I went to see it, and yes it was dumb, and I still enjoyed it. Just like I hated King Kong, which the critics thought was super. So what’s going on here? Chuck suggests that critics need to look at the build-up to a movie as much as the film itself. I think it’s more than that. I think we walk into a theater with a set of expectations, and if the film doesn’t deliver on those expectations, we are disappointed. We (being the seething masses) are not measuring films against some universal aesthetic mark, but against our expectations.
So how were my expectations set by Pirates?
* Disappointing popcorn movies so far this year. Superman was predictable and boring, Scanner visually interesting and boring. So, after these and a few other disappointments, I was hoping formulaic Pirates would pull things out.
* That said, as Ask A Ninja noted in his review, how much can you really expect of a movie based on robotic themepark characters. So, I think one of the reasons audiences like the first one is that they expected it to be so bad.
* I also expected that this one would be bad, because, you know, it is a sequel.
* It’s pretty hot out. Expectation was that the movie would be cool. Not in any sort of aesthetic or (gods forbid!) McLuhanesque way, but in a temperature and iced drink way. I am sure opening weekends are correlated to weekend temperatures.
* I expected a sword-fight or two, several buckles to be swashed, and some arch Depp comments. (As an aside, I think it could have been improved with a battle between Depp-as-Keith Richards and Hoffman-as-William-F.-Buckley.) On this mark, I wasn’t disappointed.
In other words, the difficulty factor was a 1 or 2, and it was reasonably well executed. When films manage to exceed our expectations we like them. The trick that advertisers need to pull off is getting our expectations up high enough to go into the theater, but not raising them high enough that we are disappointed by the result. As such, our experiences of popular film are complex, and may be only marginally related to the quality of a film in terms of editing, story, dialogue, and the other elements that make a film both technically and artistically great.
I can look over the AFI’s list of the 100 greatest films and agree that most really are excellent. But that doesn’t mean that personally I am going to rank Gump over Léon, Tootsie over Lord of the Rings, Raging Bull over Sonatine, Jaws over Holy Grail , or Midnight Cowboy over Le mari de la coiffeuse. Actually, when I compare AFI’s list with IMDB’s, I know why I am more likely to listen to my friends than I am to the critics.