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At The Movies: The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists!

2012 April 16

There are a few things that I’ve decided are never going out of fashion: pirates and zombies.  They’re ubiquitous.  They’re everywhere.  Everyone’s party either wants you to come as one or other or a mixture of the two, or wouldn’t mind if you did.  This is no bad thing: zombies are obviously a reclamation of the middle-class stigmatisation of the working class as a shambling, faceless, flesh-eating horde, and pirates are …pirates.  Who wouldn’t want to be a pirate?  There’s loads of stuff to like about pirates.  The ships, the clothes, the beards and the array of innovative tropical sexually-acquired infections.  Rum, sodomy and the lash. Anyone’s idea of fun.

***As is usual, dear readers, the BadRep pirate flag reading SPOILER WARNING – only mild to moderate this time, but still – is hereby hoisted here! ***

So, Britain’s most beloved animation house, Aardman Animations, the cheerful cohort behind treasured characters Wallace & Gromit and my personal comfort-watchers Chicken Run and Rex The Runt, really can’t go wrong with a film entitled The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists.  It’s adapted from Gideon Defoe’s series of childrens’ books of the same name and derivations thereof, one of which is called The Pirates! In An Adventure With Communists, and if that doesn’t make you deliriously excited, then I’m afraid we can’t be friends.  I haven’t read them yet, but I’ve made arrangements to get them into my eager paws as soon as possible because how can I not?  Pirates!  Everyone likes pirates.

It was the poster that drew my eye first.  Witness:

The poster for The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists. There is a banner at the top showing the title of the film.  The poster design is a sort of cone of people, with the Pirate Captain (a pale-skinned man with a large brown beard) central.  To the left of him, there is a dark-skinned, cunning-looking female pirate with dark hair and a large cutlass.  To his right, also holding his arm, is a pale-skinned femme pirate dressed in pastel colours with a large, ginger beard.  Beneath them, there are assorted other characters, such as Queen VIctoria, looking vicious and making an "Off with his head" gesture with her hands, and a pirate that looks rather like Elvis, only a pirate.  There is also a mermaid, a galleon, a monkey in a suit, a heap of gold and two cannons.  Assorted pirates and Charles Darwin populate the frame of the image, dangling off airships. Copyright Aardman, shared via Wikipedia under Fair Use guidelines.

PIRATES! it says.  And there they are.  There’s a nice representation of different genders, ages, ethnicities and beards on the poster, and I was all excited for a nice diverse film – the sort I tend to dream about.

SHAME IT’S A LIE.

Well, no, I’m exaggerating – it’s not quite a bare-faced man-churned fictivated sin-speech, but it’s pretty fallacious.  The main character is that chap in the middle there, the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant).  The pirate to the left of him, Cutlass Liz – voiced by the brilliant Salma Hayek – is an award-winning Pirate Of The Year, full of swash, buckle and plunder-power, and gets literally no screen-time in which she isn’t a sex object.  Seriously.  She turns up, wiggles, alludes to her piratical prowess and then… isn’t seen again!  She has, like, three scenes!  And one of them is in the dreams of the Pirate Captain where she’s all, “Ooh Pirate Captain, I am UNDONE”.

The pirate to the right of said Pirate Captain in the poster goes by the moniker Suspiciously Curvaceous Pirate (they’re all “[Adjective] Pirate”). Voiced by Ashley Jensen, she’s a dragged-up pirate with an amazing false beard and a sweet Scottish chirp – who also gets very little screen-time or lines, and whose characterisation appears to revolve around the fact that she likes sparkly jewels, pastel colours and fancies the captain a bit.  The humour of her character is almost exclusively that she’s a cross-dressing woman.  Now, I’m never okay with boys in drag being sent up purely for being boys in drag, so why would I be okay with it if the character’s female?

Not great, is it?

That said, it’s not all bad news for lady characters in this, but from a rather unexpected source: the villain, voiced by the legendary Imelda Staunton, Queen Victoria (“Look at my crest! What does it say?  I HATE PIRATES.”) is absolutely magnificent.  She’s perfect.  Stop making that face.  This is the badassest Queen Vic you have ever seen, and I don’t think it’s possible to not fancy her even a little bit after the credits roll.  She has a battle skirt that clanks aside to reveal a) jodphurs and b) TWO KATANAS.  Come on.  How many other films have had Queen Victoria fighting pirates with katanas before getting vanquished by GCSE-classroom science?  FUCKING ZERO.  THIS IS A UNIQUE CINEMATOGRAPHICAL EXPERIENCE.

OVERALL, the above issues aside, it’s a very funny film – the school of humour whereby if one joke doesn’t wash with you, never fear! there’ll be another one along in a tick – and it’s rich with classic Aardman background detail (the pirate ship has a fusebox, for example, and watch the faces of the taxidermy animals in Charles Darwin’s (David Tennant) house during the bathtub chase scene!).  Martin Freeman’s second-in-command pirate actually looks a bit like him, which is neatly appealing, and Brian Blessed’s megaphonic turn as the Pirate King is predictably godlike.  The dodo is gorgeously animated.  I wish there’d been more scientists doing science-y things, but then I was imagining something dreadful involving shiny gloves, tailored labcoats and experimentation, and there are reasons I haven’t been allowed to make films for children and that’s one of them.

But I did make a new poster, to give the neglected characters just a bit more attention. I made Cutlass Liz look a bit more badass, too, on account of her being badass and therefore deserving of a badass coat:

A hand-drawn cartoon on textured card, in the same style as the real Pirates! poster.  The banner at the top reads, "The Pirates! In An Adventure With Baffling Self-Insert Fanart". In the centre of the poster, there is a dark-skinned woman with a large pirate hat and coat, reaching for the cutlass at her hip, with a grin.  Her coat has large lapels and is orange.  She is wearing thigh-high black leather boots with turned-down cuffs, and red and yellow striped trousers.  Next to her legs is a banner reading, "REALLY HOT BOOTS!" To her left, there is a pale-skinned femme pirate dressed in pastel colours, twirling their moustache and raising an eyebrow.  Their short-sleeved shirt shows off their biceps.  Above them, there is a banner reading, "BETTER REPRESENTATION!" To the right of the central pirate, there is a thin man with scruffy blond hair and glasses - the artist - standing with his mouth wide open in delight, hunched over and staring at the central pirate in what looks like fan worship.  Above his head, there is a banner reading, "WHAT AM I DOING HERE".  Behind him, there is a small cannon.  It is labelled with a banner reading, "CANNONS!"  Beneath the three figures, there is a large, green sea-serpent coiled into the bottom left (a banner next to it reads, "MONSTERS!", and a man in a crown with a large beard in the bottom right.  The man has a large quiff and a frilly shirt.  He is giving a thumbs-up and grinning.  Above his head, there is a banner reading, "Oh fine, Brian Blessed". Art by the author.
THERE.

YOU SHOULD SEE THIS FILM BECAUSE:

  •  The best Queen Victoria you have literally ever seen
  • It’s really painfully funny
  • Who doesn’t want to see Brian Blessed being a pirate king, seriously
  • There’s Flight Of The Concords on the soundtrack!
  • Thank god for stop-motion claymation – surely the finest animation technique ever? THIS HOUSE BELIEVES: YES

 

YOU SHOULD NOT SEE THIS FILM BECAUSE:

  • It promises a lot in the trailer and poster in terms of ethnic/gender representation and then doesn’t deliver
  • I frankly wanted more science
  • And more Brian Blessed
  • More of everything that wasn’t the cis/white/male lead characters, actually, I mean they were great and all but I’m bored of cis/white/men being the… we’ve already had this discussion, internet, leave me be
One Response leave one →
  1. May 5, 2012

    I absolutely loved this film (for the reasons you have mentioned – pirates! science! claymation!) and I didn’t even think about the particular feminist interpretation you’ve had of it. I did think Cutlass Liz was a bit too sexy for a lady pirate, but also that Queen Victoria was incredible, both for your points and also because how often do you see a film portraying Queen Victoria as anything but repressed and aloof?

    What I did like was how Cutlass Liz and the pirate voiced by Lenny Henry (can’t remember his name) had a laugh together and high-fived; it felt as if they were on an equal footing, and again with the Fancy Mustache Pirate (who arrived in the whale) they were joking and laughing. I liked that she was placed as an equal among them, despite the wiggling and the lack of screen time.

    I would’ve also liked to see Suspiciously Curvaceous Pirate do a little more (like kick some ass) but I’m unbelievably glad they didn’t get Pirate Captain and SCPirate together at the end, despite the fact she clearly fancied him. That would’ve been annoying.

    Also: HAM NIGHT!

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