If the big surprise of "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" was Johnny Depp's kohl-eyed, rock-star pirate (and that a film based on a theme park ride could be so good), the revelation of the sequel is a traditional-to-the-point-of-being-retro cliffhanger ending.
Not since the days of Tom Mix have audiences been left dangling in such an extreme way. While other franchise films, like the "Harry Potters" and the various action-hero vehicles, tend to be self-contained with a few loose sequel threads hanging, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" ends mid-narrative, with neither the main adventure nor the main character arcs anywhere close to finished.
In form, this "Pirates" is closer to Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, with similar mixed reactions of frustration and delight as the end credits roll.
"We have had a lot of kids come out and wonder if they can just go over to the next theater and see No. 3," says producer Jerry Bruckheimer with a laugh. The third film will be released on Memorial Day weekend 2007.
All of the Caribbean location footage has already been shot. Although there have been reports that weather and other difficulties delayed that shoot, and the production of No. 3, Bruckheimer says the concept of a cliffhanger as a bridge between the second and third films was always part of the plan.
"It was discussed from the concept stage," he says, pointing out that the audience has already been trained in coping with cliffhangers by the various "Star Wars" movies. "I think people knew it could be a cliffhanger."
He admits that ending a 2 1/2-hour movie people have been anticipating for years with little narrative payoff is a bit of a risk. "But when we started showing it to people," he says, "we felt confident we had given them enough satisfaction.
"People were surprised but in a good way, and that's what you want."