Yo ho, me heartless hearties

Just saw Pirates of the Caribbean: The Third Time Will Drive You Off the World's Edge or whatever. This, by the way, seems to be our new civic duty on Memorial Day: See the biggest Hollywood blockbuster out there so we can set a new weekend box office record.

God bless America.

Actually, I enjoyed the film -- in that smiling stupor occasionally jolted by yet another tremendous CG effect and pointlessly complicated plot twist. The nervous bliss that passeth all understanding, and which these movies are designed to promote. Seriously, I enjoyed it, although it seemed to me so stuffed with ... stuff that the filmmakers had lost all sight of the original film's pleasure.

Johnny Depp.

Not enough Johnny Depp was a serious shortcoming. And the scenes with multiple Depps didn't make up for that lack because it's Depp's Capt. Jack interacting with others that's funny. Depp pulling a little Depp on Depp is a bit pointless, and that pretty well sums up the film. By the way, if no one's told you, stick around for the end of the unbelievably long credit sequence. My family and I and maybe three other people in the entire theater had gotten the word.

But -- this IS a literary blog, after all -- the occasion of the third installment and the mad popularity of pirates these days have prompted me to divulge my one great Literary-Cinematic Commercial Idea, my Hollywood script-and-production deal that actually, I think, could be bankable and could work. Patent pending, copyright invoked, you've been warned, fifteen men on a dead man's chest, and all that federal statute FBI warning stuff.

Are you ready?

A re-make of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.

No, wait, here's the beauty part: Don't make it a splashy or cutesy, super-effects, pop-trendy kids' movie. Model the entire look -- grim and harsh, simple and sun-bleached -- on N. C. Wyeth's tremendous illustrations for the famous 1911 Scribner's edition. If you've never seen the book (reprinted lovingly in 2003) or seen the 17 classic images in it, do yourself a favor and track down a copy in a store just to look at them. They made Wyeth's career as an illustrator and set a tremendously high standard for American book illustrations ever after.

When I was a child, my father read to us from his copy of that first edition, which his father had read to him in turn. And some of those images scared the bejesus out of me. Had trouble going to sleep afterwards.

So for this to work, you'd have to keep the film similarly clean and mean. Hollywood's idea of tough or scary is Chow Yun-Fat with decorative facial scars or elaborately strange digital beasties with hammerhead sharks for -- get this! -- heads. Instead, Wyeth paints a plain, fatherless boy leaving his weeping mother for his first sea voyage, possibly to be gone for years, possibly never to return. Perhaps she knows something he doesn't. A desperate blind man tapping through the darkness "in a frenzy," a cornered teenage lad with two pistols facing down a knife-wielding murderer three times his size, a drunken mad man with a cutlass missing his target but hacking a chunk out of an inn's wooden sign. These were some of the most brutal, hungry-looking men I'd seen outside of the wanted photos in the post office. Raw-burned skin over nothing but muscle and ferocity and a thirst for liquor or money. And their world was unbelievably dark and savage, almost Darwinian -- with the buried treasure a gleaming fantasy of escape.

Wyeth brilliantly conveyed the punishing commonplaces of maritime life: We know literary characters like Capt. Hook and Capt. Ahab and Long John Silver because a lost leg or hand or eye was a standard feature among sailors. Yet Wyeth's chiaroscuro effects from seaside England to tropical beach -- the lighting either stark and etched or smokey and dim -- amplified the overall feel of violence and mystery while still being utterly beautiful. They remain some of the most vivid book-illustration memories of my life. In 1903, Wyeth had described his materials as "true, solid American subjects-nothing foreign about them," yet Scribner's had him illustrate an entire series of adventure yarns by foreigners like Stevenson, Daniel Defoe and Jules Verne. These are some of his finest works, but tragically, they're some of the works he tortured himself over endlessly because he was supposedly cheapening his talent for heroic melodrama and commerce.

So my production design will be important for the film -- hard-worn, stark but striking in its simplicity, its lighting. None of that Hollywood glamor, though. And my soundtrack will be similarly plain and haunting, mostly drum and fife. As for the seadogs: You don't get that cold-eyed, sinewy look on modern American (or British) actors much these days -- especially Hollywood stars -- not unless they've worked hard in the sun for years, lived on the streets, slept on sidewalks. Or drank and smoked so much for so long, their skin and eyes look like an iguana's. With a bad temper.

Which is why I will be keeping control of casting for my Treasure Island re-make. No more Wallace Beery or Robert Newton grinning away as Long John Silver. The crew of my Hispaniola would be actors like Daniel Craig, Rip Torn, Anthony Hopkins, Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Bill Nighy, Liam Neeson and Keith Richards.

Oh, screw it. I'll just get Judi Dench.

Her Long John Silver would scare the lot of them.

May 28, 2007 5:39 PM | | Comments (2)



What you insist be done with your "High Production" values is exactly what Hollywood would hate about it. Sorry, they'll make Rocky XXIII before they make your pipe dream.

Yo Ho and away we go! Love Wyeth, was scared by his illustrations, too, in that book and Verne.

But, I was raised with radio, not television/movies, so words can still build way bigger pictures...

I see maybe 5 movies a year, or less. But if you make it, I will come! :D


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