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Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 09 July 2003
“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” starts with a fairly suspect example of a “creative impulse” – it is based on an amusement park ride. Well, surprise, and shame on anyone who leapt to snobbish premature conclusions about the enterprise. “Pirates” turns out to be great fun, with a smart, funny, intricate script by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio (based on a story by the duo, Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert), excellent CGI effects, energetic and inventive performances and a plotline that actually suggests that the tableaux on the “Pirates” ride all tie logically together into the tale told here.

When a young boy is found shipwrecked by the governor (Jonathan Pryce) of Jamaica, the official’s young daughter hides the pirate medallion she finds on the lad, in order to spare him from hanging. Years later, the boy has grown into upright blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and the girl has grown into the spirited and lovely Elizabeth (Keira Knightley). The duo clearly adore one another, but are kept apart both by their vastly different stations in life and by their innate shyness. However, when Port Royale comes under attack and Elizabeth is kidnapped by the crew of the Black Pearl, pirate-hating Will must team up with Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Jack is not just any pirate – he’s the victim of a mutiny, the Pearl’s former captain and just a bit odd. Then again, there’s something much more than a bit odd about the Pearl’s current captain (Geoffrey Rush) and crew when the moonlight hits them.

The titular curse in fact does a bang-up job of tying in all of the “Pirates” ride’s skeleton iconography, motivating all those bloodthirsty buccaneers and providing a terrific reason to enlist imagery from “Army of Darkness,” which in turn owes a huge debt to the work of Ray Harryhausen. While the skeletal pirates are probably too scary for very young viewers, everybody else will be delighted by this inspired intersection of swashbuckler and monster genres (“horror” would be overstating the case, given the boisterous mood).

Director Gore Verbinski has glee, flair, a good grasp of his tone – think Richard Lester’s “Musketeers” movies – and such a smooth sense of pacing that “Pirates” doesn’t feel long, even though it is over two hours in length. The visuals are utterly engaging – Verbinski and the writers manage to connect with the kid in all of us that thrilled to the “Pirates” ride way back in childhood.

The cast is also excellent, with Depp pulling out the stops so far that he recalls Tim Curry’s similarly fearless turn as Frank N. Furter in “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Depp’s Jack is so proud of his roguishness that it’s a bit of a pose. He’s unscrupulous and wily, but so image-conscious that sometimes scheming takes a back seat to publicity, even when he’s staring death in the face. The character is a storyteller who craves attention but occasionally gets so caught up in the weirdness he’s relating that he gets sidetracked, or simply loses his place with an expression of self-accepting confusion. Rush is sweepingly, joyously villainous as Captain Barbossa, Bloom is the epitome of a stalwart young hero as Will and Knightley is captivating as the admirable Elizabeth. Pryce adds welcome urbanity to the governor and Jack Davenport is good as a cold-blooded, class-conscious military man.

The discrete sound is splendid, with booming cannons firing from all corners of the theatre, ringing sword clashes and a screeching monkey that’s good for at least one big sonic scare. The picture quality is nicely clear, even in all those nighttime sequences – of course, since the night sequences are designed to accommodate all the CGI effects, the filmmakers have the advantage of being able to color the background as they choose.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” is wonderful fun – yes, it’s commercial and calculated, but it’s done so well that it’s just about impossible to object to it. It has the old-fashioned values of solid storytelling and genuine thrills, mixed with modern pacing and up-to-date effects, which makes for a cinematic popcorn movie blessing.

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