On Stranger Tides

Title: Pirates of the Caribbean IV: On Stranger Tides

Director/Stars: Johnny Depp (Actor), Ian McShane (Actor), Rob Marshall (Director)

Genre: Pirate Fantasy

Read: May 28, 2011

Summary: Better than 2 or 3.


This post isn’t so much a review of the 4th Pirates installment, but an little digression on its amusing relationship to one of my favorite books. Still, I’ll mention a few things about the film:

On Stranger Tides is a major improvement over Pirates 2 and 3 (blech). It feels more like a prequel to the first film (although technically it’s a straight sequel). Gone are Orlando and Knightly, and the plot focuses mostly on Jack Sparrow and some of the other baddies like Barbarossa and the new Blackbeard (played by the always likable Ian McShane). The plot is a bit of a retrenchment, involving a hectic quest for the Fountain of Youth. It’s more contained, more classically swashbuckled, with a welcome elimination of giant krakens, the afterlife, pirate councils, and ludicrous giant whirlpool ship battles. As such, if you can ignore the gapping plot holes and the merely token setup, it’s much more satisfying and fun to watch. It rates fairly close to the original, which is actually a pretty damn good movie — albiet a guilty pleasure for sure. The CGI is also much reduced. Not that it isn’t in nearly every frame, but it’s more contained and less bombastic. Structurally the elimination of the Orlando/Knightly thing also simplifies the whole character focus.

Now, on to the reason I’m writing this post. When I first saw the preview a year or so ago I was struct by the subtitle (On Stranger Tides) and the fact that the plot involved Blackbeard and the Fountain of Youth. I was instantly reminded of one of my three favorite Tim Powers novels, On Stranger Tides, about the same. Now This is a 1987 novel, and I read it in the 90s. But Powers is one of my favorite authors, and probably one of the biggest influences on my own writing (at least my first novel, The Darkening Dream). He blends history, the occult, and fantasy in an artful and seamless way. Anyone who hasn’t read him must immediately buy and read The Anubis Gates, one of my all time favorite novels. The original novel (On Stranger Tides) is a creepy and heavily researched story about Blackbeard’s maniacal search for immortality. It’s pretty brilliant and quintessential Powers. Much darker and scarier than this film.

Pirates IV is well… a Pirates of the Caribbean movie that involves Blackbeard and the Fountain of Youth. That’s about as far as it goes. Unless I missed something, the only other elements borrowed from the novel are a vague mention of zombies and the fact that when we meet Blackbeard his beard has smoldering flames hidden inside. This is a well documented feature of the man, as he claimed to be a priest of the voodoo god Baron Samedi whose magical totem is smoldering flame. This famous engraving shows the details. In any case the book is really cool and much more interesting than the film.

What’s interesting here is that Disney put “suggested by the novel On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers” in the credits and felt it needed to option the novel just to include the two basic elements of Blackbeard and the Fountain. Nothing else.


Although I’m glad that Mr. Powers got at least some kind of payday as a result — he deserves it.

2 comments on “On Stranger Tides

  1. […] posted here: On Stranger Tides « All Things Andy Gavin Filed under P.O.T.C. 4 Click here to cancel […]

  2. Redhead says:

    On Stranger Tides is one of my favorite Powers books. I’d hoped Disney was going to not destroy his book, but oh well, that’s hollywood for you. 😦

    I think I’ll go for a Powers reread, and maybe see the film when it’s on TV. for free.

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