Davy Jones (from Pirates of the Caribbean)

When someone says the name “Jack Sparrow” what do you think of? Do you remember that break out character, the first comic relief character to recieve an Oscar? Or does the name equate “failed franchise” along the lines of Jar Jar Binks, Captain Archer, or the like?

The Pirates of the Caribbean sequels will probably long stand up as the prime example of how NOT to make a film franchise.  From the get go, shooting the movie without a complete script, for instance, the project was riddled with problems, and ultimately it all comes back to one central storytelling problem: Consistency of Character.

Script writing probably looked like this, but with more cheetos and fewer lady monkeys.

It was like Disney went to Fanfiction.com and pulled up the most bland writers who never finished their stories (not that yours truly has ever had that problem >.>).  The writers had the idea for their grand epic stored away in their brains, but they couldn’t compress it down enough to have all the right pieces in place for the final showdown.  So instead we have a loosely weaved story with stray threads coming and going every minute.

For this reason expect to see quite a few Pirates of the Caribbean entries here in the coming year, as this is one of my personal crusades.  I consider the sequels to be a guilty pleasure of mine, I don’t expect anyone else to enjoy them, but I do hope you’ll share the admiration for a bunch of wonderful concepts that could have been truly epic.

And this is our main problem when you boil Davy Jones down to his most basic components, and where I’m tempted to pull some punches.  In Jones, we have what could have been a truly great film villain, along the lines of Darth Vader, Dracula, or Ursula.  They had all the components, but they couldn’t put them together.  It’s like having a mess of legos sitting in front of you, and the choice to either just stack them as high as you can, one on top of the other, until you run out of bricks and hope that the sheer size of your construct will impress the crowds, and actually bothering to look at the directions and create something with a shape.  In Davy Jones we see the beginings of greatness, but the form is so inconsistent he just ends up muddled, confusing, and unfinished, like the rest of the movies.

 

This guy gives "poor unfortunate souls" a whole new meaning ^_^

Davy Jones, in Dead Man’s Chest, is a much more mysterious villain than Barbossa in Curse of the Black Pearl.  He doesn’t make his appearance until 1:17mins, and only has 14 mins of screen time.  We first encounter him at the shipwreck where Sparrow has sent Will to take his place on Jones’ ship.  Will first battles Jones’ inhuman crew, is beaten, and meets Jones, and our first impression of him is not lacking the build up to this moment.  It’s a shame they’ll throw all this credibility and build up away the very next time we see him, but let’s enjoy this moment.

First, Jones has a peg leg, and as we know any pirate with a peg leg has his street cred. Jones slowly examines the men his crew have captured, and he has a strange sort of charm about him, not unlike Barbossa.  Both characters are definitely sailors, they’re simple and direct and have little time for frivolity.  But whereas Barbossa gave off an air of a gentleman, whose only crime was being of low birth and thus condemned to a life of hard labor on a ship, Jones doesn’t have that class based charm as Barbossa.  Jones is charismatic, almost in a deal making, Jimmy Hoffa kind of way, but you can tell just from looking at him that he knows the scales are tilted in his favor, and if you don’t accept his nice guy deal, he will make you an offer you can’t refuse.  By the way, what happened to his pipe? He has it in the very first scene but thereafter it never appears again.  What, did he quit all of a sudden? If it was concern about smoking in a Disney movie why put the pipe in in the first place?  Sorry, but it’s just a strange pet peeve that little details like that, that make the character seem more three dimensional by their very presence, are just shoved aside for pure exposition.

Seriously, where?!

Speaking of that, Jones’ introductory scene is consistent with what we’ve heard about him so far.  He’s cold, he’s calculating, and he has a dark, gallows sense of humor.  In the scene previous, Tia Dalma told us that Jones cut out his heart, and put it into the Dead Man’s Chest because the pain he felt at losing the love of his life (later revealed to BE Tia Dalma) was not worth the balance of the simple pleasures he took from life.  And this scene is, for a rare moment, consistent with that development.  He is harsh, blunt, and has a bleak outlook on life. The only moment of weakness we see in Jones is when Sparrow reveals that Will is engaged, and supposed to be married soon, but he quickly shuts it down and is back to his very Walken-esque performance.

This scene was brilliantly realized, sadly it must be followed by probably the low point of the Jones character.  Will has been press ganged into serving aboard Jones’ ship, the Flying Dutchman, and due to a mix up after meeting his father, Bootstrap, is to be lashed as punishment.  But the worst part about it is how we see him at his pipe organ.  Yes, Davy Jones has a pipe organ aboard his ghost ship.  It could only be more awesome if it has flame decals on the sides.  I rather like the idea of a pirate phantom of the opera.  But he’s growling and enraged, barely holding back his temper.  GUYS! This is NOT how you write an emotionless villain!  You can’t reduce the CENTRAL ASPECT of your villain’s personality to exposition, you need to SHOW us that he’s heartless, too.  We had phantom of the opera, but ended up with Anakin Skywalker as a hentai monster.

FAIL: A villain who doesn't feel joy or pain? No.

Furthering this shattering of our dreams, we get the following scene with Jones and both the Turners.  Jones forces Bootstrap to flog Will, but he has this…pseudo-sexual expression…on his face that just creeps me right the fuck out.  Again, this isn’t the most prudent expression for someone who’s supposed to be an emotionless, heartless scumbag.  In a strange reversal…Bootstrap is the one with a stoic face while Jones is snivelling, making me wonder if this was one of those “Oops we don’t have a script” moments and the director forgetting or mixing up details from that morning’s “What’s in the Script Today?” game.

The Flying Dutchman....I'd hit that

This is a phenomenon in both movies, and it’s basically a game of which version of Davy Jones will we meet this scene?  He hops back and forth between the given, exposited personality, that of jilted lover and pitiless judge of the sea, or….a tentacle monster that listens to an unhealthy amount of Linkin Park.  And sadly for us, the movie will err on the side of the emo.

There’s an important distinction to be made here.  The Jones from Dead Man’s Chest is NOT the same as Jones from At World’s End.  This second Jones is supposed to be more emotional due to the proximity of his heart.  Like, the first time we see Jones in the third film, it’s a much more toned down version of that phantom of the opera scene.  He’s more despondent, his song is slower, simpler, and we see him start to cry.  He picks up this tear, ponders it for a moment, and then starts to seethe with rage.  The cause is Beckett bringing his Heart onto the Dutchman, and it establishes why Jones detached himself in the first place, he hates feeling this way, and he wants to be as far from the chest as possible.  But we don’t KNOW that right away because he spent the last movie bleeding angsty poetry.  We’ve seen him angry and in the throws of passion more than we’ve seen him reserved and emotionless.  Again this might have been solved if there had been a script, I don’t know, but it seems a simple thing.

Jones’ character arc is very different in At World’s End than it was in Dead Man’s Chest.  In the second movie, Jones was the undisputed Captain of the Dutchman.  His name was whispered as legend, the powerful phantom captain who had helped the Brethren Court capture Calypso and started off the Golden Age of Piracy.  His crew was the dregs of the sea, sailors who would have died but now served the Dutchman unquestioningly.  He even had the keys to the Black Pearl and the Kraken, and we’re given to believe that even before he was turned immortal, Jones was probably a powerful sorcerer of some kind.  After all it doesn’t make a lot of sense that Calypso would teach anyone how to bind her, and his control of the Kraken doesn’t seem to be totally tied to his position, as Jack doesn’t believe killing Jones would be enough to deter the beast.  In short, we are dealing with a bonafide badass.

In the third film, Jones has been reduced to Beckett’s puppet, and he openly despises this position. However, though maybe not the biggest fish in the pond anymore, Jones is having his emotions returned to him (not stressing enough, HOW WE COULDN’T NOTICE!) and his two sides are at war. We see his caring side mix with his ruthless side, in a manner that makes us think once upon a time he wasn’t too dissimilar from Barbossa, Jack, or Will.  And, it’s not just for Calypso, in the final battle Jones saves Mercer by using his own body as a shield to protect him from a cannon shell, instinctively, without prompting.  And mind you, this is AFTER he knows Calypso will not forgive him for what he did, he’s not exactly all sunshine and smiles.  But deep down, he wants to save Mercer.  Of course, the moment he realizes Mercer’s guards are wounded, probably dying with bleeding ears, he takes the chance to reclaim his ship.

At World’s End had a lot of loose threads.  There was Sao Feng, the Pirate Lord who admired Calypso, and was even the unofficial leader of the Court before his death, inspiring loyalty from the other lords even beyond the grave.  There was the Brethren Court itself, the Nine Pieces of Eight, and the tale of how they tamed the sea.  There was Sparrow and Beckett, and their long, complicated history that was only hinted at.  There was the Locker, and saving Jack, the tale of Weatherby (I love that name) Swan, who was eventually killed after being forced to work for Beckett for all of ten minutes to save his daughter, and the romance of Calypso and Jones.

Any of these points could have made a compelling movie in and of itself, but all combined they can’t focus on any one for too long, and instead settle for being crap.

Personally, I would have run with the Calypso/Jones romance and maybe part of another one, probably involving the Court.  Though by this point, the Brethren Court wasn’t introduced and Tia Dalma could have been in hiding, mourning for her lover’s spirit or some garbage.  It could have been more condensed, and a brilliant side-by-side romance to go with the Will and Elizabeth stories, because frankly, these are supposed to be their movies, the tale of two people caught up in piracy.

Of course, in At World’s End Jones’ first truly important appearance is with Beckett and Will.  He discovers that Calypso is alive, and demands her murder.  Beckett realizes from the way Jones speaks, however, that JONES was the one who orchestrated Calypso’s imprisonment, NOT the Brethren as the legends would lead him to believe.  As Jones tries to sidestep the question, Will (who has already realized Tia Dalma carries the partner music box to Jones’) adds up the pieces; that it was for Calypso that Jones cut out his heart.  Jones says it wasn’t he who betrayed his love, but the fact that she pretended to love him, and therefore betrayed him.  Will remarks smugly “And after which betrayal did you cut out your heart, I wonder?”, a question Jones avoids by smacking Will’s teacup away, and Beckett steps in saving Jones from answering.  This is one of those questions where it’s implied that Jones didn’t cut out his heart until AFTER he taught the Brethren how to imprison Calypso, but it really is left up to the audience.

I have three scenes that I think demonstrate what could have been brilliance in At World’s End.  The first is the opening in Singapore, with Sao Feng (another character who was able to sniff Greatness’ farts but couldn’t find what direction they were coming from).  The second scene is the Brethren Court, and the “Nine Pieces of Junk” scene.  Some people hate it, but I think it’s adorable, it’s so…Disney.  And the third is the brig scene, between Tia Dalma and Davy Jones.

Yes it's a heart-shaped music box...but are you going to call that guy out on it?

This scene sets up so much.  Jones comes to Calypso, knowing she’s been imprisoned by the Brethren.  It sets up with Calypso listening to her music box as it ends its wind, slowing down.  When suddenly it’s picked up by Jones’ music box from outside the cell.  Something I haven’t mentioned is the music.  Davy Jones’ theme is the song in the music boxes, and it does something unique.  Many horror films or other psych-thrillers use music boxes to instill a creepy atmosphere, usually accompanied by the echoes of laughing children.  At World’s End might be the only movie I’ve seen where the music box, without any alterations except near the end, a cello/bass coming in with the base chord, feels genuinely threatening.  Jones’ full theme takes a transition into a fierce organ score then, it is one of the best villain themes ever.  It starts sweet and somewhat melancholy, builds to a menacing song of darkness and vengeance, and tapers off into the lullaby again. The Nostalgia Critic actually used it for his “Top 11 Scariest Performances” review.  Jones wasn’t ON that list (nor does he really deserve to be) but the song is so powerful, it’s instantly associated with dark insanity.  And it sets up the transition you see here.  When Jones arrives he is innocent, only coming out of curiosity it seems, to see what has become of his lover after his betrayal.  But when he’s there, face to face, the feelings of sickness and anger come flooding back, he even almost kills her.  But then it subsides, and he leaves professing his love.

And while we see Calypso locked in the cell, it seems to be the more massive space in the belly of the ship, and we see right through Jones.  He’s the real prisoner, trapped by his love for this woman.  He doesn’t want to be here, but he can’t help himself.  It has been centuries since these two talked to each other, and yet they pull off a far more convincing romance scene than Will and Elizabeth did in Dead Man’s Chest in this exact situation.  Will and Elizabeth have lousy chemistry.  They do the awkward, adolescent romance perfectly, but a meaningful, deep love? I don’t feel it.
With Jones and Calypso, I feel it; these are two people who have done horrible things to each other, but they still care about each other deeply.  And it’s really a shame this wasn’t able to be more focal in the story, because it would probably still be debated over who mistreated who worst.  Jones did bind Calypso into a less powerful form, he betrayed her, no doubt.  But Jones was also basically enslaved to the Dutchman out of his love for this woman, and she couldn’t, on her divine duff, give him one day out of ten years of conversation?  Hell I know lots of other girls who’d kill for that kind of long distance commitment.   I just love everything about the brig scene, and the final line is chilling, when after all the shouting, thinly veiled threats, accusations and squabbling, and Calypso asks about his destiny, Jones delivers with a soft, affectionate voice, “My heart will always belong to you”.  I think it might well be one of the most romantic lines I’ve heard in a Disney movie. It’s very evocative at the least.

"My heart will always belong to you". Any girl who had a heart fell in love the tentacle monster here.

I think it’s because it comes off as so real.  Everyone has had that kind of conversation.  Sure, you didn’t enslave your boyfriend to work at McDonalds for ten years for one day of sex, or he didn’t turn you into a newt (I hope!), but if you suspect they’re cheating on you? If you aren’t sure they love you anymore, or possibly even more awkward, if you don’t know if you love them? You can see the gears turning in their heads, they’re analyzing everything each other says.  You know they feel slighted, and having 200 years to think things over, demonized the other at the expense of their own shortcomings.  Like, we hear Calypso say she’ll give Jones her heart forever, but none of us believes that.  But Jones is so desperately in love with her he’s willing to let her lie.  Jones, for his part, is sneaky, and less than forthcoming. And Calypso admires his devotion in the cell, but in the scene on the Pearl, when Barbosssa breaks the spell, and Will comes forward as asks “When the Brethren first imprisoned you, who was it who taught them how? Who was it who betrayed you?” You can see the subtle change in her expression.  When Will calls her by name it’s a “how dare you speak to me, mortal” look, indignant at her treatment.  But as soon as Will insinuates someone betrayed her, her face contorts with rage.  She already knows.  She only asks because she’s doing the silent prayer, that last hope that all dysfunctional romances do, they’re hoping against hope that someone will give them a different answer.

And that is why I find Jones’ last line in the brig so moving.  It’s so honest, it’s exactly what people do say in those situations.  And it’s such a parallel to the Will/Elizabeth romance.  They’ve betrayed each other, kept secrets.  It would be a way to look at them and say “but for the flip of a coin go we”.  And yet lots of people hate it, they think it’s a low point in the narrative.  Well, I agree that it was unnecessary, the only thing this establishes is that if the Brethren do release Calypso, she will kill them all and side with Jones against Beckett.  This scene could have been cut, but I can still LIKE it.  Lots of people don’t, and that boggles me.  I personally don’t feel slighted about Jones’ backstory being revealed, after all it’s the main driving force behind ALL of the events in the movies.  If Calypso had not jilted Jones, he never would have approached the Brethren and asked them to imprison her (and later, demand her murder), and he would not have become corrupted.  If Jones had not been corrupted, he would not have made his deal with Sparrow.  No Black Pearl, the first movie would have been boring if the bad guys had any ordinary pirate ship and been blown out of the water.  So I think, in the interest of this broader narrative (that they had NO obligation to make, by the way, but AS IT STANDS) this scene had to be in there from the story perspective to spell out for us the origin of EVERYTHING.  But as a movie making need, yes, pointless scene is pointless.

But now credit where it is due, and INCREDIBLE credit at that: the special effects department and Bill Nighy.

First the special effects department, for crafting perhaps the most beautiful and convincing CGI costume ever conceived.  In fact many critics were CONVINCED that the Jones outfit was mostly prosthetics and not CGI.  It’s this immersion and realistic looking feel of the Jones character that gives him power.  To steal almost word for word from SFDebris, part of (fantasy/science fiction) is keeping everything really grounded otherwise.

Seriously...hardcore

You force your audience to accept silly concepts, in this case that a hentai monster commands the ghost ship the Flying Dutchman and steals souls, but in order for the audience to suspend that disbelief they need to simply accept the characters and sets as they are, in other words keep it all grounded..  Both of these entities had a job in doing that for Jones.  His tentacles each sway and twitch independently, and in the sleeping scene with Orlando Bloom, when he’s lifting them one by one to get the Key, side by side with his skin textures they look authentic, and that went a huge way into suspending disbelief.

But most of the credit goes to Bill Nighy.  The man is the old fashioned standard of an actor having a hundred faces.  Looking up all his credits in IMDB I instantly recognized him as Dr. Black from the Van Gogh episode of the most recent Dr. Who season.  By and large anyone reading THIS blog might recognize him as Viktor from the Underworld series.  And if you are a mighty spaceman of the future, perhaps you’d know him as Rufus Scrimegour from the Harry Potter/Deathly Hallows movies.  But check his IMDB, the man has been EVERYWHERE.

Nighy does an incredible job in the part of Jones.  A lousy script sunk the character, but Nighy really did save it and keep him afloat long enough to reach the end.  His delivery is excellent, and in the final battle (where he, by the way, stabs Will Turner with his own crafted sword) his delivery is such a tormented mix of feelings.  And in his clash with Sparrow, says “My freedom was forfeit long ago”, doing a strange job that in his voice you can hear him wavering between despair and glorious duty.  There’s really so much going on with this character and Nighy pulled it off magnificently.  He delivers brilliantly what the script wants, and I don’t think he is at all to blame for the fact that on different days that was different incarnations.

Davy Jones was done a great disservice by the Powers That Be at Disney for greenlighting a movie without a script.  I’m sure most of his problems could have been solved if his personality had been written down.  As it stands he joins a slew of interesting-but-blown-off characters from the two Pirates sequels.  If the writers had only realized how bloody long the films would end up, that they could have written out several of the characters and saved them for later incarnations instead of feeling the need to push them all into one production fearing they’d never get to tell the story again.

There's something strangely charming in that "I'm going to kill you now, sorry" face

A final note, on the stupid stuff.

We are given the idea that if you stab the captain’s heart, yours must take it’s place.  Why?  Davy Jones didn’t cut out his heart until AFTER he assumed command of the Dutchman (before or after he became corrupted is a different story), so what power does it have over the Dutchman?  I can see it ending HIS life, but his duty? What did Calypso do prior to this moment some 150 years ago, because we’ve been sailing the seas for over 3,000 years.  This the focus of the entire two movies, to Will, Jones, and Sparrow.  Sparrow wants to get the heart, it’s his entire purpose and catalyst for the movies.  Why does it DO that though? It’s a gaping plot hole that really makes no sense when you’re watching these movies over (though it did slip by me the first time).

The second thing that (upon having seen the third movie) makes me facepalm out loud is the scene where they first open the chest.  And love letters come pouring out.  Really? How the hell did those get here?  Did Calypso write them? Or did he? I didn’t know gods used the postal service, couldn’t she just conjure herself up if she wanted to talk to him instead of writing a letter? It seems like it would take less time to just poof onto the deck of the Dutchman.  One theory that tries to explain this away is Calypso took the form of Tia Dalma to seduce a mortal to captain the Dutchman, and these letters come from then.  For one, Davy Jones is a sailor.  There are only two pirate captains we know of who could write (in our world) and that is Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, and Black Bart Roberts (I don’t know how much he WROTE but he did read from a Bible for his Sunday services on his pirate ship.  Black Bart is the most fascinating pirate ever, go look him up =P).  Most sailors were illiterate, or at least very bad at reading and writing.  And even if Jones COULD read and write as a mortal (which seems plausible as per his aforementioned magician abilities) I would think he’d find it suspicious that a black woman could too in the 15th or 16th century.  And if we do assume the “Jones was a magician that’s how he attracted Calypso’s attention” theory, then he certainly would have noticed she was an immortal.  The love letters make next to zero sense and I just wanna punch someone in the FACE when I see them.

Rather than tie everything together, I will only ask that if you should happen to find yourself watching these movies again, don’t hate the squid man, hate the directors.

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