For Gore Verbinski, the man at the helm of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, last July’s release of Dead Man’s Chest brought both heaps of doubloons at the box office — to the tune of $1.1 billion worldwide — and heaps of scorn from the many critics and moviegoers who deemed it a muddled, waterlogged mess. Just weeks before the May 25 release of At World’s End, the final Pirates installment, Verbinski chatted with EW.com about those scurvy critics, Keith Richards’ cameo as Teague Sparrow, and whether there will be more Pirates movies sailing over the horizon.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There’s been a lot of talk lately about how expensive this summer’s big franchise pictures are, with several, including At World’s End, at around $300 million.
GORE VERBINSKI: Why is that? If you go on a cruise, you don’t wonder how much the boat cost. It’s just, was it a good cruise? You don’t go on a vacation and worry how much it cost to build the engines of the plane you’re traveling on.
Still, I’m sure you don’t want to be the guy whose name gets attached to ”the most expensive movie ever made.”
I don’t think we’re the most expensive movie ever made.
Well, right now some people are pinning that title on Spider-Man 3.
[Laughs] Fantastic. Beautiful. But it gets back to this: You pay $10 and go in the theater and you want to be entertained. That’s a pretty tremendous value. You’re going to tell the story with however much money they’re going to let you have.
Dead Man’s Chest received some pretty harsh reviews. What did you make of the criticisms that the movie’s intersecting plot lines were confusing?
I find [Sergio Leone’s] The Good The Bad and The Ugly confusing in a beautiful way. I think sometimes that’s an asset. As long as there’s chatter, then there’s at least a kind of visceral response. I’m constantly the one going, ”Yeah, but they’re talking about it. Don’t change it so that they don’t.” If you’re just eating a piece of pizza and not thinking about it — I hope I don’t make movies like that. I don’t really read the reviews, so I guess I don’t know what was confusing. But if it’s an argument against complexity, I think we’ve gotten more complex [in At World’s End], not less. We haven’t run away or chickened out. We certainly don’t shy away from putting stuff in that upsets people. I wouldn’t want to take all the pimples out. It has to have some smell and a voice. I like movies that aren’t perfect.
NEXT PAGE: ”What’s fun to me [is] to pervert the genre. You throw stuff in a Petri dish and see what grows.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Many people also found Dead Man’s Chest too long, and At World’s End is even longer. Is Disney nervous about the length?
GORE VERBINSKI: Not now that they’ve seen the movie and they see it’s not dragging. It’s fun and engaging. It’s not gratuitous. That’s probably what they were most concerned about. It moves along and you have to pay attention. You’re halfway into it and you’re still learning new things. It’s not like, ”When are we going to get to the maelstrom?” You’re engaged in other issues and new things are being revealed, like, why did Davy Jones cut out his heart? We’ve made those things as compelling as the big-action sequences.
There are some huge set pieces in At World’s End, like the giant ship battle in the maelstrom. Do you feel pressure to raise the level of spectacle each time out?
In Pirates 1, we did two boats battling. In Pirates 2, we did the Kraken and the swordfight on the wheel. We’d kind of used up all our tricks and we had to take it to the next level. With the third movie, having a ship battle would have been sort of ordinary if we didn’t have the ship battle taking place in a whirlpool. We don’t want an epic movie that’s stale. Whether it’s a $30 million budget or a $300 million budget, you just keep pushing: How far can you go? What can you do that’s interesting and different and isn’t kind of formulaic? With the pirate genre you obviously have to lay down some archetypes and pay homage to the genre from time to time, but you do it so you have an anchor, a tombstone to piss on. We try to change it and mix it up and crash romanticism and absurdity together. That’s what’s fun to me, to pervert the genre. You throw stuff in a Petri dish and see what grows.
From talking to fans, do you have a clear sense at this point of what the Pirates movies have tapped into?
We have a fan base that wants to know what happened to Norrington and what Tia Dalma is really about, and what happened between Jack and Beckett years ago, how did he get the ”P” brand on his arm — all those things. Our story is written for those guys. The people who didn’t like the first movie or bagged on the second one, we’re not making the movie for those guys.
Keith Richards makes a cameo in At World’s End as Teague Sparrow. What was it like working with him?
It was a unique experience. Singular. I never expected him to show up until he showed up. And he was fantastic. He lives up to everything you’ve ever heard. The crew was tremendously respectful. Everyone was just in awe. But he was really just a regular guy.
I gather the conversations are already going on about whether to make more Pirates movies after At World’s End. What’s your feeling?
I’m not ready to jump into another pirate movie now. It depends on the story we have to tell. This story is done. You’re not going to watch At World’s End and go, ”Oh, there’s going to be a Pirates 7” — you’re going to feel a conclusion to everything. ”It’s not worth doing another one unless you have a great story. It would have to be the further adventures of Jack Sparrow. Everyone’s looking forward to having some time off and challenging our brains in a different arena. But, you know, never say never.