Unlike Star Wars
or The Lord of the Rings
, Pirates of the Caribbean
didn't start out as a trilogy.
When the 2003 movie became a hit, it took some hard thinking and a few lucky accidents to devise a pair of follow-up movies.
The first sequel, Dead Man's Chest
, premieres nationwide today. The third film is due in theaters next summer.
"We had to construct a trilogy in reverse," director Gore Verbinski says. "So the loose ends (from the original) became our best assets."
Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, whose credits include Shrek
, scanned the first movie to search for "the unanswered questions, the little hints about what's around the corner," Rossio says. "There was a lot that we could draw from."
One such question mark: the compass carried by Johnny Depp's pirate Jack Sparrow. In the first movie, a character takes it from Sparrow when he is jailed and remarks that it "does not point north."
"It was scripted and shot that the compass points to Isla de Muerta (the home of the first movie's cursed treasure), but it's not in the movie. It was cut, so we were able to actually say, 'Ooh, we can redefine the compass. Excellent!' " Elliott says.
This time, the compass points to a new island, home of the title's "dead man's chest."
Other unexplored territory included Bootstrap Bill, the father of Orlando Bloom's character. This time, Bootstrap turns up as part of the undead crew of Davy Jones, a part-squid, part-man, part-crab slave driver of the ocean. The longer his crew lives underwater with him, the more they mutate into sea creatures.
In Pirates 2
, Bootstrap (played by Stellan Skarsgard of Sweden), visits Sparrow to warn that an old blood debt the hero owes Davy Jones must soon be paid — and Sparrow is horrified to see the starfish, barnacles and shells sprouting on his former friend's face. "We see him (as) he becomes more and more consumed by this curse," concept artist Crash McCreery says.
Rossio says he worried there wouldn't be enough gags in the sequel linked to the Pirates of the Caribbean
ride at Disneyland, such as the bits from the first film when prisoners whistled to coax a dog that has the keys to their cell in his mouth, or the skeleton drinking wine that flows through his ribcage. "On the first movie, we used the ride as our source material," he says.
But footage shot for the first movie of the mayor of Tortuga being dunked in a well — as he is in the Disney theme park ride — was used for the second movie.
To set up the third movie, the filmmakers settled on a cliffhanger that will take the characters out of the Caribbean and into the port of Shanghai, where Chow Yun-Fat (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
) plays a Chinese buccaneer.
Verbinski says the final movie, in addition to featuring the return of at least one major character from the original, will be a test of Sparrow's humanity.
"The character has an honest streak that he hates. He wants to be bad, but he's actually good. Just when they think he's too silly, we give him some heartache and tangible reality," Verbinski says.
Though Depp says he's game to reprise the character in endless sequels, Verbinski is focused on wrapping up the third one.
He also hopes to shoot a cameo role for Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards, part of the inspiration for Depp's woozy pirate. "It's a fantastic part," Verbinski says. Does Richards play Sparrow's father? "It's open to interpretation."