Pirates of the Caribbean Posters
Chapter 6 - Singapore Sling
With the lion's share of filming during this period going to “Dead Man's Chest,” followed by a summer hiatus while the huge open studio tank was being constructed on Grand Bahama Island, the next scene to be filmed for the film wouldn't be until August 31, 2005, with Chow Yun-Fat joining the cast as Captain Sao Feng for scenes shot on Disney's Stage 2 in Rick Heinrichs' lustrous sets representing the Singaporean pirate's cabin on his ship, the Empress. Two days later saw the start of filming of the first major stage setpiece for “At World's End,” and for many it represented the apotheosis of Rick Heinrichs' artistry, and that of his entire department: a massive, fanciful interpretation of Singapore in the early 18th century.
Constructed on Stage 12 at Universal Studios, this amazing funhouse of a set, comprising some 40 individual structures, was built on top of an 80 by 130 foot tank, and was basically comprised of a harbor replete with Southeast Asian thatched huts and houses built on stilts (known as kampongs), and a swath of the fabled city itself, more formally Chinese in design, including a marketplace, adjacent street where all sorts of dubious business takes place, and a vast bathhouse frequented-way too often, from their looks-by local pirates. Heinrichs even designed and built the low-roofed area underneath the bathhouse in which workers keep the water heated with large furnaces.
This was the stage for an early and crucial sequence in At World's End, in which Will, Elizabeth and Barbossa search for secret charts which could lead them to Davy Jones' Locker-and therefore to Captain Jack Sparrow, who was sent there at the finale of “Dead Man's Chest” by the Kraken-from Singapore pirate lord Captain Sao Feng. What ensues is a tremendous action sequence which spills from the town area onto the rickety boardwalks, strung with illuminated lanterns, that connect the kampong houses on stilts above the harbor, pitting the pirates against soldiers of the East India Trading Company.
“Singapore is a mélange of different influences and architectural styles that we researched when we were studying what Singapore might have looked like at that time,” says Heinrichs. “In those years, Singapore was not a particularly well documented place until the 19th century, so we looked at a number of other Chinese cities for reference. We took a deliberately fantastical approach, creating something like a Chinese/Malaysian expressionist style of what we think Singapore might have looked like at the time.
“The bathhouse is a nasty example of hygiene that pokes fun at the spa sensibility running rampant today,” continues Heinrichs. “We have a lot of mushrooms and other fungi growing out of the wooden tubs, and in fact, the pirates have spent so much time lazing around the tubs that they also have mushrooms growing out of them! They don't seem to leave their filthy ways on the ships…they bring it with them into the bathhouse. The whole point of this is to give you a wonderful sense of nausea at what filthy beasts and brutes the pirates are. We've added lots of thickeners and color to the water so that it looks unwholesome. Captain Sao Feng has his own `hero niche' in the bathhouse, with an imperial dragon on the wall behind it. One of the fun things that we did was to design the entire floor of the bathhouse to have a meandering, planked look that's almost organic, so every one of them had to be hand cut.”
Heinrichs' longtime collaborator as set decorator-someone who shared an Academy Award nomination with him for both “Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events” and “Dead Man's Chest” in the Best Art Direction category-is Cheryl Carasik. “I've done four films pretty much back-to-back with Rick, and we just have a great relationship,” she says. “Rick starts cooking right away, so I have enough information from the very beginning of prep to focus and fine tune the big picture. Carasik's set decoration for Singapore, half of which was actually imported from Asia, was an incredible grabbag of baskets, bushels, food products, flickering Chinese lanterns, baskets, crates, barrels, buckets, painted scrolls, hanging laundry, all made of rattan, bamboo (much of which Carasik brought back from the Dominican locations), wood and palm fronds, just as they would be in Southeast Asia. “It was one of the biggest sets I've ever done in my career, and probably the most challenging for the amount of time in which we had to do it,” Carasik recalls. “There were little nooks, apothecary and pottery shops, and interiors that all needed to be dressed, because you never know where Gore is going to want to shoot.”
Atmospherically, the Singapore set actually felt like Southeast Asia, with heavy, dripping humidity caused by the thousands of gallons of water in the tank utilized to create the harbor area, combined with the heat emanating from the powerful lighting equipment. There was even a visible fog which could always be seen just above the water level!
At World's End presented new, and occasionally overwhelming, challenges to stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge, assistant Dan Barringer and their fabulous team of stunt doubles and players, which this time included a large Asian contingent featuring martial arts experts of all caliber. The Singapore sequence, involving Captain Barbossa, Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann, Gibbs, Tia Dalma, Pintel and Ragetti, Cotton and his parrot, Marty, Captain Sao Feng, Jack the Monkey and approximately 200 assorted Chinese pirates, East India Trading Company militia and various Singaporean citizenry, spills out from a grotty bathhouse, onto the streets and alleys of the city, and then onto wooden boardwalks and walkways connecting thatched stilt houses over the harbor. “The Singapore sequence began as an unknown entity and one line description in a treatment,” notes Ruge. “Without a lot of warning it took on massive proportions, with a rapid evolution into a complex sequence on a very difficult set. We had limited time to prepare, design the action, choreograph and rehearse. Because the sets were still being built and the paint was still drying, I ended up calling rehearsals at very odd hours that often extended into the night.
“The bathhouse portion of the sequence presented a lot of problems,” Ruge continues. “Complex fight choreography was required in a very confined space with lots of people and lots of obstacles in terms of the baths themselves. The set was raked and incredibly slippery, with the steam rising from all crevices. The action was designed to be absolutely character driven, fresh, intricate and crisp. There was literally no room for error with gunfire and swords flying everywhere. Once the action leaves the bathhouse and escalates out onto the streets of Singapore, another set of problems emerged. The action had to be designed utilizing the very narrow wood planked walkways that were elevated above the water by bamboo scaffolding. This required performers taking eight to 14 foot falls into the water, which was only three and one half feet deep with a concrete bottom.”
Ruge's solution was to sink large sections of black foam rubber and anchor them to the soundstage floor. The problem is that foam rubber's natural inclination is to float, so holes needed to be cut throughout the foam to allow the water to pool above the submerged pad and hold it down.
Chow Yun-Fat, who had already performed several scenes on Grand Bahama Island, was a major attraction on the Singapore set, especially to those members of the company who had followed him for years as he ascended the ranks of superstardom in Asian and U.S. cinema. “He always said that he was honored to be there,” recalls Reggie Lee, who portrays Tai Huang, Captain Sao Feng's aide-de-camp. “Here's a megastar who we all idolize, who in fact is so humble and friendly to everyone. Yun-Fat's work is spectacular, he has a great work ethic, and having a chance to act with him was just spectacular.”
Also participating in the Singapore battle were some of the now famous non-human performers of the “Pirates” series from animal coordinator Boone Narr of Boone's Animals for Hollywood and head trainer Mark Harden, especially Jack the Monkey, again portrayed by either Chiquita (female) or Pablo (male), depending upon the required abilities. “At World's End,” even more than the previous film, really gave Pablo and Chiquita a chance to shine as simian thespians, such as being dressed in little Chinese costumes in the Singapore sequence, stealing a Roman Candle and firing it during the pitched battle with the East India Trading Company troops. “It was a literal blast,” recalls Harden. “Pablo and Chiquita had to handle a lit candle and touch the flame to the wick, and it took over 60 takes to take it right. It wasn't just the monkeys, it was a harmonic convergence of all sorts of things going awry. But I was really happy. I mean, everybody teased me that it took 66 takes, but I was proud that the monkeys were willing to do it in 66 takes to get it right!”
Also appearing in the film, and whenever and wherever the silent Cotton (David Bailie) appears, are either Chip or Salsa, the macaws who play the pirate's squawking pet bird. Has Bailie's relationship with the animal grown over the last three films? “If I had anything to do with it, it would have done, but the bird seems remarkably indifferent to me. People only recognize me because of the wretched creature!”
4 Next Page - Chapter 7: Return to The Bahamas