Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

Composed by Hans Zimmer

Naturally, after the surprising smashing success of Curse of the Black Pearl, Disney went head  with a sequel. Actually they went for a full trilogy, with the second and third installments to be released in close proximity in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Dead Man’s Chest sees Will and Elizabeth’s marriage ruined by the arrival of Thomas Beckett and the East India Trading Company. Beckett has them arrested for conspiring with pirates, but offers freedom if Will can get Jack Sparrow’s magic compass. Sparrow himself is targeted by the monstrous Davy Jones (played by British national treasure Bill Nighy), the ferryman of souls lost at sea. If Sparrow does not hand himself and his soul over at the right time, Jones’ pet Kraken will hunt him down. To save himself, Sparrow determines to find the heart of Davy Jones, locked in a chest, and use it to gain the upper hand. What ensues is a series of shifting alliances and double crosses. Dead Man’s Chest is a fun film, but doesn’t stand too well on its own as it’s almost all build-up for an epic third entry. This time Hans Zimmer officially took over scoring duties and would have a much more amenable schedule to work with.

Zimmer created his score with the help of the Media Ventures gang and once again he came under fire from critics from failing to utilize a period-appropriate sound. Another hurdle was on the thematic front. Zimmer wanted to develop more original themes, but the first score was so popular that he had to reference that one as well. Zimmer largely is able to develop a cohesive thematic framework, though there are perhaps too many themes and motifs for certain aspects. The album starts with three thematic suites, covering most of the new themes and motifs. These make for a mostly engaging album-opener, turning several cues from the film into expanded album editions.

The first is “Jack Sparrow,” which features no less than three new themes for the titular pirate. The new main Jack Sparrow theme is introduced with loopy electric cello. In this and many other iterations it underscores the quirkiness of Johnny Depp’s performance, but it can be turned into a heroic melody when Zimmer lays on the synthesized brass. At 1:38 Zimmer brings back the previous film’s jig in an extended variation. It now serves as a motif for Sparrow’s often comedic feats and often has elements of his primary theme sown in. There is also an ascending three-note motif (3:41) that often underscores uplifting heroic moments throughout the trilogy. After a full reprise of the primary theme and escalating strings, Zimmer unleashes a more generic heroic fanfare for Sparrow (4:15). This fanfare is the weakest of Sparrow’s themes, the synthesized tones being too dense. The suite ends with a final reprise of the primary theme on electric cello and then synth-laden brass.

“The Kraken” presents the themes and motifs for the titular sea monster and one of the universally praised aspects of the film. The track itself is an expanded album version of one of the creature’s attack scenes. Zimmer also uses these motifs to represent the cursed crewmen of the Flying Dutchman, Davy Jones’ ship. These men are human/sea creature hybrids and are themselves monstrous agents of the new villain. Throughout the suite Zimmer employs a heartbeat effect to represent the power Davy Jones’ heart holds over his various minions. The suite starts with the Kraken Approach motif, an identity of eight-note pieces that in this suite builds and builds until the Kraken Attack motif (0:40). The Kraken Attack motif is built around three-note phrases and often bolstered by choral chants. At 1:21 Zimmer starts up an electric organ which in turn leads to a rarely used Kraken theme (1:28). This theme really only makes a sizeable appearance during the monster’s mid-film attack. It’s also very close to a melody from Batman Begins’ “Antrozous.” After some more of the Kraken Approach and Attack motifs, Zimmer goes into some non-thematic material (2:47), with perilous horns and grungy brass. Nearly four minutes in the composer goes perhaps a bit overboard on the latter element. In an interview Zimmer said he wanted to give the feeling of a biker gang, a curious and ill-fitting choice for the minions of a tragic sea deity. The weakest part of the suite is indeed when the grunge gets heavy. At 4:55 the Kraken Attack motif finally breaks out, along with more of the perilous horn melody. This leads to one final stately performance of the main Kraken theme.

“Davy Jones” is the third and final suite, this one not being a presentation of multiple related motifs, but of one theme. Davy Jones’ theme is the strongest of the new identities, carrying considerable dramatic heft. Even though Jones’ backstory is never clearly explained, the theme tells the audience that there is something more to him even when he torments his own crew. The character is evil, but is suggested to have a tragic origin story. The theme does this wonderfully. The theme rarely appears in action setting, with the collection of Kraken motifs representing the violent acting of Davy Jones’ will. The theme suite is near-diagetic, based on several scenes where instruments play it in-film. For over a minute it plays on a music box. At 1:13 it repeats in much more sinister fashion on pipe organ. Davy Jones literally plays his own theme in the film with such an instrument! Male choir joins in to lend more emotional weight, as does heavy percussion. At 2:38 the theme goes back to music box mode.

After these three tracks the album goes into a collection of actual in-film cues. Here the album gets noticeably less engaging with passages of dark rambling material and one very poor non-chronological choice that offsets the pacing. “I’ve Got My Eye on You” starts off dark with the Evil Pirates film and a sinister bell. Churning synthesizers and creepy strings lead to a dark one-off melody (0:38). At 0:50 a dark choral lament plays as a coffin from a Turkish prison is dumped into the sea. At 1:29 Jack Sparrow’s theme from the first film appears to reintroduce the character. It concludes with a short iteration of the character’s new theme. “Dinner is Served” is a purposefully incongruous cue set on an island of cannibals. The first part is tribal drums and chanting as the natives prepare to make a feast out of their prisoners. The second part is a comical waltz as the prisoners find a unique way to escape their hanging cages.

“Tia Dalma” starts with a more tropical iteration of the Black Pearl theme. Over 20 seconds in dark textures are created by a deep woman’s choir, eerie synthesizers, and a two-note beat. After some light comedy, the Death theme from the first film returns (1:30) with accompanying music box notes. Davy Jones’ theme makes an appearance on the lower brass registers as voodoo witch Tia Dalma explains part of his backstory (2:27). More dark textures, with the creepy woman vocals, close out the track. “Two Hornpipes (Tortuga)” is literally music from the Disney ride and thus is the most period-appropriate track. Here Zimmer spices it up with some synthesizers as a tavern brawl reaches its climax. “A Family Affair” starts with growling synthesized brass. Tragic strings take over, leading to a dramatic building melody. At 1:23 it climaxes with a flourish of the Evil Pirates theme. At 1:54 a sad violin starts conveys the aftermath of a particularly messed up whipping. Davy Jones theme goes through several soft variations as Will learns more about the inner workings of the Flying Dutchman (2:19).

“Wheel of Fortune” is designed to please fans of the first score. The POTC theme finally makes its appearance on album for a three-way sword duel. At 1:45 Jack Sparrow’s theme arrives to mix the old and new themes together. At 2:04 the pirate as he breaks off from the duel with one of his quirky motifs. The Black Pearl theme leads to a brief iteration of Davy Jones’ theme on music box. Nearly three minutes in the action picks up again with a fragmentary statement of the Kraken theme. Jack Sparrow’s themes come to the forefront, dominating the track until near the 6 minute mark. The Kraken Approach motif appears before part of the POTC theme closes the track out in humorous fashion.

“You Look Good Jack” comes from one of the film’s earliest cues. Its placement near the end is troubling as its all eerie foreshadowing. What’s worse is that the following final cue “Hello Beastie” is mostly a subdued track as well. This makes for a rather slow final 15 minutes on album. That being said it is an effective piece in proper context. Fragments of the Death theme lead to the first iteration of Davy Jones’ theme as one his haunted crew members starts to talk with Jack Sparrow. At 1:49 the music takes a more haunting tone with eerie strings and bell chimes. The tempo picks up as Jack Sparrow learns how much danger he is in (2:17). After some more creepy underscore part of Jack’s fanfare breaks out (3:16), quickly followed by a brief return of the Cursed Pirates theme. At the 4 minute mark the cue drones on for a minute and a half, with another statement of Davy Jones’ theme and the subtle first appearance of the Kraken Approach motif in the lower registers (with an electronic heartbeat effect).

What would have worked better in this spot is the music from the final action sequence. In the film there is a fast chase piece with an action variation of Davy Jones’ theme. After that that there is a brief spurt of the Kraken Approach motif and a dramatic reprise of the POTC theme from “Barbossa is Hungry.” This leads to a short but furious action cue with the Kraken motifs and Evil Pirates theme, and a final heroic statement of the POTC theme. Unfortunately this music is only available as a ripped track with poor sound quality.

“Hello Beastie” is a ten-minute conclusion, starting after the big fight with the Kraken. It’s mostly downbeat in terms of emotion. In the first minute the POTC theme briefly appears amidst sad strings and foreboding male choir. The strings and choral accents continue on for a long while, with some hints of the Death theme after the 2 minute mark. The choir starts to swell up as the Kraken emerges from the sea one more time (2:55). After the music cuts out, a heroic melody with some hints of Jack Sparrow’s original theme takes over as the captain has his last stand. At 4:28 a melody from the first film appears reverentially. After a brief choral climax, the scene transitions with the East India Company motif (5:29). This motif actually appeared at the start of the film and frequently made short appearances whenever the film cut to Beckett, but this is the sole performance on album. In this particular iteration Zimmer keeps it going longer, foreshadowing the East India Company’s more active role in the third film. At 6:26 the movie goes back to Tia Dalma and her river haunt with a lamenting version of the original Jack Sparrow theme. About 8 minutes in the Death theme returns, but hopefully builds into the POTC theme. At 9:33 the pace picks up with the three-note ascending motif and hints of the jig. The jig finally breaks out in full to end the track. “He’s a Pirate – Tiesto Remix” is a dreadful seven minute techno remix of “He’s a Pirate” and takes up space that could have been used for more score. Of course one can simply switch off the album before it starts.

In general Zimmer’s music matures the scores for the POTC trilogy and introduces several strong themes. The problem is that the album emphasizes the dark material, much of in meandering or too grungy. One issue could be the continuance of the villainous Black Pearl theme for what is now the heroes’ ship. The score itself is an improvement in originality, though it does sacrifice engaging entertainment value in some stretches. The album isn’t as messy as the first one, but has its own set of production issues from a slow-paced last act to a dreadful techno add-on. This is still worth a listen and stands out for “The Kraken” which would not see any of its motifs continue into At World’s End.

Rating: (score) 6/10 (album) 5/10

Tracklisting

  1. Jack Sparrow (6:05)
  2. The Kraken (6:54)
  3. Davy Jones (3:15)
  4. I’ve Got My Eye on You (2:25)
  5. Dinner is Served (1:30)
  6. Tia Dalma (3:57)
  7. Two Hornpipes (Tortuga) (1:14)
  8. A Family Affair (3:34)
  9. Wheel of Fortune (6:45)
  10. You Look Good, Jack (5:34)
  11. Hello Beastie (10:13)
  12. He’s a Pirate – Tiesto Remix (7:02)

Recommended Relisting

  1. I’ve Got My Eye on You
  2. Jack Sparrow
  3. You Look Good, Jack
  4. Dinner is Served
  5. Tia Dalma
  6. Davy Jones
  7. Two Hornpipes (Tortuga)
  8. The Kraken
  9. A Family Affair
  10. Wheel of Fortune
  11. Hello Beastie

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