Review: Pirates of the Great Salt Lake

Rating: ★★★★☆
greatsaltlakePirates of the Great Salt Lake has been a long, long time coming. The film was actually completed some years ago, but due to the realities of distribution it’s been tied up until just these past few months. This has resulted in no shortage of anticipation from within the pirate community – a group that’s been eagerly awaiting its chance to finally see a film that is for, and more or less about them (or at least, folks sort of like them.)

Being an independent film, Salt Lake understandably lacks the Hollywood polish. For the most part this isn’t a problem as it remains plenty slick on its own merits. It does have two moments of weakness, though – both of which regrettably occur within the first few minutes, and risk audiences prematurely dismissing the movie before it truly begins. The first incident is during a flashback from generations past in which a demonic pirate is seen – it’s relatively silly and reminiscent of a B slasher film. Not that B slasher films are all bad, but this movie is smarter than that. The second incident is when the protagonists, Kirk and Flint, find their first victims – a catamaran with two ladies and some muscle-bound dude. In a film full of great acting, these three extras are amongst the worst imaginable, and look entirely lost for what to do, save for when they look like they’re trying not to laugh. It’s sad because these two events lower the bar of the film, and some viewers may have difficulty recovering in time to get full enjoyment from all that follows.

For those that do recover, however, this film quickly begins to show its merits. Taking place in modern Salt Lake City, Kirk and Flint are pirates – two guys who just know that piracy is in their blood, and seek to live out the swashbuckling lives that fate has chosen for them. The challenges they face are many, including parents who don’t understand their chosen lifestyle, “victims” who are more entertained than scared, and a predominant lack of ship, crew, or prospects of any sort. All this changes, however, upon the discovery of a treasure map, and so the search for riches begins.

Along the way the viewer is treated to more than a few oddities – the sorts of surreal elements that can be perplexing if you think about them too hard. Ancient gypsies with laptop computers, an apparently angelic Indian narrator with a penchant for metaphor, and the wordless exchange of an eyepatch between kindred souls. Strange? Absolutely. But also a sort of quiet genius. The humor throughout is wry, dry, and poignant. Those of us immersed in a pirate lifestyle of our own will surely find much that’s humorously relatable, while our loved ones who’ve politely tolerated our odd obsession might cringe at how effectively Pirates of the Great Salt lake satirizes our situation.

Truly, this is first and foremost a movie written for the pirate enthusiast. But in this there is something that bothers me:  I enjoyed this movie, but not quite as much as I wish. Strangely, much of the humor seems funny in hindsight, but was merely amusing while actually watching it – something about surreal and outright goofy gags performed in such a matter-of-fact, dry manner proved difficult for me to process. I got the jokes, I smiled at the jokes, but I rarely laughed at them (although there were exceptions.) However, this same dry delivery, while perhaps impeding the humor a bit, also serves to add substance to scenes that might otherwise have simply been screwball. The narrator’s inspired monologue about persistence when digging for treasure, the imagery of two modern pirates riding a tandem bicycle to the song “Life Less Ordinary”, Kirk’s discussion with Flint about his wearing of an earring as though it were a performance review – these and countless other oddly touching moments stick with me long after the movie has ended, and it’s these scenes that make this movie iconic of our barely existing subculture.

It may be imperfect, but Pirates of the Great Salt Lake wears its pirate heart on its sleeve, and is a definite must-see for any and all fans of the pirate genre.

Comments (5)

  1. Jack McCool

    I think you hit the nail on the head here. After years of waiting in agony for the film, I think I kind of HAD to like it, but ultimately it did have its faults. And it was definitely a helluvalot stranger and more out-of-nowhere than I expected. But overall I really dug it, and I think it’s a must-see for modern pirate enthusiasts.

  2. Left-Handed Liz

    “There’s a *pirate* Heaven?”
    “Second to the right and straight on til morning!”
    You make grand points of criticism, ’tis true, but I couldn’t be happier to own his film all the same!

  3. "Mad" Angus Gordon

    Just got the film today and really enjoyed it. You hit the proverbial nail on the head with your criticisms, not to mention that there is a “Napoleon Dynamite” quality to the film (being that actress Emily Tyndall starred in both and it’s in Utah, it’s not surprising), but its a great film all the same. Not a bad first time effort for the director; especially since its a film done on the water (not an easy task for a first-timer).

  4. Stify

    I finally found and bought the movie on Ebay, and watched it on Halloween. I liked it with the exception of the two scenes you youreself mentioned but all in all they only served to make me laugh at the ridiculousness of them. Over all, I was tremendously satisfied with it and it was well worth the wait.

  5. Garrett "Pirate Guy" Casey

    Wasn’t at all what I expected but it left me smiling. Pirates of the Great Salt lake is unique in it’s own special way and I’m glad I took the time to watch it.

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