bruckheimer and crew do for an encore? “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” will answer that question when it opens tomorrow. “Dead Man’s Chest” — the first of two “Pirate” sequels, shot back to back to conserve resources — reunites Mr. Depp with reticent allies Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley).

This time the trio are out to find the titular “Chest,” in which the wounded heart of the villainousDavy Jones thumps away. (Production on the third “Pirates ” sequel, which was halted temporarily because of menacing storms, will resume within the next few weeks.)

Hopes that “Dead Man’s Chest” will match the success of its predecessor are high. A wealth of advertisers, including Kodak and Volvo, have aligned themselves with the film, which reportedly carried a budget in the $200 million range.

It doesn’t have to be merely a hit to justify its expense. It has to leave “Superman Returns” — which has grossed $106 million since its June 28 opening — and its ilk in the dust.

“Pirates’” principal players say it’s all about exceeding the original.

“Nothing’s a sure thing,” says Mr. Bruckheimer, arguably the industry’s most successful producer. “A movie’s gotta live up to the hype.”

Adds Mr. Bloom: “How do you top pirates as skeletons coming out in the moonlight … but the mythology of Davy Jones and the ocean, I think that tops it.”

Few will argue with him. Davy Jones and his entourage may be the giddiest special-effects treat of the summer. Brought to life by Bill Nighy and a team of CGI wizards, the character is certain to make even the most persnickety critics take notice.

For director Gore Verbinski, the new film represents a subtle shift in philosophy.

“My wife said, ‘You’re no longer the architect, you’re the contractor,” Mr. Verbinski says of his role commandeering the sequels.

That mind-set may be inevitable. Sequels can’t catch us off guard. Audiences simply want to see their old friends in new adventures — and plenty are clamoring to see Mr. Depp in what quickly became his most famous role.

Mr. Verbinski says he isn’t intimidated by what he calls the “hype balloons” swarming the project.

“I’m not trying to live up to those expectations. I’ll live up to mine,” he says.

Co-writer Terry Rossio, who contends he received “zero dictates” from the studio in writing the sequels, hints that the lack of pressure proved a blessing the first time around.

“We thought this is gonna be the last pirate movie anybody makes for 20 years,” Mr. Rossio says.

Maybe. But if “Dead Man’s Chest” lives up to the hype, Hollywood may be ransacked by pirates for years to come.


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