Capt. Jack Sparrow has been ordered to trim his sails.

Tough economic times in Hollywood mean that the fourth installment in the usually lavish 'Pirates of the Caribbean' franchise, due to shoot this summer, will have to get by on a much slimmer booty.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Hollywood's new-found frugality is forcing everything about next summer's 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' to shrink -- its budget, its shooting schedule, the number of its locations and special effects shots. That's a big deal when the producer is the famously spendthrift Jerry Bruckheimer, who's been synonymous with extravagant, over-the-top action spectacle for three decades, and whose 26 mostly mega-budgeted movies for Disney over the last 16 years have included numerous hits, most notably, the 'Pirates' franchise. Capt. Jack Sparrow has been ordered to trim his sails.

Tough economic times in Hollywood mean that the fourth installment in the usually lavish 'Pirates of the Caribbean' franchise, due to shoot this summer, will have to get by on a much slimmer booty.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Hollywood's new-found frugality is forcing everything about next summer's 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' to shrink -- its budget, its shooting schedule, the number of its locations and special effects shots. That's a big deal when the producer is the famously spendthrift Jerry Bruckheimer, who's been synonymous with extravagant, over-the-top action spectacle for three decades, and whose 26 mostly mega-budgeted movies for Disney over the last 16 years have included numerous hits, most notably, the 'Pirates' franchise.

The budget, while still above $200 million, remains below the $300 million spent making the third 'Pirates' move, 'At World's End.' (The first, 'The Curse of the Black Pearl,' cost just $140 million, while the second, 'Dead Man's Chest,' cost $225 million.) The movie will shoot just 90 to 95 days (it was 142 days on 'At World's End'). There are fewer locations, most of them in London or Hawaii, both sites where production tax breaks are generous. Instead of the 2,000 effects shots in 'At World's End,' there will be just 1,300 to 1,400. And much of the traditional action associated with the 'Pirates' franchise (and with Bruckheimer movies in general, from 'Armageddon' to this summer's Disney release 'Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time') will have to be curtailed.

For one thing, there will be fewer costly ocean shots and more land shots (even though that seems counter-intuitive for a pirate movie). A carriage chase in which British forces pursue Johnny Depp's Capt. Jack Sparrow through the streets of London has been trimmed so that it will take only four to six days to shoot instead of 12. And an "ice fair" sequence involving a carnival on the frozen surface of the Thames River has been scrapped.

"The hard thing is you have to make painful decisions that cut into some very entertaining sequences," Bruckheimer tells the Times. "You have to figure out how to keep the movie very entertaining and give the audience more than what they expect and yet be cost-effective about it." Nonetheless, of the omitted action fare, Bruckheimer says, "the audience will never miss it."

More apparent changes that viewers will notice: the absence of costly costars Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom. Instead, we'll see Ian McShane (as Blackbeard), Penelope Cruz and French newcomer Astrid Berges-Frisbey (as a mermaid) -- all of their salaries put together are probably less expensive than hiring Knightley and Bloom a fourth time.

Also gone is Gore Verbinski, who directed the three previous films, having reportedly clashed with Disney over budget issues. Directing instead will be the (presumably cheaper) Rob Marshall, best known for such musicals as 'Chicago' and 'Nine,' who has never made a big-budget spectacle before, but who has experience creating lavish spectacle in the less expensive realms of Broadway, TV and independent film. "We're all working hard to keep it as lean as possible," Marshall told the Times, regarding the 'On Stranger Tides' budget. "It's a tricky time in the economy. You can't be insane."

Bruckheimer was reportedly on board with all the sail-trimming. New Disney studio chairman Rich Ross tells the Times that, during his first week on the job, Bruckheimer told him, "'I will work with you to figure out the economics of the movies going forward because I understand what we are all facing."

Don't expect this new-found cost consciousness to be restricted to just Bruckheimer or Disney. As the Times notes, the downward spiraling of the DVD market, the escalating costs of production and marketing and overinflated star salaries have inspired cutbacks at all Hollywood studios. Deals are being restructured so that more of the grosses flow back to the studios instead of the filmmakers and actors. "The studios are being more careful about how much they give away on film profits," Cowen & Co. media analyst Doug Creutz tells the Times.

In Bruckheimer's case, this may mean even less in terms of overhead paid to his production company just for sitting on Disney's lot and coming up with ideas. That threat has led Bruckheimer to seek outside investors to create a production development fund for him, though he has yet to tap into that pool.

Still, these Hollywood austerity drives tend to be cyclical and don't last long. There was one about 15 years ago, which lasted until Jim Carrey broke the $20 million salary barrier with 1996's 'The Cable Guy' and James Cameron reaped the massive rewards of spending a then-unheard-of $200 million to make 1997's 'Titanic.' After that, the studios seemed to race each other to see who could spend the most, and it became conventional wisdom that you need to break a few hundred million eggs to make a worldwide blockbuster.

Guess we'll know if the current belt-tightening trend is for real when Bruckheimer is forced to make 'Pirates of the Caribbean: In Jack Sparrow's Bathtub.'

CATEGORIES Movies