depp1.jpgTop Disney execs have begun to see Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. But there’s one problem: the film slated to open May 25th around the world is still not completely finished. “It’s a race to the wire for all the special effects. But, in its current state, it’s quite spectacular,” a source explained to me. Disney still plans to play P3 in every territory by Memorial Day (although still not confirmed is mainland China, where censors were viewing a print hand-delivered by Disney execs so as to avoid piracy.) Unfortunately, finishing fast and late always adds to the cost, which I’m told is already north of $300 million. And that’s just what Disney is admitting to privately, so add at least another $50 mil to approach the truthful figure. “It’s the summer of the high rollers,” one insider said. “At least we’ve got an opportunity to make that back, and then some.” (Indeed, Sony admits Spiderman 3‘s cost is $250 mil, but I’m told the true figure is more like $300+ mil. And Universal admits Evan Almighty‘s cost is $175 mil, but I’m told it’s really $200+ mil. And that’s without marketing on all.) Another problem? The movie is said to be at least as long as Pirates 2, which had a running time of 2 hours, 25 minutes, if not longer.

depp5.jpg“I don’t think it’s locked yet, but it’s at least as long as Pirates 2, and probably longer. Because Gore Verbinski had to tie up all the stories and wanted to use as much footage as he could,” an insider tells me. (Internet rumors claim P3 is clocking in at 2 hours, 50 minutes.) Not only does that limit the number of times per day the pic can be shown in theaters, it’s also an audience buzz-kill. The good news, however, is that this Pirates 3 completes the story arc begun by the previous two. Even though P2 made gobs of money, it was not seen as especially satisfying by both critics and moviegoers. “Everybody was mindful of that,” a source tells me. “But if you invested in 1 and 2, then the third one is the payoff. All the story lines come together, all the loose ends get tied up, all the mysteries become clear to you.” One way Disney execs accomplished that was to go back and read every review of Dead Man’s Chest and “isolate what we thought people didn’t like about the movie,” an insider says. “The vast majority of the negative remarks was that it felt like it was setting up the third one, which in fact it was.” So Disney will market At World’s End as the final installment in a trilogy, like Lord Of The Rings did with The Return Of The King. Of course none of this matters, P3 is going to be a mega-hit. After all, P1 (The Curse of the Black Pearl) made $653.9 mil worldwide ($305.4 mil in the U.S., $348.5 mil overseas), and P2 (Dead Man’s Chest) depp6.jpghauled in $1 billion in box office gross ($423.3 mil in the U.S., $642.3 mil overseas). Then there’s the added theme park revenues. Immediately following the opening of Dead Man’s Chest, there were unprecedented lines at last year’s newly upgraded Pirates Of The Caribbean attraction at Disneyland. Now, other Disney parks around the world are going to be redoing the ride along the same lines. Meanwhile, the premiere for P3: At World’s End is now set for Saturday May 19th in the same setting as last year’s party for Dead Man’s Chest. The outdoor theater, complete with giant screen built on the water, is situated between New Orleans Square and Tom Sawyer’s Island. It’s not certain yet who among the gang will be there: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Geoffrey Rush. (Disney has banned new cast member Keith Richards from promoting the pic after the Rolling Stones guitarist joked that he snorted his dead father’s ashes. Which is ironic, since Depp has said he based his character Jack Sparrow on Keith’s quirky persona.)