“Pirates of the Caribbean 4” is the latest signal that a Disneyfied America is crumbling from within and it’s happening on a couple of levels. The problem for Britain and the rest of world is that indigenous culture, sacred icons, and happy accidents are going down with it. America’s pathological need for ever-regressing theme park ride and video-game-based movies is a direct result of the precarious financial position of traditional Hollywood. Over the last decade, the economics of movie-making (always a shell game) have turned downright Madoffian (Yes – it is a word – just trust me). The amount of money required to produce a major Hollywood movie could keep an Irish bank president in helicopters for years. No creative decision is made without a focus group. Plots must cover all demographic marketing bases or else. Stars remain stars, not because of talent, but because of their ability to “open the show.”
This isn’t new but POTC4 exemplifies the commercialization of being average. Then, almost as if purely to demonstrate how smart Hollywood marketers (and Disney executives in particular) are, the movie is so blindingly average and touches so many of the correct salable bases, it engenders no visceral feelings whatsoever! On the other hand, I’ll acknowledge that POTC4 is so utterly devoid of courage that, to quote H.L. Mencken, “a certain dignity creeps into it.” All of Hollywood’s tell-tale tricks are here. Need Old World charm and the patina of intelligence? Get me foreign accents stat! And Disney doesn’t just get foreign accents-it over-casts brilliantly by including Ian McShane and Geoffery Rush to fully camp up the proceedings – literally . . . check out how much eyeliner the producers deploy on those two. Want some harmless sex appeal mixed with classic Spanish feistiness? Pregnant (yet always ready to earn), Penelope Cruz is on the case. Worried about the kids getting bored? Don’t be: Plenty of CGI ships and monsters to hold the shortest of attention spans. Maybe your kids are Harry Potter fanatics? Fear not. Plenty of Fountain of Youth devices and mystical jibberjabber abound. However, there is ZERO mystery or subtlety in this film – and that’s just fine by mainstream Hollywood. It all feels calculated, factory designed and psycho-engineered within an inch of its life. I suppose if I were the head of the studio, responsible to shareholders, and had hundreds of millions at stake, maybe I’d be making similar choices. I get it: box office matters. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the whole greater than the sum of its pixels.