|Pirates of the Caribbean - The Curse of the Black Pearl (2-Disc Collector’s Edition)|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 02 December 2003|
Just the mere mention of that word summons images and stories that have been with audiences forever. The idea of a skull and crossbones mounted on a black flag can still make hearts beat faster in expectation of feats of derring-do, swordplay, and tall-masted ships with sails filled with the wind cutting through the rough ocean while in pursuit of a secret and dangerous treasure.
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer has been a movie and television powerhouse for some time now, and his grasp and success seems constantly rising. Given that "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" is based on a Walt Disney ride, audiences everywhere didn't know what to expect when they found out a movie was in the works.
Once "Pirates of the Caribbean" set sail in movie theaters across the country, it became immediately apparent that the movie was going to be hit. Johnny Depp, known for his intense and off-the-wall portrayals of strange characters such as Edward Scissorhands and Crybaby, fit the part of Black Jack Sparrow like a hand to a glove. Wardrobe and makeup do a lot toward making Depp fit the role of a pirate captain, but it’s the actor's own innate sense of when to take a performance over the top that truly brings Captain Black Jack Sparrow to life. Those who have visited the ride at Walt Disney's entertainment parks will recognize many of the gestures and body movements that Depp utilizes. Depp as Black Jack Sparrow stops one step shy of becoming a caricature instead of potentially a real hero.
Other truly marvelous aspects of the film are the cinematography and the settings. Port Royal, the city where the British Navy fought the last legs of a long war against the pirates, looks incredibly real in the movie. Much of the look is computer-generated, but it's hard to tell the digital recreation from the real sets. Everything fits together seamlessly.
A little girl's singing opens up Chapter 1. Young Elizabeth Swann, daughter of the governor of Port Royal, peers through the roiling fog anxiously as she sings pirate songs. Her voice peals through the front and center speakers of the surround sound system. But the air of mystery continues, made even more intense by the hoarse whispered warning of a fellow passenger who says that singing of pirates aboard a ship while at sea will bring nothing but bad luck. He also doesn't like the fact that Elizabeth is female.
As Elizabeth watches, a parasol floats past the British ship. The subwoofer kicks into play and creates a rolling thunder that gives the audience short warning that something momentous is about to occur. Only seconds later, an unconscious boy floats by on a wooden remnant of a ship. The thundering drum of the subwoofer subtly takes on the crackling hiss of flames that echoes through the front and center speakers of the surround sound system. In seconds, the fog parts just enough to allow the crew and Elizabeth to see a burning ship that is all but destroyed. The flames crackle and spit through the surround sound system, coming from the left front and right front speakers so that we feel we are on the ship, watching the other vessel burn. While tending to the unconscious boy, Elizabeth makes a startling discovery: a gold coin embossed with a skull hangs around the boy's neck from a chain. Obviously entranced with pirates, and wanting to protect the boy, Elizabeth takes the gold coin and necklace so that no one will know he might be a pirate.
The film segues from that moment in the past to the present, where Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) is now a young woman of marrying age and still the daughter of the governor (Jonathan Pryce) of Port Royal. Her father dotes on her and intends to see her married to Captain Norrington (Jack Davenport), who is even now about to accept his promotion to commodore. The boy found floating in the sea has become a man named Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), an apprentice to a Port Royal blacksmith. Will delivers a sword he has crafted to Governor Swann. The governor wants to present the sword to Captain Norrington as a gift at the promotion ceremony. It's obvious that Will and Elizabeth are infatuated with each other, but Will refuses to acknowledge his feelings for Elizabeth or address her in a familiar manner, which infuriates Elizabeth. Outside, as Will leaves, a carriage rumbles by, going from right front speaker to left front speaker to mimic the motion on the screen. The jangle of the harness echoes the movement, and the heavy beat of the horses’ hooves thud through the subwoofer.
Captain Black Jack Sparrow comes onstage in Chapter 2. He's obviously been through bad times because he's helming a small, sinking boat. The slap of the waves through the surround sound system pulls us into the small vessel with Sparrow and reminds us once again of the immensity of the sea. At the same time, Captain Norrington receives his commodore promotion in the middle of a procession featuring rapid drumming as soldiers march. Only moments later, Elizabeth faints and falls from the high promontory into the ocean below. Neither Captain Norrington nor any of his men leap to the rescue. Instead, Captain Black Jack Sparrow risks his life to pull the young woman from the water. He discovers the gold coin she wears on the necklace that she kept from young Will Turner all those years ago. The music that underscores this action is moving; first heroic as Sparrow dives into the water, then ominous as Sparrow discovers the gold coin and we realize something bad has happened.
Chapter 3 delivers an onslaught of beautifully choreographed action. Black Jack Sparrow has risked his life to save Elizabeth only to end up with his head in a hangman's noose. Gunshots and yelling voices threading through the surround sound system and kicking the subwoofer to life spin around us as the pirate captain flees for his life. While hiding in the blacksmith’s shop, Sparrow uses the great wheel to break his manacles, and the grinding gears pop and snap through the subwoofer. Unfortunately for Sparrow, Will Turner works at this particular smithy and will not allow a pirate to go free. Sparrow and Will fight, and the rasp of steel on steel flickers through the surround sound system, moving dizzyingly from one speaker to the next as the combatants' positions change.
Night lies over Port Royal in Chapter 4. The normal night sounds of the town echo in the distance in the surround sound system, voices, carriage wheels clattering against cobblestones, and the ring of the blacksmith's hammer against the anvil. But the moving fog takes center stage as it descends over the town and blocks out the moonlight. The viewer gets an oblique look at the ship the Black Pearl as she glides into port. The splashes of the waves against her hull whisper through the surround sound system. Then, without warning, the pirate ship opens fire on the town. Cannon fire blasts through the left front speaker and the explosions detonate through the right front speaker, bringing the subwoofer to life. In the governor's manor house, pirate voices reach the house before the pirates themselves, warning Elizabeth. Intent on plundering the home, the pirates find an unexpected prize when they see the gold coin on the necklace that Elizabeth wears. They intend to take the coin from her body, but she invokes the right to parlay, and tells them they have to give her audience before their captain. The sounds of the battle unmistakably carried on during the chase scene; however, those sounds are conspicuously absent during the rapid-fire conversation between Elizabeth and the pirates.
Chapter 5 presents frantic scene after frantic scene as the townsfolk, including Will, fight back against the pirates. Unfortunately, those efforts are doomed to failure because the pirates cannot be stopped. The pacing is incredible, the action loud and boisterous and pure eye candy. Ultimately, after seeing Elizabeth spirited away by the pirates, Will is overcome and left unconscious in the street. Aboard The Black Pearl, Elizabeth is greeted by Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) and quickly hoodwinked out of the gold coin and her freedom. Captain Black Jack Sparrow has his own problems because, although a cannon shot freed all the other prisoners in the jail, he remains trapped. The pirates arrive to taunt and tease him, and in the moonlight, their ghastly secret is revealed: they are all dead men, cursed by the gold they took so long ago. Sparrow is left imprisoned as the pirates return to their ship.
Overcome by his need to do something to save Elizabeth, Will approaches Captain Norrington and tells the captain that they should make a deal with Black Jack Sparrow. Norrington refuses to do so, standing on honor and a stout resolution against doing business with pirates. Having no choice, Will breaks Sparrow out of jail. Together, they return to the harbor with the intention of stealing a ship. The inventiveness and resourcefulness of Sparrow comes to the forefront in this chapter, and he wins the hearts of all the would-be pirates in the audience as he outwits Captain Norrington. Again, the surround sound puts the viewer out on the water as the splashing of the waves surrounds us. The crunch of the small boat after Sparrow and Will make their escape and disable the larger vessel is totally satisfying and thunders through the subwoofer.
Chapter 7 revealed a lot of Will’s background, as well as the true identity of his father. The crash of the waves vibrates to the subwoofer, and the background noises of the pirate town in Tortuga keep the surround sound system hopping. Sparrow quickly rounds up a crew and the chase is on. The rest of the movie is filled with chase and action sequences that kick our adrenaline up to the next level. Cannon fire thunders through the subwoofer, and good use is made of the surround sound system during battle sequences aboard ship and on land. The computer-generated action is topnotch, spooky and yet somehow comedic in so many ways.
As with any busy DVD, "Pirates of the Caribbean" is filled with extras. Ten hours of additional material is included in the two-disc set. Producer Bruckheimer has a reputation for honestly enjoying the projects he's involved with. Those who spend time with the extra materials will find it is time well spent with Bruckheimer, Depp, and the others. In addition to relaying stories about what happened during the actual filming of the movie and the behind-the-scenes events, we get a sense of the camaraderie that existed during the filmmaking. The blooper reel is hilarious, and almost worth the price of the DVD by itself. The deleted and alternate scenes, 19 of them, expand on the main story and show different takes on how things might have gone. Not to be missed are the featurettes involving computer-generated imagery and special effects that sometimes get overlooked or forgotten during the frantic pacing of the movie.
With its PG-13 rating, "Pirates the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" is definitely family-friendly movie and would be a great addition to the home collection for those rainy days and long winter nights ahead. Of course, with the subject matter revolving around dead pirates that turn into skeletons in the moonlight, viewing by really young children might be questionable. Youngsters who are not prone to nightmares or worrying about things that go bump in their closets will love this movie. Disney DVD should have attached a warning to this two-disc set: repeated viewings may cause viewers to feel the need to pick up a wooden sword, sneer, say, "Arr, matey!” a lot, and go looking for plunder.