Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Dead Men Tell No Tales

It’s no secret Hollywood romanticizes and takes creative license when making movies. This is best witnessed in action or sci-fi movies but can be seen in everything from romantic comedies to horror to dramatic biopics. It’s all about evoking audience response—laughter, tears, heartbreak, wanting, fear, ire—and it’s entertainment. Of course, pirate movies are no different.

As an author of pirate romance and someone who has researched in depth the pirate life, I can’t help but be critical when a television series or movie is based on pirate lore or has Caribbean pirate elements. Unless way off base, I don’t usually let fallacies get in the way of enjoying the feature. But when they get it right, the experience is more fulfilling.

Take the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise for example. It is fantastical and chock full of mythical creatures and nautical lore—the Kraken, fish people, Davy Jones, giant goddesses, man-eating sirens, Fountain of Youth, ghost sharks and skeletal undead pirates, to name a few. The plights of Captain Jack Sparrow and gang are always epic and the odds insurmountable. Each movie is an adventure with well-rounded endings. As a moviegoer, I am always blown away.

To be fair, I am a bit biased. I love the franchise, love Johnny Depp, sleep with a pillowcase of Will Turner, listen to the soundtracks while writing my own pirate tales, and even own an autographed copy of The Art of Pirates of the Caribbean—a collection of working drawings and conceptual art for the first three movies. I have waited with baited breath for the next movie Dead Men Tell No Tales to hit the silver screen. And I wasn’t disappointed. I laughed, cried, and thoroughly enjoyed being whisked away for more than 2 hours in a world that had captured my heart more than 13 years ago.

But how accurate is POTC? Some aspects are close, other aren’t. Okay, so that was an ambiguous answer. In part because it would depend on how much hair-splitting is involved. Think weapons, clothing, politics, tactics, superstitions, terminology and (most) settings*. The details are there, but they may not necessarily be right for the time period.

Pirate flavoring was added, and loads of it comes from what we already believe about pirates from Robert Louis Stevenson’s embellished adventure novel Treasure Island. In reality, there was no walking the plank or burying treasure. Eye-patches were not used to cover disfigurements, but rather to keep one eye adjusted to the darkness. Pirate codes were not universal; the articles varied from ship to ship. And there was no parlay nor swinging by ropes from ship to ship.

What about those ships? The visual depictions of the variety of vessels are amazing and for the most part true. I say for the most part because I personally have not noticed anything erroneous. The makers even got the sails right. Unlike many seafaring movies which showcase vessels with tight square sails, POTC ships are closer to the truth with their billowing sails capturing the wind and fluttering to keep it. However, what is not quite right is the speed of the ships and size of ship to crew ratio. The Black Pearl, a ship that could even outrun the legendary Flying Dutchman, was a galleon. That size ship is too large to sail fast and maneuver with ease, assuming it isn’t resurrected by Davy Jones as the Black Pearl was. Add to that, it would require a sizeable crew numbering in the hundreds to man her, more depending also on how many guns she carried. Same holds true for the other ships in the films.

Are Jack, Barbossa, Gibbs, and the rest true representations of pirates themselves? Not really. These are fictional characters with fictional quests. But some of their actions, motivations, goals, and methods were spot on. While sailors on both sides of the law often lacked education, pirates acted democratically, weighing risks, costs, and benefits, which determined which targets to pursue and what tactics were used. And though they might’ve been drunks, womanizers, and all-around rabble-rousers, they weren’t as bumbling as depicted in the movies. Sure makes for a great time, though, doesn’t it?

Like with most movies (and fiction in general), suspension of disbelief is a given to enhance the enjoyment. The runaway water wheel ending with the three-way swordfight in Dead Man’s Chest is definitely one of my favorites scenes. Some of those outlandish scenes in  POTC even seemed plausible though they weren’t, like using a rowboat as a makeshift submarine or a dagger upon a sail to slow a fall. Others aren’t so far-fetched. The green flash seen when “a soul comes back to this world from the dead” is a real occurrence. Not the soul coming back. The green flash. It is an “optical phenomena” that occurs just has the sun sets or rises upon the horizon. And there is more science behind several scenes in Dead Men Tell No Tales, one being the bootleg turn young Jack makes to escape Captain Salazar. See the bootleg turn at 0:27 in the trailer below. For more science at play, you'll just have to go see the movie.

Fact or fiction, Dead Men Tell No Tales is swashbuckling fun. Two thumbs up from this pirate wench.



(*Port Royal situated on a cliff in Curse of the Black Pearl was for the sake of cinema. Port Royal was actually built on a sandspit.)


About the Author                                                
Jennifer is the award-winning author of the Romancing the Pirate series. Visit her at www.jbrayweber.com or join her mailing list for sneak peeks, excerpts, and giveaways.



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