Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

Composed by Hans Zimmer

The Pirates trilogy concluded with At World’s End. While still not as good as the first film, it was a big step over Dead Man’s Chest and a real thrill ride. Lord Cutler Beckett and the East India Trading Company, with Davy Jones and his haunted ship now under their control, are clamping down on piracy around the globe. With a broad definition of “pirate” and “conspiring with pirates,” this means they are executing thousands of small-time criminals and innocents as well. The heroes need to get all the pirate lords together to defeat Beckett and Jones, but first they need to go to Davy Jones’ Locker and rescue Jack Sparrow (and his ship the Black Pearl) from the afterlife. The film contains a dizzying array of double-crosses and shifting allegiances. My dad had the odd misfortune to fall asleep for about 10 minutes and woke up absolutely confused by why all the character alignments were suddenly different. My one main quibble is that the audience is told to root for what essentially are violent criminals. Things do make more sense when you consider that the movie intentionally presented a large corporation vs. small business scenario, represented by the East India Company’s attempts to create a monopoly on all sea trade. This message is actually quite timely, though hypocritical coming from Disney. As for the music itself, Zimmer finally created a worthy score.

Zimmer’s score for At World’s End is much more pleasing than Dead Man’s Chest. For one thing it’s got a lot more energy and enthusiasm, and even breaks out classical piratey woodwinds at a couple points. While the previous entry had a prolonged, downbeat last act, this score boasts a thrilling series of climaxes, full of action, romance, and adventure. Even if one finds the Media Ventures anthems inappropriate, the music is undeniably engaging from start to finish. Also delightful is Zimmer’s tribute to Ennio Morricone, who had received an honorary Oscar the same year. There’s no real in-film reason to reference the famed composer, but the tributes are appreciated nonetheless. Both are derived from Once Upon a Time in the West. First is the new take on Jack Sparrow’s theme in “Multiple Jacks” that brings in the humorous and quirky instrumentation of Cheyenne’s theme down to the harpsichords. This mode of Jack’s theme represents the further madness created by the character’s time in Davy Jones’ Locker. Second is the throwback to “The Man with the Harmonica” in “Parlay.” The scene involved has a standoff between six characters so the Spaghetti Western showdown music is not wholly inappropriate. The rhythm in “Parlay” is actually the East India Company’s theme which was introduced in Dead Man’s Chest. Zimmer must have recognized its similarities to the rhythm from Harmonica’s theme and used it accordingly. Also present in this track is the Love theme (which covered several paragraphs down) on guitar.

The East India Company theme itself is greatly expanded. Save for a couple appearances, its performances in Dead Man’s Chest were brief and transitional, more like a motif than a full theme. Here it is turned into an underlying rhythm, with a new motif providing the main thrust (1:30 in “Singapore”). This motif is an anthem that’s not really villainous. This makes sense as Beckett sees himself as bringing law and order to the seas with the support of the British Navy. The non-evil nature of the theme allows it to be turned into bittersweet choral bombast in “I Don’t Think Now is the Best Time.” Davy Jones’ theme also returns in grand fashion, though the music for the Kraken is absent (one major complaint about the film is that Beckett has Jones kill the Kraken, even though the monster is what made the villain so dangerous in the first place). Of course many classic themes from the first film also appear, with the original Jack Sparrow and main POTC themes having grand full circle appearances in the last tracks.

It is two new themes, however, that serve as the heart of At World’s End. First is Hoist the Colours, introduced at the start in the track of the same name. It’s like a National Anthem for pirates, explaining their love for freedom and also tying into a subplot about the sea goddess Calypso. In “Hoist the Colors” foreboding bells signal the mass hanging of pirates and whoever has had the misfortune to have dealings with them. A boy sings the first few verses and then is enjoyed by a full ensemble. The theme appears diagetically a few times early in the film, though these are not on album, and graces a large part of the end credits. On album it appears in quirky fashion in “The Brethren Court” as self-serving pirate lords squabble. In “What Shall We Die For” it assumes a more heroic air as Elizabeth Swann delivers a pre-battle speech. The theme builds and builds until the last couple verses are sung by a male chorus.

Previously Will and Elizabeth, the male and female leads, had their love represented by the main POTC theme. Here Zimmer provides an all-new theme, a lovely sweeping melody that also serves as an overarching theme for At World’s End. The Love theme is introduced in “At Wit’s End” and is the centerpiece of many of the best tracks. The main melody is gorgeous enough on its own and effortlessly weaves into both tender intimate moments and rousing action cues. There is a part B (0:40 in “At Wit’s End”) that both precedes and follows the main melody and is often used to underscore more tragic moments. Zimmer imbues it with even more emotional power via the motif of part C (3:09 in the same track). This motif first appears in a wide shot in “At Wit’s End” and resurfaces in the finale and end credits as Will and Elizabeth’s story ends.

The album presentation is much better this time around. It’s mostly chronological, has correctly labeled titles, and no techno remixes or awkward edits. After “Hoist the Colours,” Zimmer goes to the Orient with “Singapore.” East Asian instrumentation, mostly the double-stringed Erhu, as well wordless Asian-sounding vocals, introduce Sao Feng’s theme. Over a minute in the action starts with more Asian flourishes and the intrusion of the East India Company theme. Two minutes in the Evil Pirates theme leads to calmer music from a later scene between Sao Feng and Elizabeth. Around 2:45 Jack Sparrow’s original theme makes its obligatory early appearance. “At Wit’s End” is a lengthy track. The first part peacefully introduces the Love theme, sparkling notes representing the icy environment the Black Pearl is sailing through. Tia Dalma’s voodoo material returns at 2:00 on eerie choir as the witch tells two of the side characters about Davy Jones and his Locker. This beautiful first act is capped off by a dramatic iteration of the Love theme, with part C helping out (3:09). Chiming bells transition to Davy Jones’ theme on music box with an underlying organ (4:04). At 4:43 it intertwines with the Love theme. Jones’ theme then bursts forth on melodramatic choir as the supernatural being destroys a pirate fleet (5:18). An action rhythm with snippets of the Love theme and an Entry motif (7:13) adventurously ends this track.

“Multiple Jacks” puts Jack’s theme through the aforementioned quirky variation, though with an underlining synthesizer to add an uneasy atmosphere. At 2:12 Zimmer takes a creepier approach with electronics, metallic percussion, and more harpsichords as crabs move the Black Pearl. “Up is Down” is an absolutely marvelous cue. It starts with a jig based on part B of the Love theme, complete with woodwinds and tapping percussion. A minute in the main Love theme kicks in. A brief reprise of the jig leads to two more iterations of the Love theme and the Entry motif. It’s a wonderful blend of epic adventure and genuine humor. “I See Dead People in Boats” can be considered the weakest cue, but it’s by no means bad. It covers two of the darker scenes in the film. First the Love theme plays on oboe. A partial iteration of Davy Jones’ theme (2:30) leads to a choral deconstruction of the same theme as the souls of the dead stream past the Black Pearl. At 5:00 the scene changes with a suspenseful rhythm. Fragments of the Love theme lead to some tragic strings and long organ note.

“The Brethren Court” reprises “Multiple Jacks” and then nobly brings back Hoist the Colours. The theme takes a more comedic approach in the style of Jack Sparrow’s theme. After the already covered “Parlay,” Zimmer takes a more mystical approach with “Calypso.” Pieces of haunting choir and foreboding strings lead to one epic moment where the former turns to epic chanting and the latter to swelling. After this climatic moment the track continues with more haunting vocals and glittering instrumentation. A swishing wind effect further underscores the supernatural happenings onscreen,

“What Shall We Die For,” with its epic reprise of Hoist the Colours, segues into “I Don’t Think Now is the Best Time,” a ten-minute final battle cue. There are two distinct parts. The first sees the rhythm from “I See Dead People in Boats” return. This time it leads to synthesized brass and a now-heroic version of Davy Jones’ theme (1:12). Choir builds into a similarly more major key interpretation of the Black Pearl theme (1:56). After another heroic iteration of Jones’ theme, the choir escalates towards a final epic presentation of the East India Company theme. The second part begins at 4:55, where Jack Sparrow’s theme leads to a choral reprise of the Hoist the Colors theme. The real magic starts at 6:48, where the Love theme weaves around bombastic action for a humorous and rather delightful romantic scene. Pieces of the POTC and Evil Pirates themes also play a role, adding a heavy dose of nostalgia to the proceedings. Around the 9:00 minute mark the Love theme breaks away from the action for a big moment. The remaining runtime is devoted to more music from the first film.

“One Day” is the celebratory track. The three note ascent motif (introduced in Dead Man’s Chest) supports a victorious version of Jack Sparrow’s original theme. At 1:35 the Love theme gets a lengthy performance with all three parts. “Drink Me Up Hearties” starts with a humorous reprise of the original Jack Sparrow theme. The three-note ascent motif appears too to suggest further adventures (which unfortunately manifested in an awful fourth film). The main POTC theme kicks in for one final go as does the Love theme (accompanied by the jig from “Up is Down”).

At World’s End is a great end to a trilogy of music. With it Zimmer fixed all the production and most of the musical issues of the last two entries. It still clashes with critics of the series’ music with only comparably more emphasis on period-appropriate music. I have little criticism to offer myself. The all-encompassing love theme, dramatic Pirate anthem, and further development of the villain themes are all wonderful. The only drawback is that a few parts could still use more vibrant instrumentation instead of a bombardment of synthesizers (the Prague Philharmonic compilation of POTC music, which does not use synthesizers, is worth a look). Overall, this is the best Pirates of the Caribbean score and effectively serves what should have been the end of the series. I’m tempted to give it an extra point because it’s so easy and exciting to listen to, but I have to try to be objective.

Rating: 8/10

Tracklisting

  1. Hoist the Colours (1:31)
  2. Singapore (3:40)
  3. At Wit’s End (8:05)
  4. Multiple Jacks (3:51)
  5. Up is Down (2:42)
  6. I See Dead People in Boats (7:09)
  7. The Brethren Court (2:21)
  8. Parlay (2:10)
  9. Calypso (3:02)
  10. What Shall We Die For (2:02)
  11. I Don’t Think Now is the Best Time (10:45)
  12. One Day (4:01)
  13. Drink Up Me Hearties (4:31)

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Soundtrack Treasures Collection

Later in 2007 the entire trilogy of soundtracks was re-released in a box set, the Treasures Collection. The main selling point was a fourth disc. This disc contains the original music demo for Curse of the Black Pearl, extended theme suites (some which aren’t as robust so I suspect they were demos), and techno remixes. The suites hold special interest, containing pieces of previously unreleased cues or possible idea that didn’t make it into the movies. The first is “Marry Me,” a near 12 minute presentation of the Love theme from At World’s End. It contains one gorgeous melody that many fans wanted on album, but wasn’t there. It’s from the scene where Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth use a makeshift parachute to escape a sinking ship (2:38). The actual in-film cue would be nice to have, as it starts with mystical chanting overlaying part B of the Love theme. The suite itself is lovely, though having the same theme go on repeat for over ten minutes can get tiring, no matter how great the theme itself is. “The Heart of Davy Jones” gives the villain’s theme a unique string and woodwinds presentation as opposed to the usual organ and music-box (the latter does make a brief appearance to close out the track).

Surprisingly Beckett gets two suites. “Lord Cutler Beckett” is more oriented towards the original repeating six-note motif from Dead Man’s Chest, though it does have the second motif from At World’s End. After the six minute mark there is a version with an underlying string melody that I don’t think ever appeared in the films. “Just Good Business” focuses on Beckett’s AWE material with more of the new motif and a consistent action line.

“Jack’s Theme Bare Bones Demo” is a simple piano presentation of the character’s theme from Dead Man’s Chest. “Hoist the Colours Suite” is the titular theme’s presentation from AWE’s end credits. “The Pirate Lord of Singapore” expands on the material heard in “Singapore” with the same Asian-flavored motifs. Notable is a dramatic flourish near the end that never saw any use in the movie (4:42). If you don’t own any of the soundtracks or just one, the box set is worth it for a few nice extra suites. Unfortunately no improvements were made to the presentation of the first two scores, along with some previously unreleased material for DMC.

One thought on “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

  1. Hi there – enjoyed the read! Your statement about there being no real reason within the film to pay tribute in the “Parley” scene is not completely accurate. It is because the scene as a whole is reminiscent to the Western Standoff trope used in a lot of spaghetti westerns, many of which Morricone composed for. Since the scene was essential a Western Standoff, it makes complete sense to arrange Morricone’s “Man with a Harmonica.” In fact the only real differences are a second guitar to play the harmonica line, updated string mixing (a la Hans Zimmer), and added percussion. I created a video that has both tracks used back to back and it is really noticeable in that context how similar they are. Verging on plagiarism if permission wasn’t sought in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

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