It was September, 2005, and the bestselling movie of the modern porn era debuted on the big screen of Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre. It was “Pirates,” a co-production of Digital Playground and Adam & Eve (the 2008 sequel would be an all-Digital Playground effort), and it is a perfectly valid high point from which to view porn’s decline.
For starters, if Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” (whose third sequel, “At World’s End,” filmed on the same boat “Pirates” did—unbeknownst to Disney or the boat’s owners) was the first film in history to be spun-off from a theme park ride, “Pirates” was the first porn movie to be a spinoff of a spinoff of a theme park ride.
“We don’t make parodies,” Digital Playground co-owner Ali Joone told me in a 2011 interview for Hustler magazine. Well, not in the sense that they acknowledge making parodies, but “Pirates” surely did feature similar costumes and skeletons as the Johnny Depp original, even if there was no character based on Captain Jack Sparrow (though Tommy Gunn’s Stagnetti was a clear takeoff on Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa).
Unlike later porn parodies that girded themselves with “Not”s, “This Ain’t”s, and lengthy disclaimers, “Pirates” jumped right into uncharted waters quickly, risking Disney’s wrath by adapting to porn two generations of family products. Disney obviously had no dibs on the words “pirate” or “Caribbean,” but they have trademarked “Captain Jack Sparrow,” so the first tier of characters bore no resemblance to those of the Disney movie.
It’s 1763 and Captain Edward Reynolds (Evan Stone) is a hapless pirate hunter. He is ably assisted by first mate Jules (Jesse Jane), who is all business and sass. They rescue Isabella (Carmen Luvana, on loan from Adam & Eve, where she was that company’s contract star) from drowning, and she tells them the story of dread pirate Victor Stagnetti (Tommy Gunn). It is in Tommy Gunn’s character that Digital Playground stands within firing distance of Disney’s version, as he commands some skeleton pirates that look, as Stevie Nicks (Janine Lindemulder) says, “hauntingly familiar.”
I especially liked Steven St. Croix and Carmen Luvana in “Pirates.” Jesse Jane and Luvana shared a candle wax-driven scene that was intriguing. And with nine more sex scenes (the standard porn movie has five), the “Pirates” 3-DVD set sold upwards of 100,000 units and is still popular today.
It’s the type of movie that the smallest sex boutique to the largest adult chain will always have a few on-hand.
The average porn budget around that time was $55,000 for a standard feature. That is an obscene amount of money today (but not obscene in a legally actionable way). I made “Facts of Life XXX” for $18,000 (and it shows!), but the budget for “Pirates,” depending on who would gain the most, was between $350,000 and $1 million.
In addition to the countrywide publicity putsch that saw articles in Newsweek, screenings at colleges and film festivals, and the Egyptian premiere, “Pirates” featured effects never before seen in porn. How did a porn company—admittedly the most tech-savvy one—gain entry into the world of digital effects?
Let’s just say Fletcher Christian—who commandeered the HMS Bounty for some Tahitian hotties—would approve.
According to Jennifer Parramore, director of the St. Petersburg/Clearwater (FL) Film Commission, “They lied to us.”
“They” is Brain Zoo, an Emmy-winning CGI animation shop located in Van Nuys, just minutes from Digital Playground. According to Parramore, when Brain Zoo approached the Film Commission in 2005 about shooting on the HMS Bounty, a replica built in Nova Scotia and used in the 1960 “Mutiny on the Bounty” starring Marlon Brando, the Brain Zoo representative told them that the movie would be a comedy with special effects and sword fighting.
“The porno film guys knew they were pulling a fast one,” Parramore told the Halifax Chronicle Herald for a May 10, 2006 story.
Brain Zoo is owned by Mohammed “Mo” Davoudian. Ali Davoudian, Brain Zoo’s Creative Director at the time, is the real name of Ali Joone.
It is not surprising that “Pirates” and its sequel, “Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge” swept their respective years’ AVN Awards. They were great, sprawling, ambitious movies. One of the biggest feathers in Digital Playground’s cap came in 2006 when an edited, R-rated version of “Pirates” was allowed on the shelves of Blockbuster video.
Which leads us to today. No DVD has sold as well since “Pirates.” Blockbuster Video has been replaced by Netflix, Redbox kiosks, and theft. Digital Playground was purchased by Brazzers and tubesite owner Manwin in 2012, which proceeded to slash the roster of the second-to-last contract stars in Porn Valley (Wicked has the other group of contract stars, known collectively as a pillowfight).
And, eight years later, the entire cast of “Pirates” is dead.
(Actually no one is dead, other than the idea that someone would ever spend more than $50,000 to make a porn movie anymore, and would much more likely err on the near side of 20 grand.)
- Why not buy “Pirates” here.