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Should I Watch..? Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
What's the big deal?
Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl is a fantasy adventure film released in 2003 and is the first film in Disney's Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise. Initially based on the ride of the same name in Disneyland theme parks, the movie introduced the character of flamboyant pirate Jack Sparrow to audiences across the world as well as other Disney products. The film's ensemble cast features Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly and the film became a surprise hit, grossing more than $654 million worldwide. The film gained positive reviews upon release and was nominated for five Academy Awards including a nod for Depp as Jack Sparrow.
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What's it about?
The film opens with the aftermath of a pirate raid on a ship, shrouding in mysterious fog. A survivor, 12-year-old Will Turner, is plucked from the waves and seen to by Elizabeth Swann - daughter to Governor Weatherby Swann. She spots a gold medallion and steal it for herself, fearing it would identify Will as a pirate and therefore sentenced for execution. As they continue their journey to Port Royal in Jamaica, Elizabeth notices the Black Pearl itself drifting away unseen though the mists.
Eight years later and Elizabeth accidentally falls into the sea after passing out in her corset in the excessive heat. The medallion then sends a pulse through the water to alert the Black Pearl of its presence but another has noticed it. Eccentric pirate Jack Sparrow, having only just made it to Port Royal on what's left of his old ship, notices the medallion as well as seems to recognise its significance. But after the Black Pearl sails into harbour and launches an attack on the city, it soon falls to Jack and the now adult Will Turner to rescue Elizabeth who has been kidnapped by Jack's former first officer on the Pearl, Hector Barbossa.
Captain Jack Sparrow
Captain Hector Barbossa
Commodore James Norrington
Governor Weatherby Swann
Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio *
Release Date (UK)
8th August, 2003
Action, Adventure, Family
Academy Award nominations
Best Leading Actor (Depp), Best Makeup, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects
What's to like?
Disney were taking a huge risk with this picture, given that there hadn't been a decent pirate movie since Blackbeard himself ruled the high seas. But by God, it pays off - the film looks completely believable with its period costumes, gorgeous Caribbean setting and authentic sailing ships battling each other over the waves. On a purely visual level, the film is a winner and given the performances of the cast, it helps you enjoy it even more. Depp is fabulous fun as Captain Jack, lurching and bumbling his way through the picture like a drunk but with a cheeky glint in his eyes that makes you wonder if its all for show or not. Likewise, the rest of the cast all step up and deliver including those not used to being in a film of this kind. Davenport does very well as Norrington while Crook & Arundel makes a fine comic pairing. Even Rush as the villainous Barbossa has fun, filling the screen with all the yo-ho-ho you could ever ask for.
The Curse Of The Black Pearl is underscored by a terrific soundtrack by Klaus Badelt, reminiscent of traditional adventure films on the high seas like Mutiny On The Bounty (1). It underlines the quality of the production - you get the sense that no corners were cut and every dollar of the budget appears on screen. Verbinski's direction is confident and brave enough to let Depp dominate the picture the way he does. Overall, the film is a delight from start to finish that entertains both adults and children with staggering ease. The story is well told and easy to follow, the action scenes are imaginative and exciting and at the centre of it all is Depp's brilliant interpretation of Jack Sparrow.
- The names of the three lead characters are all based on birds - Jack Sparrow, Elizabeth Swann and William Turner who was a famous ornithologist.
- The casting of Will Turner came down to a choice between Bloom and Heath Ledger. It was decided that Bloom would be more bankable due to his appearance in The Lord Of The Rings (2) - a fact underlined when the first trailers for this film was released with the theatrical showing of the second film, The Two Towers (3).
- Knightly was just 17 when the film was shot and almost missed her audition because of a traffic jam. She was so convinced that she was going to be fired that she only packed for a few days for the location shoot.
What's not to like?
Compared to the rest of the cast but especially Depp, Bloom and Knightly comes across as a little one dimensional. Bloom's Will Turner lacks the same sort of characterisation Jack does while Elizabeth is essentially the overly squeamish damsel in distress. I felt a bit more effort needed to go into these characters but there are other films that attempt to rectify that.
Hardcore gamers from the early Nineties might also recognise several elements of the film from the classic adventure game "The Curse Of Monkey Island" which was in development a few years before this film was released before being mysteriously cancelled. It's not a stretch of the imagination to picture elements of that project being carried over but in truth, the film is simply too good to quarrel over such matters. If anything, this first film manages to be so much better than the others that the series has struggled to match it ever since. With each added plot element, the films got more bloated and bogged down whereas this opening film is happy to wrap things up nicely come the end.
Should I watch it?
More fun than buried treasure, more exciting than walking the plank - this movie is both a homage and a resurrection of a long-forgotten genre. The Curse Of The Black Pearl is funny, scary, thrilling, entertaining and blissful escapism. Depp creates an iconic character in Captain Jack Sparrow and leads a cast who support him to great effect. As pretty as the Caribbean looks, I'd still rather watch this.
Great For: the whole family, historians, a studio desperate for a hit
Not So Great For: Aztec treasure hunters, the easily spooked
What else should I watch?
This first film really leads the way as far as the others can concerned. The sequel - Dead Man's Chest (4) - does what most sequels do and goes darker, introducing the disgustingly despicable Davy Jones and the crew of the Flying Dutchman as well as the apocalyptic monster known as the Kraken. At World's End (5) is an unsatisfying mash-up of serious pirate movie and Captain Jack-overload which trips over itself trying to tie up all the various loose ends. On Stranger Tides (6) does away with the usual frippery surrounding these pictures and feels almost like a reboot but still can't match this film's sheer sense of fun.
It's actually surprising that Disney spent the best part of $140 million on this picture, given how badly things went wrong for Carolco after Cutthroat Island (7) bombed in 1995. After only grossing a meagre $10 million dollars, you'd be forgiven for thinking that pirate movies would rarely be seen again so be thankful to Disney for successfully reviving them.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox