The film opens with beautiful colors, reds, oranges and deep blues against the black of the ocean. The first image of our Captain; silhouetted, floating, only his eyes bright… immediately take the viewer to the core of the picture’s intent: To take us down a dark road, paved in blood, insanity and blinded rage.
At first, I was disappointed by the Saturday morning cartoon graphics, but in love with the color scheme and choice of voiceovers. Gerard Butler as the Sea Captain with his soothing, faintly Scottish lilt and scratchy, “smoked one too many cigarettes at 3am” voice. As brighter colors were introduced, there was still a dark shadow over everything, even the Captain’s face, although clear, was pressed with the lines of darkness, both reminiscent of horrors we didn’t get to witness while foreshadowing the gloom he was about to endure.
The music felt eerily familiar, like a strange combination of Lord of the Rings and the game soundtrack of the original Tomb Raider. Written by Tyler Bates, the composer for Watchmen and other movies such as Dawn of the Dead (2004), Halloween (2007) and 300 (2006), the short film echoed with longing, horror and hopes of redemption.
As we follow the captain through his ordeal from the black waters of a shipwreck, onto a beach of the dead, we see his transformation from a kind, loving man of authority into a black-hearted soul, looking for revenge.
I found it interesting that he began his journey in a white, disheveled captain’s shirt, but somehow changed his clothes halfway through to a black, privateer shirt reminiscent of typical pirate dress. The imagery is subtle, yet effective. If this change in dress was in the original text, I missed it completely, but was glad to see it here because I think it added more to his overall transformation, ultimately becoming that which he seeks to destroy.
Overall, there was a feeling of obscurity, which was pulled off well throughout the 26 minutes, with special and subtle images that you have to really pay attention to. My favorite, being the Rorschach inkblot image on the captain’s sail which, just as in Watchmen, changes from frame to frame. Does this allow for a connection between distorted perspectives of justice? Possibly a correlation between the captain’s insanity, rooted in a desire to protect his family and Rorschach’s perspective of righteous murder? Hmm, I wonder….
In the end, the colors returned to the deep orange, red and black, closing the circle and showing us that everything ends as it begins. With death, villainy and the hopelessness of the Black Freighter.
All in all, the thing with the Black Freighter is that it’s obviously a work of art… not entertainment. The 26 minutes drug along like a dreamy cloud of orange, sleepily carrying us through a nightmare that wakes us as the credits role thinking, “damn… what just happened?” While the haunting voice of Nina Simone fill the room with the 1964 rendition of Pirate Jenny.
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