Published on July 10th, 2003 | by Erich Becker0
Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Forget any misguided preconceptions about this movie based on the fact it came from a ride of the same name at the Disneyland Resort. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, aside from having a really long name, stands out as one of the best movies of the summer and showcases some of the best acting performances all year.
You wouldn’t think that a live action Disney movie would be anything more than slapstick comedy intertwined with lame dialog, horrible special effects, and bottom of the barrel storytelling. Pirates is different. This isn’t the crap-fest that The Mighty Ducks turned into, The Curse of the Black Pearl is Disney’s first PG-13 movie released under the Walt Disney Pictures banner (others have been handed off to Touchstone or Hollywood Pictures) and where you would expect a subpar script you get an incredibly fun movie brought further to live with some incredible characters.
The Curse of the Black Pearl starts off with Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and her father Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce) sailing for Port Royale. On the way they find a small boy by the name of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) floating on a board with a gold medallion around his neck. When the wreckage of his boat is seen burning on the water, Elizabeth takes Will’s medal, fearing the crew will take him for a pirate. Of course it only adds to the story that Elizabeth takes a liking to Will, but they are from different castes and, of course, it is never meant to be. Flash forward eight years when pirates come ashore and begin to plunder Port Royale looking for the last piece of the cursed Aztec gold. Since Elizabeth has this final piece they kidnap her Turner enlists the services of the legendary Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), imprisoned for a daring attempt to steal a British boat, to find an island that cannot be found and rescue the women he cares for.
Pirates script goes from cliché to inspired throughout the movie. The old world classic storyline of a simple craftsman in love with a Governor’s daughter who has been proposed to by a young member of the Royal Navy stonewalls it’s way into the script. Of course this isn’t allowed because of the nature of the class system, and the fact that everyone wears funny wigs. There is also “treasure” hidden on an “island” that makes you wonder, “Where have I seen this before?” To the screenwriter’s credit the film does offer up some genuinely funny moments, most coming at the hands of Johnny Depp.
This is a Depp movie and it shows in the amazing characterization that he gives Sparrow. From the tiny twitches to the wobbling, drunken walk, Sparrow comes to life onscreen via Depp. While his performance in Edward Scissorhands may rival this one, he is clearly on mark with his better work as seen in Sleepy Hollow. The supporting cast also deserves credit for creating memorable characters in the shadow of the top-billed star. Notable among these is Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa, the mutinous first mate of Sparrow who took over his ship and left him to die on an island, twice.
Of course the real star of the film is the special effects work by Industrial Light and Magic who do an amazing job bringing the tattered rags and bones of the cursed pirates to life. From the life-like interaction with real actors to the money making scene underwater the CGI pirates leave your mouth hanging open. Like all CG it isn’t perfect, and there are times when it looks as though the computer generated antagonists are a bit too cartoony.
Director Gore Verbinski at times leaves us guessing just what direction he wanted this film to take. One one side it is based on a Disneyland ride enjoyed by all, and on the other it is a pirate movie, and pirates are not known for having you over to enjoy tea and crumpets on Sunday afternoons. It is evident that you are seeing two very different pictures inter-woven into one film. You have the comedy and one-liners on one side, the other houses a few throat slashes and sword thrusts worthy of a Jerry Bruckheimer film.
None of this severely detracts from the film because over the course of a somewhat bloated 143 minutes you have a good time, and isn’t that what movies are suppose to do? Superb performances by Depp, Rush, and Bloom make up for the nearsighted plot that doesn’t stray too far from the beaten path. Pirates of the Caribbean may be the most fun you have in a theater this year, and the nods to the ride only add to a great time.