Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Jerry Bruckheimer is getting less Disney money to play with. Over the years, Bruckheimer has produced a great many films for the studio, many with lavish budgets and appropriately epic scale. None more so than the Pirates of the Caribbean films, which have grown ever more outsized and expensive.

For the fourth chapter, On Stranger Tides, things will be different. And the changes could be quite positive.

An LA Times piece reports that new Disney head Rich Ross is looking to scale back productions in general, and that Bruckheimer offered to help. (Is that Disney spin, or honest truth? Doesn’t really matter, as the effect is the same.) The producer is scaling back, in accordance with recent trends in DVD underperformance, and keeping in mind relatively costly failures like G-Force. Pirates is a very different thing from G-Force, no doubt, but the ripple effect is pushing the Black Pearl in a slightly different direction.

The lower budget means fewer locations (the film will shoot in Hawaii and London, rather than the Caribbean) and a shorter shooting schedule: 95 days, down from 142 on the last film. Expect fewer effects shots, too: the last film had about 2000, while this may feature two-thirds of that total.

The script is being carefully looked over and tweaked to lose expensive indulgences. No more “ice fair,” for example, which would have taken place on the frozen Thames. (Um, good?) And a long chase scene is being shortened to require half the previously allocated shoot days.

This is probably a good thing. It may even be a very good thing. The third Pirates film spun nearly out of control, and plays very much like a film where the solution to many problems was ‘throw money at it.’ The idea of dramatically pulling back the budget, forcing the film to be properly conceived from the outset, can only be good. Director Rob Marshall is used to working with smaller budgets (this will still be his most expensive film by a wide margin) and hopefully this will challenge the rest of the participants to creatively work with the balance sheet.

And since these changes are being wrought now, in the writing stage, they could make for a more tightly written film. That would be a welcome change.

Weigh in: was the increasing success of the existing Pirates trilogy directly related to the ever-escalating scale and budget? Or did Disney simply build a generally successful franchise that roped in viewers over the years, leaving them hungry to see what happened next?

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