Genre: Adventure and Fantasy Running Time: 2 hrs. 23 min.
Release Date: July 9th, 2003 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Gore Verbinski Actors: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook, Damian O’Hare, David Bailie
lizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) has dreamed of pirates ever since she aided in the rescue of a young boy, Will Turner, from a dastardly seafaring attack. Years later, she gets her opportunity to meet one face to face when, during the celebration for newly promoted Commodore James Norrington (Jack Davenport), the legendary Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) rides a sinking ship into port (a particularly hilarious entrance for an unforgettable character). Sparrow momentarily takes Elizabeth hostage, but ends up in a dungeon after battling the now grown up Turner (Orlando Bloom), a skilled blacksmith and swordsman.
Later that night, the Jamaican Port Royal is attacked by the Black Pearl, a devilish pirate vessel notorious for its assaults on innocent towns, track record of leaving no survivors, and rumors of being under a powerful curse. Elizabeth is again captured, this time by the ship’s captain, the mutinous Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), forcing Will to rashly free Jack Sparrow in exchange for guidance to Isla de Muerta, where the Pearl is headed. Their first stop, however, is the decadent city of Tortuga, where they can find a crew for their freshly swiped boat.
The curse of the Black Pearl turns out to be real, based on the thieving of Cortez’ Aztec gold, in turn founded dually by history and myth. This allows for impressive computer-animated, zombie-like creatures to make an appearance (crafted by Industrial Light & Magic). Nearly all the elements of the story are knowledgeably adapted from famous pirate legends and customs (the film doesn’t miss the chance to have a plank-walking scene), as well as the amusing Disneyland ride itself. Many of the scenes are reminiscent of the tourist attraction, treating the characters as if they’re on the ride (such as when Elizabeth is tossed about as if on a trampoline by her pirate captors), and several of the battle sequences correspondingly mirror events structured by the original animatronic participants. Several other shots duplicate sets from the theme park almost exactly.
Locations are painstakingly reconstructed, costumes are elaborate and authentic, props like the massive ships are beautifully detailed, and the stunt choreography and related fight sequences (including characters sword fighting in the rafters after having been catapulted there by a makeshift seesaw, a cannon attack on Port Royal, and the climactic side-by-side showdown between the Black Pearl and the HMS Interceptor) are thrilling beyond what is generally witnessed in a Disney live-action film. This is largely thanks to director Gore Verbinski, having previously worked on the darker thematic material of “The Ring.” “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” is altogether breathtaking in its scope; it’s mindboggling to think that the humble origins of a theme park attraction could not only lead to such an expansive thematic universe, but also to such immense moneymaking possibilities.
Despite a few cheesy one-liners, the screenplay is surprisingly keen (most of the dialogue is a mix of familiar pirate lingo, archaic phrases, and sharp sarcasm). The comedy elements work nicely with the characters, which are shaped to be equal portions serious and funny, but always manageably believable within the realm of this visually splendid world of magic and adventure. Utilizing the verbiage and the humor is an abundance of entertaining character actors, including Jonathan Pryce, Kevin McNally, Zoe Saldana, and Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook as the featherbrained pirate duo Pintel and Ragetti. But it’s Johnny Depp who steals the show, creating a swashbuckling persona so outrageously regaling it would single-handedly guarantee sequels. His performance was also notably and unexpectedly nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award. And last but not least, the thundering, unforgettable score by Klaus Badelt is all but synonymous with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.
– Mike Massie