Prior to Pirates of the Caribbean can anyone think of a pirate film that was a box office hit that wasn’t made in the 1940’s? There was a time when a good old fashioned swashbuckling adventure almost guaranteed a hit. It is no wonder why. Back in the day the seas were still a great mystery to us and we weren’t so jaded that the idea of a great adventure seemed romantic. Travelling abroad was pretty risky even with the advent of flight. There has to be a rule in Hollywood that once every ten years someone will put out a new tale of the high seas. That is the only reason why a new one seems to pop up only sporadically. The last ones I recall were Yellow Beard or The Corsican Brothers. Each of them failed and was horrible. Oh wait, there was Master and Commander! How could I forget that one? It starred Russell Crowe, after all. Maybe it is because the movie was terrible and Crowe was on the downside of his career. In spite of this I am a fan of the pirate swashbucklers. They’re a fun distraction, albeit a very formulaic one. Cutthroat Island is no exception to this rule.
I remember the day this film came out. I was a bright-eyed college student who believed the world was a beautiful place. It was a summer where an uber-hyped film starring Geena Davis and Matthew Modine (two actors at the peek of their popularity as bankable stars) was set to come out. This movie was everywhere. It is one of the first blockbusters that I can think of that regularly leaked behind the scenes footage. Along with the $115 million price tag it was poised to be one of the biggest films ever. Then….nothing. It opened with a whimper and died quickly. I never did see it even though I was working at a video store at the time and could have taken it home for free. This movie was such a bomb it is in The Guinness Book of World Records as being the biggest flop for losing over $90 Million. I don’t know how any studio – no matter how big – can eat those costs. I doubt the government will allow you to use it as a tax write off under the “oops we goofed” clause.
Much like Kung Fu films just about all pirate movies are exactly the same. They’re either about trying to escape a tyrannical sea captain or they are going after buried treasure. There is very little variation in these themes. Cutthroat Island is no exception. Good pirate races against evil pirate over a secret treasure. That is the whole story in a nutshell. You have seen it before and you’ll see it again. It also has all the other trappings of a cheesy adventure film including epic fight scenes with terrible one-liners. It is nothing special, but still a fun way to squander a few hours. Modine does a fine job as the wise cracking scallywag, which is basically every role he has ever done. Geena Davis, I came to realize, was the Kristen Stewart of the 80s. She has one facial expression and acts like a piece of cardboard. I will give her credit – she does a fine job with the action sequences. I think the only reason why they hired her was for star clout and because she looks good in a bodice. And she does.
Pirate movies were never meant to be deep. There is no social commentary or lesson learned. Just swords, cannons and the seas. If you go into this movie with that in mind you will enjoy it. I think it deserved to fail because they threw too much money at it when it would have more than likely been unnecessary. Even as a cult film there is no way they will ever be able to recoup their money. Still Hollywood did meet their required one pirate movie a decade quota.
Next up will be The Adventures of Pluto Nash. Why? Because I hate myself.