You've probably seen a film written by Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot even if you've never heard of the pair. Rossio and Elliot are the screenwriters responsible for all the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films. Their first big hit was "Aladdin" in 1992, followed by two other films for Disney animation, "Hercules" and "Treasure Planet." They also wrote "The Mask of Zorro" for TriStar in 1998, the first "Shrek" film for Dreamworks, and had a hand in both "National Treasure" films. The duo has been one the most consistent writing teams in Hollywood for the past twenty years, give or take a "Godzilla" reboot. Now comes the news that Terry Rossio will be writing the fifth "Pirates of the Caribbean" film by himself. Ted Elliot, to use the obvious pun, has jumped ship.
I try my best not to get caught up in the endless cycles of Hollywood gossip over breakups and relationship troubles among movie stars, but this is different. Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot have a creative partnership has been very good to us over the years and left its mark on the popular culture. Of course this isn't the first time the two have tackled projects separately, and there's no sign of any permanent break here - they're still producing another project together, "Jingle," over at Nickelodeon films with Sandra Bullock. Elliot passing up the next "Pirates" might mean nothing. However, this is definitely the highest profile film where either of them are going solo, and in image-conscious Hollywood, that sends a certain message. And I do not have the self-restraint to keep myself from speculating as to whether this means something else is up.
It's perfectly understandable why Ted Elliot wouldn't want to write a fifth "Pirates of the Caribbean" film, since he and Rossio have devoted the better part of a decade to this franchise and there has to be a sense of creative stagnation setting in by now. Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparow is great fun, but by the third "Pirates" film I got the sense that the filmmakers were running out of things for him to do. Hopefully having a new set of characters to play off of will help breathe some new life into the fourth "Pirates" film. Then again, Eliot's exit may have nothing to do with creative boredom. It could be the money. Or it could be studio politics, or personal reasons, or needing a break from writing, or "creative differences," or any other number of possibilities.
I've really enjoyed Rossio and Elliot films over the years, so much so that they were the first screenwriters who I could recognize as being screenwriters, who were not also directors or actors or whatnot. I've kept an eye out for their work, especially after their involvement in one of the many failed attempts at a "Sandman" movie back in the mid-90s. Their draft is still online over here. Having sat through more than my share of bad mainstream movies, I appreciate what they do. There's an art to putting together a piece of major studio spectacle, that can be just as difficult as putting out a serious prestige piece. I won't name names, but there are some great writers out there who should never be let within a hundred miles of another genre film.
Yet, I also can't help but wonder what would happen if Rossio and Elliot did branch out beyond big budget action and kids' films. What would happen if they tacked a historical drama? Or a comedic farce? Or one of those little indie films about miserable families? Terry Rossio wrote an original script with Bill Marsilii a couple of years ago for "Deja Vu," a Denzel Washington science fiction thriller I haven't seen. Maybe now it's Elliot's turn to get a pet project off the ground. That's the best case scenario I can think of.
In the short term, Terry Rossio handling scripting duties solo is unlikely to change much. Ted Elliot's name is still going to be all over the fifth "Pirates" film because he's contributed so much to the existing universe of the "Pirates" franchise already. And after four films, I don't think it's going to impact the quality of any future installments if only one of the pair is onboard. Heck, I don't know if either of them need to be there - maybe Captain Jack Sparrow would benefit from a new writer or two on his crew.
Okay, I'll stop with the nautical puns now, but it's just too easy, dammit!