Yo ho horology and a bit of campy fun.
These lists are about us recommending movies to see because you saw the new releases they’re tied to. It’s not supposed to be an “if you like that, then you’ll like this” sort of thing. But this week a lot of the recommendations are indeed for people to see because they like the new release in question. None of them are essential masterpieces, and none of them are certainly considered classics. But if you enjoyed Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, then you should enjoy these eight picks and appreciate them for what guilty pleasure or, in a few cases, genuine storytelling craft they have to offer.
King Neptune (1932)
While not Walt Disney’s first film to involve pirates — that’d be the lost 1927 “Alice Comedy” installment Alice Foils the Pirates — this 30th entry in the Silly Symphony series (the second produced in Technicolor) seems to be the oldest surviving piece in a long tradition continuing through the POTC franchise.
With a running time of only seven minutes, the animated short is about the titular god of the sea rescuing a kidnapped mermaid from pirates with help from various oceanic creatures.
There are no mermaids in Dead Men Tell No Tales, unlike the last POTC installment, but the treasure being sought this time around is the trident of Poseidon, aka Neptune. While you watch the film, you’ll mostly notice connections to Disney’s The Little Mermaid (though here the sea nymphs are controversially topless), but you could also view it with the idea that it’s a Dead Men Tell No Tales prequel. Where did Neptune go that he should leave his iconic three-pronged spear behind? Who knows, but maybe in a sequel he can show up and attack Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and the Black Pearl for destroying it.
The Pirate Movie (1982)
It was easy for a young child of the ’80s to mix up The Pirate Movie and the 1983 film adaptation of “The Pirates of Penzance” or at least to be introduced to the latter’s Gilbert and Sullivan source material through the former, Razzie-nominated comedy.
Like many a cheesy musical of the time (if you enjoy Xanadu and Grease 2, you should like this), its songs are quite catchy and there’s enough charm to carry you through the bad dialogue and acting. Mostly for The Pirate Movie, it has the benefit of starring the very likable Kristy McNichol in the lead as a modern girl who dreams she’s back in a goofily romanticized time of pirates and model major-generals.
McNichol’s Mabel admits to being a feminist, and if there’s one thing to truly praise about The Pirate Movie is its heightening of the agency of Gilbert and Sullivan’s already strong female lead. Kaya Scodelario’s Carina in Dead Men Tell No Tales is likewise the smartest and most confident person on screen — as Mabel says, “the body is an eight, the brain is a ten” — and is ultimately the best part of the movie.
Opposite her, though, Brenton Thwaites is an even duller pretty boy than Christopher Atkins. Meanwhile, the POTC movies are close to being so corny, minus such awful direct allusions as The Pirate Movie‘s nods to Star Wars and The Pink Panther, and they could really use some terrifically bad musical numbers like “We Are the Pirates.”
Cabin Boy (1994)
If The Pirate Movie isn’t silly enough, nothing tops the immature buffoonery of Chris Elliott. Tim Burton, who has been considered to direct a POTC installment, produced the comedy and was set to helm the thing before Ed Wood came along. Had he directed, it might have been more like Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, though it’s hard to imagine it any less frivolous.
Elliott stars as an imbecilic “fancy lad” who mistakenly joins the grimy motley crew of a fishing boat called The Filthy Whore. They encounter crude and ridiculous homages to Melies and Harryhausen, and David Letterman shows up for an indulgent cameo. As nonsensical as Cabin Boy is, though, it’s got nothing on the contrived rubbish found in Dead Men Tell No Tales. At least Cabin Boy means to be stupid. Its main adversary is a gigantic man in a business suit (Mike Starr). And it’s crass for the sake of character more than cheap jokes.
Like the new POTC movie, it too has an intelligent female character who boards the ship and stands out among the idiot men. Plus there’s a ship’s figurehead that comes to life and a Bermuda’s Triangle-like place — in Cabin Boy it’s called Hell’s Bucket and in Dead Men Tell No Tales it’s Devil’s Triangle.
Time Piece (2007)
I couldn’t tell you why it was important for Scodelario’s character in Dead Men Tell No Tales to be a horologist other than to provide for a bad running joke about the word “horologist” being mistaken for “whore.” Does enough of the movie’s audience know much better what horology is than the idiot pirates to make the wordplay effective anyway? It’s not a common term nor a common area of study or expertise these days. So let’s turn stupid comedy into a reason to learn something.
My best recommendation for an interesting lesson in horology is actually the podcast S-Town, which involves an eccentric clock repairman who talks informatively of his interest in time and his skill in fixing timepieces. As for film documentaries, this 10-minute short by Kat Mansoor (not to be confused with Jim Henson’s Oscar-nominated film of the same name, though that’s recommended, too) showcases a dying profession by profiling two artisan watchmakers in Switzerland. Watch it below.