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Johnny Depp in a promo still.
Film Journeys

Johnny Depp

By on January 26, 2015

Out on general release in UK cinemas now is MORTDECAI (2015) directed by David Koepp.

MORTDECAI promises to be a gloriously silly film starring a great cast that includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Goldblum and our featured actor for our Film Journey today … drumroll please … Johnny Depp.

In this film, Johnny Depp plays the title character of Charlie Mortdecai who is described as ‘a debonair art dealer and part time rogue’. Mortdecai is asked to find a stolen art painting that may or may not contain a map to hidden Nazi gold. He agrees to do this for “Queen and Country … travel and living expenses and reasonable overheads”. The plot is almost sort of not important with a film like this – the audience will be there for – pretty much – one thing only; Mr Depp doing his thing.

This comedy is directed by David Koepp, (who is better know as a writer on films like JURASSIC PARK and INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL); and whilst he is better known as a writer, (rather than director), he has directed Johnny Depp before in SECRET WINDOW, (a light thriller that tried to be Hitchcock, but ended up being a bit more ‘Murder She Wrote’!).

Next up in our #JohnnyDepp movie journey is the film that most people will know he’s in – probably seen it and certainly won’t mind seeing it again. It’s certainly his most well-known characters in recent times, (but Depp is an oddity in that there are a LOT of his character from over the years that are very well known; which says something about the man as a character actor). Film number two is … well, film number two is actually an entire franchise – it’s the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN. And for those who are listening that like me to stick to the rules – then just take the first film and ignore the rest!

Here Depp plays Captain Jack Sparrow. Depp has always said that he’s based his portrayal of Cap’n Jack on his friend Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones – although he’s often quoted as saying that it was an impersonation of him. You can definitely see the resemblance when watching any footage of Richards. It’s a great idea and was based on Depps understanding of piates as “the rock stars of the 18th century”.

The films came about in what might be considered an odd way – they started life as a ride in a Disney themepark; using the same name. It was such a successful ride having been in the parks for such a long time, that Disney decided to make a movie franchise out of it and so got legendary producer Jerry Bruckheimer on board. When it was announced, most laughed it off as something that was going to sink – indeed Robert DeNiro was offered the role of Jack Sparrow, but turned it down thinking that the film wouldn’t do well. To date the franchise is one of the most financially successful for the Mouse House, (although with their new acquisitions of both Marvel Studios and also the Lucasfilm catalogue – which includes the STAR WARS franchise, that might not stay the case) and a fifth film is in pre-production now.

As is usual for a Film Journey, we pick a film out of an actors career that you might not realise they were in and for Johnny we’re going right back to his first major film role – in the very first A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, from 1982.

Here Johnny plays the love-interest / sports-jock character in a bunch of teenagers who, one-by-one, get picked off by the bad-guy Freddy Kruger, who stalks them in their dreams. He does have a fairly sizeable role in this classic horror film – playing the boyfriend of the main girl who is being terrorised in her dreams by the horrible Freddy Kruger.

The film was a huge hit at the time – not least because of good the mix of shock scares and top rate practical effects. Although some of the entries in the series haven’t dated so well over time, this film, (the first one), still holds up and, if you’re into your horror, then it’s a classic that you can’t really miss. It was so successful, that countless sequels were made, each getting dumber and with more elaborate special effects but the story always remained the same: Freddy Krugger was a child murderer who was himself killed by the parents of his victims. Now he comes to life in the dreams of children, where he can physically harm them as long as they stay asleep. As gruesome as it sounds, the concept is very solid for a horror film and the idea of mixing reality with dreams hadn’t been seen before. The seuqls weren’t so invetive – just retreading the storyline, until one of the very last sequels, called A NEW NIGHTMARE turn the concept round and had art imitating life with the actors who played the characters in the first few films, actually being stalked by Freddy in their own sleep – including the actor who played Freddy!

It’s not Depps finest work, by a long shot, but it is quite interesting to see him here as the all American, good looking hero. It was clearly a path he or his agents were trying to carve out for him; but not really something he’s actually gone on to do.

Honourable mentions:

Some critics say that Depp can act, but that he needs a role to hide behind. If you think of his less successful films and you probably won’t remember the character he played; however think of the more fondly remembered films and you see that the roles are almost always larger than life:

EDWARD SCISSOR HANDS, FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, SLEEPY HOLLOW, CHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, THE LONE RANGER (where he played Tonto of all people!).

The final film for this #FilmJourney is, however, not a classic. It’s not even one where you see his face. RANGO, (2011), got a tough time on release. Audiences didn’t quite know what to make of it, most thought it was going to be a little off-beat, when it was actually very accessible to a family audience; just a setting not realy explore for families before.

RANGO is an animated family adventure set in the wild west … sort of. Rango is a lizard that, for reasons best left explained by the film, finds himself in this rodent town that is very much in the style of the filmic version of the wild wild west. Depp, plays Rango – the lizard.

It’s full of witty sight gags, great lines and – for someone like me – a million references to decades of cinema, (and not just westerns either). It really is great fun and it shows Depp at his best.

Whilst most enjoy Depp in his roles, there is something about his schtick that can be off-putting to some. Something about the characters he plays that are – at times – too over-blown. However, when you’re voice acting you need that energy, that larger than life sound to bring enough emphasis to your performance. Couple that with the animators capturing the very essence of Depps facial movements and manerisms and RANGO is a fine, fine study of how to voice an animated character.

Definitely worth a watch.

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