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Release date: Dec. 5, 2006

Even though it has a cliffhanger conclusion where the hero's fate is unknown (rather like the end of "The Empire Strikes Back"), what goes on before that point in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," a Walt Disney Home Entertainment 2-Disc Special Edition (retail $34.99), is so rollickingly entertaining that the 150-minute feature leaves the viewer fully satisfied, with the promise of more enjoyment yet to come. You have to go all the way back to "Ghostbusters" to find the same mix of playful horror, high character humor and exhilarating action that the "Pirates" series has achieved, but where the second "Ghostbusters" film was a mindless attempt to cash in on the components of the earlier film, Dead Man's Chest is a conscientious effort to extend and expand upon the first film's fun and thrills. Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley reprise their roles from the previous feature, set aboard ships and tropical ports in the days of yore, with Depp as a conniving pirate trying to rob the undead, while Bloom and Knightley are separated lovers who eventually fall in with him in order to reunite. Directed by Gore Verbinski, the film steals good ideas from "The Man Who Would Be King", "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and wherever else it can find them. The special effects are quite elaborate, but always stimulating, and the action stunts are as witty as they are spectacular. Bloom's character is maybe a little less dashing than he seemed in the first feature -- he doesn't completely achieve the counterpoint to Depp's character that he conveyed originally -- but he still gives the tale a viable anchor, while Depp's comedic timing is as marvelous as his game physicality, and Knightley completes the triangle with a commanding energy and full sense of entitlement. The story has, essentially, the structure and drive of a serial, relying on characterizations already established and advancing the plot forward by keeping those characters in motion, but there are new, interesting secondary players, and scattered moments of accessible feelings that make the perils both vital and compelling.

Added to all of this, the disc looks and sounds fantastic. The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. Not only are the daylight and night scenes crisp and accurate, but the many computer effects blend seamlessly with reality. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound is grand, with plenty of strong separation effects and an enveloping dimensionality. Hans Zimmer's underappreciated musical score is also enhanced greatly by the strength of the audio delivery. There are alternate French and Spanish tracks in 5.1 Dolby, optional English, French and Spanish subtitles, and a 4-minute blooper reel.

There is also a commentary track featuring the two screenwriters, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, who explain how they re-envisioned the first film as the beginning of a trilogy and then set to work to make that happen. They also share what they know about the shoot, discuss the pros and cons of explaining more or less of certain story points in certain sequences, identify the references to pirate lore and other miscellany, and offer their own appreciation for what the filmmaking crew was able to do with their words. "It is interesting to me, when you watch a movie and you're not involved in the making of it, you don't realize that everything you're seeing is the result of a conscious choice or something that happened because of conscious choices made. Ultimately when you're watching a movie, what you're actually seeing, there was a specific decision made to show that as opposed to something else. Every single point."

The second platter features a good 26-minute documentary about developing the story, an excellent 63-minute production documentary (including interesting material about accessing some very inaccessible locations, such as an island that is covered by high tide every day; and the destruction of the sets caused by a hurricane), 28 minutes of great featurettes about the costumes, makeup and props, 16 minutes about the stars practicing their swordplay, a 13-minute segment on the most elaborate computer-animated character and how he was achieved, a 10-minute segment on creating the giant squid, a nice 13-minute piece on sprucing up the theme park ride to accommodate the films, a 4-minute piece on one particular effect sequence, a 5-minute segment showing producer Jerry Bruckheimer's photos from the set that also allows him to talk a bit about making the film, and a 4-minute segment on the movie's premiere, in which scores of young women waited for hours and then spent equal time screaming for Depp and for Bloom.

The complete database of Doug Pratt's DVD-video reviews is available at dvdlaser.com. A sample copy of the DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter can be obtained by calling (516) 594-9304.


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