PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL

4 Stars
Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 127 minutes
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“Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me!” Who would have thought that you could turn an amusement park ride into one of the summer’s most exciting and well-made adventures? Following up last year’s surprise hit, The Ring, director Gore Verbinski along with action producer guru, Jerry Bruckheimer, put forth an unforgettable tale on the high seas. With fantastic dialogue, outstanding performances from a sea worthy cast, and a stand out portrayal by Johnny Depp, “Pirates of the Caribbean” puts itself at the top of the list as one of the most entertaining swashbucklers to hit the big screen.
Captain Jack Sparrow is a carefree, happy-go lucky pirate who arrives at Port Royal on board a sinking ship. While looking for a new ship to commandeer, the beautiful Elizabeth Swann, daughter of the Governor and love interest of Commodore Norrington, faints from a tightly bound corset into the sea. Without hesitation, Sparrow dives in and saves her life; however, rather than receiving gratitude, the notorious Sparrow is placed in prison. Shortly thereafter, the port comes under heavy siege by the infamous Black Pearl. During all the pillaging, Elizabeth is captured and taken aboard the pirate vessel by way of parlay, a unique pirate code of capture. In an attempt to rescue her, a childhood friend and local blacksmith, Will Turner, fights desperately but comes up short.
Undeterred by the local regiment’s lack of action, Turner solicits the help of Sparrow in the hopes that he will take him directly to the Black Pearl and help rescue Elizabeth, the girl of his dreams. But in doing so, Turner becomes a sort of renegade pirate himself, breaking Sparrow out of prison, recruiting a pirate crew, and stealing the fastest British vessel in the fleet, the HMS Interceptor.
Meanwhile, on board the Black Pearl, Elizabeth discovers the mysterious secret of Captain Barbossa and his legion of pirates: in the moonlight, the pirates turn into a “skeleton crew.” This is the result of a curse, one that was incurred when the pirates greedily took a forbidden treasure and mutinied against their fellow shipmate, Jack Sparrow. Now, to remove the curse, they must restore the last of the treasure (a gold medallion) and shed blood from its current owner. This last piece of treasure so happens to be held by Elizabeth. Returning to their secret lair, the Caribbean pirates aim to sacrifice Elizabeth and restore the final treasure so they can turn back to flesh and blood. But with Turner and Sparrow in hot pursuit, along with the ambitious Commodore and a crew of British soldiers, a showdown is imminent – a heroic battle against the invincible pirates.
“Pirates of the Caribbean” is perhaps the biggest shock of the summer. Just recently, I was floored by the unexpected quality in “Terminator 3.” But that was a few minutes ago. Call it a Hollywood minute. Little did I know that this theme park inspired undertaking would slice and dice its way with bravado and razor sharp wit to entertain and amuse feverishly. I had reasons to be skeptical. For starters, the last Disney/theme park attraction movie, “The Country Bears” was an under performing and pointless box office flop, earning a dismal $17 million. Thus, taking a risk on such a project, particularly a throwback genre of this magnitude, required the weight and influence of one big studio giant, namely Michael Eisner himself.
Furthermore, I journeyed to Anaheim a few years ago and found myself in Disneyland at the “Pirates of the Caribbean” attraction. There wasn’t a line like there was for Space Mountain or Indiana Jones and the ride itself was uneventful and stagnant, like a boat ride through a dark cave. In fact, it’s only saving grace was that it provided a friendly respite from the agonizing sun. And lastly, the script for “Pirates” made its way through the hands of several screenwriters: Stuart Beattie, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, and Jay Wolpert. Multiple screenwriters editing and tweaking a script is almost a sure sign of difficult material. But just like Barbossa and his skeleton gang at moonlight, looks can be deceiving.
Without question, the film is much more animated than the attraction, although it does carry much of the spirit from the ride – hordes of treasures, plundering and pillaging pirates, and a barrage of cannonballs.
But the real surprise here is how strong the writing holds up. The dialogue is so clever and snappy that everyone seems to have great and memorable lines. Even the smaller roles such as Murtogg and Ragetti have a chance to shine in the film. The story itself is your typical ‘save the heroine type’ and does raise a few plot questions, such as why would the pirates aboard the Black Pearl carry food and drink if they couldn’t enjoy them? And why would anyone bother fighting immortal beings? Such details do not affect the overall storyline; they just require you to suspend your belief and enjoy the action for a few minutes.
Along with great repartee, Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski made the smart move of flying to France to recruit Johnny Depp for the role of Jack Sparrow. Although Depp has had some memorable performances such as in “Don Juan DeMarco” and “Ed Wood,” for the most part, he has taken on a bevy of outlandish and questionable material, muddled in such dribble as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, “Blow,” and “Nick of Time.” But the wind may be changing for this former “21 Jump Street” star. If there ever was a role that would propel Depp to Academy Award status, this would be it. As the former captain of the Black Pearl, Depp is deliciously deceptive, conniving, and all together sympathetic. His dizzying nuances, idiosyncrasies, and half drunken quirks are splendid. And it’s hard to imagine anyone else in such a role.
Offering a perfect counterbalance to Depp’s shenanigans are Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley – two individuals who prove that they are stars in the making. Bloom supplants his role as Legolas in Lord of the Rings and Knightley elevates beyond her Bend It Like Beckham soccer sidekick. These two match Depp’s whimsy with wit and humor of their own. It’s one of the true pleasures of the film. And rounding out the great cast, with devilish glee, is Geoffrey Rush cast as the evil Barbossa. Rush adds Oscar credibility to the film, although at times, you get the feeling that his sinister behavior is bottled up a tad by the PG-13 rating or the hideous teeth he hides behind.
“Pirates of the Caribbean” is a return to the high seas a la the great adventures of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks. It balances action and adventure with romance and mystery, zestful dialogue and humor with sword fighting and ship battles, and incorporates wonderful acting from a seafaring cast, most noticeably a superb performance by Johnny Depp. Surprisingly sensational, this is one summer movie that lives up to the blockbuster hype. And that’s something you can raise a glass to. “Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho!”



Posted on July 11, 2003 in Reviews by
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