A lot of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides seemingly takes place in the dark. In 3-D at the theater, the fourth film in the profitable franchise often seemed murky. .
On Blu-ray, Stranger Tides is sharper — at least visually — but it doesn't brighten up the rest of the film, which suffers from being one of those throw-in-the-kitchen-sink movies. Some of this is undoubtedly due to trying to reboot the series. There are changes from the first three installments. Gone is director Gore Verbinski, who gave the films a surreal energy that jibed well with their star, Johnny Depp as Capt. Jack Sparrow. Verbinski has been replaced by the staid Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, Nine). Also missing are Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, but they would have no place in this bizarre tale.
The action focuses instead on a race to the fountain of youth, involving Sparrow's sometime nemesis/sometime uneasy ally Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and the notorious pirate Blackbeard played by Ian McShane, who brings along his oversize Al Swearengen character from Deadwood for the ride. Penélope Cruz is Sparrow's former flame, Angelica, who may or may not be Blackbeard's daughter.
Most of the time, though, the film runs at a "thar she blows" pace — this is a Jerry Bruckheimer production — and audiences don't have to worry about anything except the next overwrought action sequence.
I wish I could say that On Stranger Tides was more fun. Depp still manages to infuse his performances with his usual odd, always watchable whimsy. McShane and Rush can roar with the best of them, and who doesn't like to watch Cruz? But it's all kind of forgettable, and even the romance between a missionary (Sam Claflin) and a mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) is too quickly swept away to grab you.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides retails for $39.99 Blu-ray or $49.99 Blu-ray 3D. The DVD is due out Nov. 15.