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Thursday, 15 September 2011

D&DVD Of The Week: Pirates Of The Caribbean - On Stranger Tides (2011)




The first thing that has to be said about Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is that - even without the presence of Keira Knightley - it is considerably better than the previous two entries in this franchise.

That said, it is far from perfect, suffering from a surfeit of characters and sub-plots and a storyline with enough holes to sink a fleet of pirate ships.

The main jumbled plot has Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) being strong-armed into helping Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) - now working as a privateer for King George (Richard Griffiths) - find the Fountain Of Youth (you will remember at the end of the last movie Jack came into possession of a map).

Jack, however, quickly makes his escape and tracks down a "Captain Jack Sparrow" who is recruiting men for a voyage. This "Captain Jack" actually turns out to be an old lover of our Jack's, Angelica (Penelope Cruz), but instead of simply recruiting Jack, she has him shanghaied and he wakes up on the Queen Anne's Revenge - the ship of the pirate that other pirate's fear - Blackbeard (Ian McShane).

Not only are both of these parties looking for the Fountain Of Youth, but also the Spanish and On Stranger Tides very quickly turns into an homage to classic ensemble movies like The Great Race.

It is revealed that to access the Fountain's powers, two special goblets are required (located on a wrecked ship) and the tears of a mermaid.

The battle to catch a mermaid is possibly the highlight of the film, although all the set-pieces benefit from showing more restraint than previous episodes in this never-ending saga. They are still breathtaking and inventive, but don't cross that delicate line into the 'utterly preposterous' that many of the stunts and sequences did in the last two movies.

There's also a totally redundant romantic sub-plot between a rather bland priest called Philip (Sam Claflin), who has been a prisoner on Blackbeard's ship, and the limp mermaid (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) that falls into Blackbeard's net. The only interesting part of this is the resolution of a romance that I doubt anyone in the audience has any investment in.

Coming in at over two hours duration, On Stranger Tides feels well padded and certainly could have done with some hearty trimming and patching of the plot holes. The script befuddlement runs from small things - like the pursuing guard who puts down a sword and pistol on the table that Jack just happens to be hiding under - to mind-bogglers like the final confrontation around the Fountain Of Youth.

Jack discovers the location of the Fountain through a reasonably complex ritual, that involves certain items in his possession, which then grant access to the 'otherworldly cave' where the object of their quest is located.

However, within minutes of Jack and his colleagues getting there, the two other factions chasing the Fountain also show up - from a different direction - en masse, rather suggesting there was, perhaps, a back door to this cave and all the head-scratching and clue solving that Jack and co had done was actually a waste of time!

Blackbeard, a master of voodoo with a magic sword, has also turned his officers into zombies, to ensure their obedience, but again - apart from the interesting visuals - these serve no story or plot purpose and could just have easily been your standard, everyday pirates.

Then there was the pointless revelation that the captured mermaid's tail could transform into human legs - again, nothing was made of this and it just came across as a fragment of a forgotten idea.

Even the Spanish contingent, except possibly for their surprising reaction to the Fountain, are quite redundant and could easily have been excised from the script.

On Stranger Tides, of course, looks gorgeous with the great scenery and special effects that a Disney budget can buy, I just wish some of that money had gone towards letting some of the air out of this beautiful, bloated corpse.

GAME MATERIAL



Stranger Mermaids

As in classic myth, mermaids appear as attractive human females, with their legs replaced by the back-end of a fish. Primarily aquatic, they tend to congregate in a single area, surviving normally on a diet of fish but they prefer the taste of man-flesh.

Attracted by artificial light, a lone mermaid will approach a ship, making contact, and attempt to use her sweet song to charm the crew into letting down their guard. This song is also a signal for the rest of her 'pack' to surface and wait for the feeding frenzy to begin.

Once a mermaid feels confident that her victims are ready to be consumed, she will break out her fanged game face and start clawing and biting.


No stronger than a typical human male, any sailor grabbed by a mermaid can made a STR check on 4d6 versus STR + LVL to avoid being pulled into the water and severely disadvantaged in combat.

Mermaids are also capable, like flying fish, of propelling themselves out of the water, up to a height of 30ft, but can only stay airborne for a single action - although they may make a clawing attack during this "fly-over".

If somehow removed from the water for an extended period of time, a mermaid's tail will magically - within two rounds - transform into human legs, although there is a two-in-three chance that her leg muscles would have atrophied so much that she is actually unable to walk anyway.

Also, if kept out of the water, and in sunlight, a mermaid will slowly start to dry out - suffering 1d4 damage per hour, which she is unable to heal until she returns to the water. Even at sea, they are nocturnal creatures, preferring the darkness - which they have no problem seeing in anyway.

On the other hand, if you can befriend a mermaid a single kiss from one, while underwater, can bestow the power to breathe underwater (if the mermaid so wishes)  - for as long as the recipient remains submerged.

#ENC: One or 3d6 or, at nesting site, (1d10 x 9) + 1d10
Size: Man-sized
HD: 2+1
AC: 7 [12]
Attacks: Claw, Claw, Bite (1d4+1, 1d4+1, 1d6+1); 'sea weed' (see below)
Saving Throw: 16
Movement: 4/18 (swimming)
Alignment: Chaotic
Special:
  • Charming song - acts exactly as 'charm person' spell range 120ft, save versus magic or fall under mermaid's control. Only one mermaid in 20 has this ability and is usually the alpha mermaid of a hunting party.
  • Sea Weed - once every other round, a mermaid can fire long, fibrous strands from her wrists (as long as she is in contact with water), that can grab weapons from sailors' hands, trip etc. The 'weed' has a range of 100ft and rolls to hit normally (doing 1d2 damage), but then the sailor must make a DEX check on 4d6 vs DEX+LVL or (50%) fall over and start to be dragged back to the sea/(50%) have weapon yanked from grasp.
  • Grapple: If target is near the water, the mermaid may attempt to pull him in if she hits with either of her claw attacks. He must make a STR check on 4d6 versus STR + LVL to avoid being pulled in and severely disadvantaged in combat.
Challenge Level/XP: 4/120



TREASURE TROVE: The Sword Of Triton


This magical weapon is a mighty broadsword (2d4 base damage), with a wicked cutting edge and thick blade, that grants its wielder the power to summon mighty forces - if he has been officially and legally named captain of a sea-going vessel (and has CHA of 14+).

Legend has it that the blade was forged in the kingdom of the sea-god and it is one of his sapphires that adorns the grip.

Used as a simple weapon, the sword is +3 to hit and damage/+5 (for both) when used on a  seafaring ship or boat (even if the ship is in dock).

However, it has other powers when drawn from its scabbard and held out.

While aboard, or in sight of, the vessel of which the wielder is captain the sword grants him three magical "charges" per day.

A single charge can be expended to either animate all the rope on the ship (effectively bringing the rigging to life, causing it to entangle, restrain etc) for up to 30 minutes; move the vessel at its normal speed, on a direct course (no change of direction), from stationary and then bring it to a halt (the longest this can go on is an hour and as soon as the ship stops the charge is spent); or fire any/all weapons on the ship once (one charge will cause any or all weapons to discharge - this does not include personal weapons, just those that are ship-mounted e.g. catapults, Ballista etc).

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