Content Is Not King (or Even a Pirate) -- the Story Is King

I had the chance to discuss my feelings with a fellow pirates fan and author John Woods. We both love theand pondered together about what to expect with this fourth installment.
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I am not sure when the history bug bit. I was not a youngster -- I think I was in college. But once bitten I was hooked. I loved it all. I loved the well written and thoroughly documented history books that had pages of glossaries and even more pages with helpful "further reading" suggestions. I became an avid fan of any well done historical fiction -- book or film. And I especially loved the whole "Yo ho ho" 17th century pirate/rogues genre. I read the popular Return to Treasure Island, by John Woods, a sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's all time classic Treasure Island.

And of course, I was a big fan of the first, wildly successful Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Curse of the Black Pearl back in 2003.

As I wait for the fourth installment, On Stranger Tides, I am excited but anxious as well. No subsequent movie within this franchise captured my imagination as effectively as the first one. In fact, every subsequent release finds me less and less satisfied.

I remember the first movie, Curse of the Black Pearl, well. I was completely captivated by the movie from the start: pirates, wenches, pirate ships, treasure, intrigue... and a love story. The adventure was fresh, inspired, well written and flawlessly directed by Gore Verbinski.

But the next two films let me down. I wondered why. Then, fortunately, I had the chance to discuss my feelings with a fellow pirates fan -- and author John Woods. We both love the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and we pondered together about what to expect with this fourth installment.

Judy Shapiro: The first installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise we both loved because it had a funny, sweet whimsy that seemed missing from the next two movies. What was your experience of the second and third Pirate films?
John Woods: When the second movie in the franchise, Dead Man's Chest, was released, I was full of unbridled excitement and anticipation. However, this time I had a different sense of the movie. Although impressed with the special effects (who can forget Davy Jones' octopus' face created by Industrial Light and Magic?) and the Kraken monster, the film seemed like it was heading into parody territory. I felt satiated at the end. Yet, much like a Chinese meal, felt less and less satisfied later and found myself hungry for the relationships, quick humor, fresh lines.

Then in 2007 I again waited in line for the third installment, At Worlds End, and I think the title was more a premonition of the depth of creative story writing and development than Disney anticipated (it could easily have been called At Story's End). It was cartoonish, irrelevant, and worse than unsatisfying. I mean, come on, flipping a boat upside down so as to be back on top of the Earth? Couldn't suspend my disbelief on that one.

Judy Shapiro: So where do you think the later films went wrong?
John Woods: Truth is, I longed for the simpler story and character interactions of the first one and a half movies. Pirates. Their codes. How they interacted. Finding treasure. In fact, I have rented the first two movies many times. I have never rented the third one.

Judy Shapiro: So do you have expectations for this latest release coming out?
John Woods: That's where my anxiety lays. Will this next Pirates of the Caribbean movie, On Stranger Tides, be closer to the first or third movie? I am not sure. Maybe they will regain the sense of wonderment, charm and story of the original, which I think Walt Disney himself would have loved. Then again, you never know with Hollywood.

Judy Shapiro: I am curious -- what do you mean when you say "Content is not king -- story is king"?
John Woods: And as I prepare to finish my newest book, The Seekers, I am guided by the lessons learned from the Pirates franchise. Their story is what got me hooked -- the wit, humor and banter between the characters; the characters' camaraderie and fellowship despite differences in background. Mostly, though, the franchise reminded me that a great story is a delicate, creative blend of implausibility with just enough plausibility to make the story come to life.

As a writer, I have learned to remain focused on the story and to stay true to the characters. It's what keep me coming back for more to any franchise -- every time!

Judy Shapiro: Do you intend to go see this latest release?
John Woods: Will I stand in line for the opening weekend to see it? Nothing could stop me. As a pirate aficionado and eternal optimist, I am in hopes that Disney will be able to recapture the magic of the original movie.
John O'Melveny Woods is a writer living in California. His novel, Return to Treasure Island, has won numerous awards and praise including a Silver Medal for Book of the Year from the IBPA. It is forwarded by LeVar Burton. He is currently working on his new book series, The Seekers, which is due out in the fall.