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Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Review

By Shawn McKenzie 07/09/2003

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is the second attempt by Disney to make a movie based on one of their theme park rides, following last year’s disastrous The Country Bears.  This time they got it right though.


The legendary (at least in his own mind) Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) was the captain of the infamous Black Pearl.  That was until his first mate, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), lead a mutiny and stole his ship.  Barbossa now leads a group of pirates that includes his first mate Bo’sun (Isaac C. Singleton Jr.), the bumbling duo Pintel (Lee Arenberg) and wooden-eyed Ragetti (Mackenzie Crook), Koehler (Treva Etienne), Twigg (Michael Berry Jr.), Grapple (Trevor Goddard), and Mallot (Brye Cooper.)  Now constantly drunk and surly, Jack has arrived in the town of Port Royal to commandeer (i.e. steal) another ship.  Mullroy (Angus Barnett) and Murtogg (Giles New), two guards assigned to protect the HMS Interceptor, the fastest ship in the land and the property of Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport), first confront Jack.  Meanwhile, Norrington was proposing to the Governor Weatherby Swann’s (Jonathan Pryce) daughter, Elizabeth (Keira Knightley.)  Since her corset was too tight, she fainted and fell over the ledge into the water.  Jack notices this as he is goofing with the guards and dives in to save her.  Norrington is grateful to Jack for saving her, but jails him anyway, since he is a pirate.  That night, the pirates of the Black Pearl storm Fort Charles, the Governor’s residence, and kidnap Elizabeth.  They want a pirate medallion that she took from her childhood friend, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), when they first fished him out of the water when they were kids.  It seems the pirates need the medallion to rid them of a curse that was given to them by someone whose treasure they had stolen.  The curse was that they would forever live as the undead, where they would become living skeletons when the moonlight hit them.  They couldn’t be killed, but apparently they preferred to be among the living in the traditional way.  They also needed the blood of someone on Jack’s original crew, and they think that’s Elizabeth, who has told them her last name is Turner, so they wouldn’t know that she was the Governor’s daughter.  She is a tough woman, but she allowed herself to be kidnapped so she could invoke the “right of parley,” which is the right to be taken to a ship’s captain unharmed.  She figured that all they wanted was the medallion, and that once they got it they would leave.  They think she is the daughter of William “Bootstrap Bill” Turner, a member of Jack’s original crew.  They figured his blood flowed through her, so she was good enough to break the curse.  Will Jr. breaks Jack out of jail in exchange for his assistance in rescuing Elizabeth and getting the Black Pearl back.  They commandeer the HMS Interceptor and head off after the Black Pearl.  Norrington follows them aboard his warship, the HMS Dauntless, with Lieutenant Gillette (Damian O’Hare), Mullroy, Murtogg, and the rest of his British fleet.  After escaping Fort Charles, Will and Jack go to Tortuga to recruit anyone they can to be his crew.  This includes Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin R. McNally), the parroted-mute Cotton (David Bailie), and the only female pirate, Anamaria (Zoe Saldana), whom Jack promises the Interceptor to once the mission was completed.  Will and Jack must rescue Elizabeth before Barbossa kills her for his own evil deeds, all while avoiding the pursuit of Norrington.


With only the stain of The Country Bears in my head, I saw a lot of potential in this one.  First, Gore Verbinski, who has actually improved with every film he has made, directed it.  His first film, Mouse Hunt, was essentially Home Alone with a mouse, and his second film, The Mexican, was the big star film that couldn’t deliver the goods.  His third film, however, was The Ring, the first truly scary horror film since The Sixth Sense and The Others.  Second, the film had Depp in it.  Even though the previews for this film made his character look a little goofy, Depp is always the best part of even some truly bad movies.  In this movie, his goofy look was appropriate, since he is very flamboyant and drunk throughout the film (and no…it doesn’t get old after a while.)  Both Verbinski and Depp delivered in this one.


I’d like to compare the movie to the old Errol Flynn movies, but I’ve never seen an Errol Flynn movie.  Other critics make the comparison, and it makes me want to catch one of them next time they play on TCM.  I will tell you that, aside from the very cool skeleton special effects, this feels like an old-fashioned swashbuckler.  The stunts are fittingly over the top and fun to watch.

Don’t let its theme park tie-in scare you, because Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is worth checking out.  It may not be a sequel or a comic book adaptation, but it is worth your hard-earned money.  It gives me hope for the next theme park-based film, Haunted Mansion, coming out in November and starring Eddie Murphy (though it does cement Murphy’s place in kiddie movie purgatory, along with Daddy Day Care.)  I hear that they are possibly considering making this a franchise (hence the subtitle.)  As long as Verbinski and Depp are involved, and the master of the summer blockbuster, Jerry Bruckheimer, once again produces it, I might give it a chance.  Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum for this movie!

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