Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

 


Laura Clifford 
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl - Johnny Depp

Robin Clifford 
                                                             'Welcome to the Caribbean!'            Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp)

Laura:
As a young girl, Elizabeth Swann (Lucinda Dryzek, later Keira Knightley, "Bend It Like Beckham") always loved the allure of pirates, but sailing from England to Port Royal, she witnesses the fiery aftermath of a pirate raid and snatches a gold skull and crossbones medallion from a young survivor, Will Turner (Dylan Smith, later Orlando Bloom, "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"), to shield his possible identity.  Years later, as Elizabeth is on the verge of accepting a proposal from Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport, "The Talented Mr. Ripley") much to blacksmith Will's dismay, she's saved from drowning by Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), a pirate her father, Governor Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce, "What a Girl Wants"), has thrown in the brink.  Sparrow's followed by Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, "The Banger Sisters"), his mutinous former first mate who's come to kidnap the Governor's daughter to break a curse in "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl."

In its second attempt to 'Universalize' itself by spawning a movie franchise from one of its theme park rides, Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer get things mostly right.  This amusing swashbuckler (written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio ("Treasure Planet," "Shrek")) owes a lot of its charm to star Johnny Depp, who has an uncanny ability to find positively strange character tics and make them work.

After the somewhat lengthy prologue which establishes the main characters of Port Royal, Captain Sparrow makes a dramatic and positively hilarious entrance, gliding into port on a ship that sinks just as he steps onto the dock.  After Sparrow's bad fortune of saving the Governor's daughter, Will encounters the rapscallion hiding in his smithy and the two engage in a comedic, beautifully choreographed, sword fight (both Depp and Bloom have prior fencing experience from movies such as "Don Juan DeMarco" and "Lord of the Rings").  Barbossa sails in on the Black Pearl and makes off with the comely Elizabeth, so Will springs Jack from jail and the two commandeer a British naval vessel to save her (well, Jack really just wants his ship back).  Meanwhile, Elizabeth learns of the curse when Barbossa and his crew turn into living skeletons in the moonlight.  Barbossa is determined to reverse the curse, which leaves them with hunger, thirst and lust unsated, by returning the cursed treasure of Cortez. Elizabeth's gold medallion is the last piece and the blood of its owner is the last requirement to break the spell.

Director Gore Verbinski ("The Ring") neatly balances action, comedy and Disney's amusement park ride, coming up short only in curtailing a story that shovels on one too many layer. All the pirate elements are here - swinging from jibs, walking planks, talking parrots and ribald songs.  Elliott and Rossio have great fun twisting some conventions on their heads.  Pirates rules are frequently cited only to be followed up by a chorus of 'but they're really only guidelines,' by those anxious to break them.  One of Barbossa's crew, Ragetti (Mackenzie Crook, BBCA's "The Office"), has a wooden eye substituting for the more traditional peg leg.  The writing duo ingeniously use their titular curse to explain why a comely lass's purity isn't endangered on a shipful of unsavory seamen and provide clever realities for Jack's legendary exploits.

Depp is once again in full gypsy mode, sporting exotic makeup, hair and costume, but his characterization is most reminiscent of his weirdly effective Ichabod Crane in "Sleepy Hollow."  Depp's swishy, slurry performance gives Sparrow an air of impetus, of constant, undulating motion when he isn't flopped on his back.  Without Depp, these pirates would be a lot more pedestrian.  Also very good is Knightley, looking here like a cross between Helena Bonham Carter and Natalie Portman.  She's got feisty spirit and puts Elizabeth over like a real pro amongst a mostly male, more experienced cast.  Orlando Bloom does well by the earnest hero and reluctant pirate Will while Rush has a blast as the bleary, treacherous Barbossa.  Davenport is militarily stiff, but noble, in a role that echoes "Sinbad's" Proteus, but Jonathan Pryce is lost in the large ensemble while many lesser known character actors make impressions.

Production designer Brian Morris ("The Insider") produces a largely realistic Port Royal while retaining visuals that complement the park attraction.  Ironically, the amusement ride is most evident during a side trip to Tortuga where wenches and pirates swing tankards, an aspect of the Disney ride that was cleaned up for political correctness. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski ("The Mexican," The Crow") produces sparkling visuals both above and below the waterline.  Special effects offer creatures one would expect from a high-caliber Disney attraction with some added oomph - watch when Barbossa guzzles wine as a skeleton or when a cursed captain changes as he shifts from within and out of the moonlight.

I'm ready for the next adventure of "Pirates of the Caribbean" but will only be really eager if Captain Sparrow is at the helm.

B

Robin:
Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is a charming rogue who returns to the civilization of British-owned Port Royal after being stranded on a deserted island by his mutinous crew led by his wicked first-mate Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Jack's prize possession and symbol of freedom, his ship the Black Pearl, is now involved in an murderous attack on the port and Sparrow sees this as the chance to get back his boat in "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl."

Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), the beautiful daughter of the island's governor (Jonathan Pryce), is kidnapped by the buccaneers and sword-maker/sword-master Will Turner, whom Elizabeth helped save years before, sets off, with the reluctant help of Captain Jack, to rescue the willful girl. They pirate (since that's what pirates do) the fastest vessel in the British Fleet, the H.M.S. Interceptor, and take chase. But the duo and their ragtag crew are hotly pursued by Elizabeth's betrothed, the newly appointed and ambitious Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport), aboard his flagship, the H.M.S. Dauntless.

Unknown to Will, the pirates they chase are under a terrible curse. The motley mutineers stole a treasure chest containing hundreds of precious Aztec gold medallions and this act has doomed them to live forever between the worlds of the living and the dead. They are now the undead. To break the curse, the buccaneers, led by Barbossa, must restore the treasure in its totality and pay a blood debt, too. As the pirates recollect their stolen booty, they head to their piratical lair on the Isla de Muerta. Hard on their heels are the Interceptor and the Dauntless and a deadly confrontation is set in motion.

Uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, known for his big bang action flicks takes on the pirate genre with his Caribbean adventure. This is the second feature film to be spawned by the Disney family theme parks - the first was the surprisingly popular "The Country Bears." Fortunately, this time the fare is more adult oriented and Johnny Depp and company help to make "Pirates of the Caribbean" a rollicking good time.

Gore Verbinski helms this effort and shows an eclectic filmmaking style. He first came to attention with "Mouse Hunt" and made a major splash with his remake of the Japanese horror film, "The Ring." He reaches the directors' A-list with his latest creation and benefits greatly from his talented cast, expert crew and a really big budget.

Johnny Depp is perfectly cast as the slightly fey acting pirate captain who seeks back the freedom his prized Black Pearl has afforded him. Captain Jack Sparrow (he insists on being called "captain"), with his braided beard, long hair, ring-bejeweled fingers and insouciant attitude has not a care in the world. The shimmering waters of the Caribbean are his play ground, even when he is about to be executed for his brigand's ways. But, Will Turner realizes that the pirate is the only one who can help him find and return Will's beloved Elizabeth to her home and his arms. The straight-laced Will, a master at wielding the blades he so carefully crafts, rescues Jack from the gallows in a daring escape. They then steal the Interceptor under the very noses of the British on their stronghold island and take off after Barbossa and his haunted crew.

The willful and defiant Elizabeth stands up to her captors, even under the threat of being thrown to the crew, and she is instrumental in Jack and Will achieving her rescue. Pretty Keira Knightley, who made her worldwide debut in the sleeper hit "Bend It Like Beckham," is a true heroine figure in her role, never given a sword but willing to go toe-to-toe with her pirate captors - even when she learns that their true, decayed skeletal nature comes out in moonlight. Geoffrey Rush, as the head honcho of the mutineers Barbossa, is wickedly fun as he seeks to be restored to his previous human form, regardless of the cost to others.

Supporting cast is mostly first rate. Jonathan Pryce, as Governor Swann, is bland and unaffecting but others fill the void. Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook are a Laurel and Hardy like duo of bad (but very funny) guys under Barbossa's command. Equally amusing, on the good guy side of things, are Angus Barnett and Giles New as Mullroy and Murtogg, a pair of British soldiers providing comic relief at even the most stressful moments. Jack Davenport provides the appropriate snootiness as Commodore Norrington.

"Pirates" is a tour de force of swashbuckling action, sword fights and naval battles as all the forces of good and evil clash. Special F/X are in ample use with the best, and most scary, effect occurs when the pirates come into the moonlight and the true nature of the curse is shown. This effect is not over used, so you don't get too complacent with it, and it is visually striking when, in close-up, Barbossa moves from lamplight to moonlight. In a moment, all questions about the pirates are answered.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" could stand some judicious editing to cut back its 140+ minute run time. (I, still, firmly believe that most films should never exceed two-hours in length.) But the fun, adventure, romance and swashbuckling action make worth the effort. I give it a B+.

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