Pirates and World Building, a model for future franchise films

Henry Jenkins studies the intersection of media and popular culture at MIT and is a must read for anyone interested in the inner workings of gaming, movies, television, the internet, or media. In his latest column he takes on movie critics and their complete failure to grasp Disney’s Pirates Of The Caribbean series.

As a rule, one should never trust the opinion of an established film critic about a movie with a number after its title — and one should multiply the level of distrust for each number over 2. The whole concept of franchise entertainment seems to bring out the worst high culture assumptions in the bulk of American film critics (and beyond the United States, it’s pretty much hopeless). Franchises are understood exclusively in terms of their economic function within the Hollywood entertainment supersystem, as if Hollywood made any movies that didn’t make economic sense.

Critics, Jenkin’s posits, want simplicity, fun, and happy endings tied up neatly on a plate, but with Pirates 3:

This film wants to explore a world and much of its complexity emerges from the fact that we have been able to accumulate and master more information about that world through the first two films. I saw At the World’s End shortly before I left on my European adventures and was blown away by its attention to detail and its respect for the intelligence of fans. This is one of the best summer movies that I have seen in a long long time and a powerful illustration of the ways that convergence culture is reshaping how franchise entertainment operates.

The original concept for Walt Disney Pirates Of The Caribbean attraction at Disneyland was that a whole world of pirates existed out there and the attraction only allowed guests to view snippets or short scenes in the life of a pirate. The quality that went into the attraction left guests satisfied with the product but the storytelling method left them wanting more. Pirates quickly became a repeat visit for many guests (myself included).

The Pirates filmmakers have lifted the idea of world building from Disneyland and transplanted it onto film resulting in a world that begs to be explored beyond the bounds of the first three films. Because of that I think we have many more iterations of Pirates to look forward to as time goes on. Much like Star Wars has done with its world creation.