15 years ago Capt Jack Sparrow bedazzled the audience with his quirky and eccentric persona. He broke concentional stereotypes related to an alpha male, who is expected to be all “perfect”. For Jack, his imperfection adds cherry to the cake.
Along with the pickle came the perks.
The reel and real-life personality lived in the hearts of millions. Eventually, this icon fell flat on his face. Bringing Jack Sparrow to life was a daring decision made by director Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp. Michael Eisner was in a mid-life crisis of his career in the movie business when films flopped one after the other, some of which were adaptations of a theme park ride.
When Bruckheimer suggested the Pirates movies Eisner was dead against it. During this development hell, while they were working on the script, the vision was to make a macho male sex symbol who could flawlessly be played by a charming and charismatic actor like Hugh Jackman. He would be the stereotypical ‘perfect’ hero with a sense of humor, something we have seen in the 1950s or 1960s. When Johnny Depp was approached and mind you he has already established himself as Hollywood’s most versatile actor of his generation with different genres under his belt, he approached the role differently. He has a colourful filmography that highlighted the challenges he was willing to take as an actor.
The creative mind of both Depp and Verbinski created the interpretation of Sparrow that we see today; a form of a washed-up Rockstar who was once something but ultimately isn’t. But he had one asset that helped him live and be at par with some fierce people, his name.
“I am Capt Jack Sparrow” is a mantra that was dropped every time he outsmarted someone and we see him survive and overcome impossible situations. We believe it when we repeat that mantra every time someone asks “how was he able to do it?”, “well, he is Capt Jack Sparrow“. Depp with his eyeliners, drunken walks, gold teeth, and an accent, that is a mix of several dialects, delivered a memorable performance that garnered an Oscar nomination. Jack Sparrow became a pop culture phenomenon and Eisner was saved from his mid life crisis.
This was 15 years ago. Now, when I am talking about this amusing character, for some reason I found it to be bizarrely similar to Depp’s real life.
Not the story or the character as such.
Just the circumstances surrounding the character’s popularity and appeal. Depp who was in the category of great or versatile actors, who should be getting more quality contents out there with his illustrious work, became a superstar in his own rights with Pirates of the Caribbean the curse of the black pearl.
Jack Sparrow, in the film, was the Capt of Black Pearl. He had the name, he was mildly and aberrantly famous for his past adventures. Yet, he wasn’t quite there. He didn’t get his ship and at the end, after a lot of strain which almost killed him, he becomes “Captain” Jack Sparrow with all respect and aura. When Sparrow says “bring me that horizon” and closes his compass at the end of the film, I remember thinking (after watching the film of course) damn! I want to see more from this character. Which is exactly what people wanted from Depp as an actor. More great performances. More quirkiness. He had it in him to carry a film. He made moderately boring subjects like in ‘Secret window’ interesting. Despite being a nefarious serial killer, people feel sorry for Sweeney Todd and that appeal was in Depp’s hands. Let’s look at the next two films; POTC dead man’s chest and POTC at world’s end. Both these films were panned for not being as good and original as the first movie but they managed to stand out with amazing visual effects. Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner were the lead characters. Turner and Swann did not appear in the fourth film and this change didn’t bother the fans. Personally, I think that there is one character who carried the film and was at the center of the film did not get her dues in terms of the spotlight; Elizabeth Swann.
The first three films were about Elizabeth. the first movies opened with her dream. The third film ended with her waiting for her husband’s arrival. Her role as the pirate king was never explored or given importance. She retired and lived the rest of life in a corset and gowns. This is another matter at the debate but my point is, the filmmakers seemingly left out this storyline and focussed on Jack Sparrow, who carried the subsequent films.
The movies were pre-planned but unintentionally, the end of the dead man’s chest perfectly showed that there is no lifeline for the story without Jack so the next movie is about them trying to bring him back. At world’s end showed Sparrow sailing towards the horizon. He has a long way to go. That pretty much summed Depp’s career at that point of time. He was the heartthrob and the symbol. Every fan page showed Depp as the no:1 celebrity. He entered Forbes and various lists as the richest or “sexiest” celebrity. 2007 was the peak of his career. In 2009, I remember vividly reading an interview of Depp’s where he said that he is overwhelmed about the kind of attention he is getting at that point of time but somehow feared that it will all come crashing down. Well, he was right, assuming Depp said that on record and I didn’t hallucinate anything. In Pirates of the Caribbean on stranger tides; Sparrow is at the peak. He outsmarts people around him a lot. The movie shows Sparrow’s ambition; to be the discoverer of the fountain of the youth thus being immortal. Mind you, he conveniently steals a fleet of ships from Blackbeard, showing the cunning cum ambitious nature. By the time this came out, Depp’s career since 2003 reflected his choices. He chose projects that will do better at the box office. He chose roles that seem to be a different version of Jack Sparrow. Dark shadows ripped his dry sense of humour. Mad hatter has it (un)dry sense of humour. Mortdecai is more like Jack Sparrow And he indulged in the Hollywood’s (in)famous whitewashing when he played a Native American character Tonto in the Lone Ranger.
Dark Shadows marked the decline in Depp’s reviews and he began to see his downfall. He did a string of flops like Transcendence, Alice through the looking glass, Long Ranger, Mortdecai and finally it was all about the box office numbers of the 5th Pirates movie.
By then Depp’s real life took a different direction and he is no longer the considerate, down to Earth persona.
I was an active member of IMDB. I read comments from fans who have met him over the years. In their words, Depp was gracious and treated his fans like they were his lifeline. But then, we started hearing news related to his own change in lifestyle.
His fans rallied around him but it didn’t work in terms of removing the jinx. Activists rallied around the makers of the Fantastic beast sequel to drop Depp as the main villain Gellert Grindelwald citing ‘all the money in the world as an example. Kevin Spacey’s role was replaced by Christopher Plummer after the allegations of abuse came out.
That being said, Jack Sparrow’s role reflected this scenario in itself. In POTC dead men tell no tales, Sparrow is a washed-up drunk pirate who lost all the respect and assets he has. He gives away his compass to buy a bottle of rum. Depp himself spend a fortune to buy wine in real life. Depp is barely doing anything witty or clever in this film and most of the times he gets the upper hand due to luck.
Neither the critics nor the audience liked this version of Capt Jack Sparrow and the film didn’t do well when compared to the previous film. As per the reports, Depp’s journey as Jack Sparrow has come to an end and the franchise will be rebooted.
The films because of Depp’s quirky and clever performance and it worked great for the first four films, although the reviews weren’t favoring at world’s end and on stranger tides. Both the studio and Depp paid the price for letting fame dominate, not necessarily their heads but their original gaze of the film. Depp paid price for not sticking to the nature that earned him respect and fans. His role as a doting father and partner added a lot to his nature. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, he has spoken about his struggles with drugs, alcohol and to be grounded. The birth of his daughter Lily helped him do that. He also spoke about how protective he is of his kids and that he won’t let his star power and lack of privacy affect his kid’s normal life. People admired him for it.
Now, the domestic abuse allegations and the box office have marked his decline. Which raises another question, Is it done?
Jack Sparrow is set to sail for the horizon and is following the stars. That being the filmmakers should have left the movie alone when it was needed. And a lot of damages have to be undone.