Geoffrey RushGuy SinerKeira KnightleyOrlando Bloom
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Medium: film
Year: 2003
Director: Gore Verbinski
Writer: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert
Keywords: fantasy, historical, pirates
Country: USA
Actor: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook, Damian O'Hare, Giles New, Angus Barnett, David Bailie, Michael Berry Jr., Isaac C. Singleton Jr., Kevin McNally, David Schofield, Treva Etienne, Zoe Saldana, Guy Siner
Format: 143 minutes
Website category: Fantasy
Review date: 18 September 2011
To be honest, this isn't something I'd have chosen to watch. The reason we had it on is that someone lent us the Pirates of the Caribbean DVDs and so we had it running in the background while I was mask-making. I watched it all, but I wasn't giving it my full attention.
That said, it's efficient entertainment. It's a swashbuckling adventure with excellent momentum and has an eye-catching central performance from Johnny Depp.
Firstly, it's one of those big films that earns its length. The most successful adventure films do that. Star Wars, Indiana Jones... they can be two and a half hours long and you hardly notice because they've got so much energy. The scale becomes a virtue. Anyway, this film does that... although I notice that some critics disagree with me on that, including Roger Ebert. Anyway, Jack Sparrow's the film's engine, effectively embodying three movies in one. There's tension between him and:
(a) the good guys, for whom he's their best chance of getting out of this alive but still as trustworthy as Dracula at a blood bank,
(b) the British colonial authorities, who want him executed as a no-good pirate (which he is)
(c) Geoffrey Rush and the crew of the Black Pearl, who have history with Jack and are evil undead bastards.
I'd been expecting slightly more from Johnny Depp's performance than I got. I'd heard all the stories, you see. Depp did his research and decided that pirates were the 18th century equivalent of rock stars. His final performance was inspired by his friend Keith Richards. He surprised everyone at the first read-through and got Disney's executives asking him if he was drunk or gay. I was thus expecting something completely off the wall... but Depp's not doing that. He's not being wacky for its own sake. The character works in the film and is fun to watch, but his choices wouldn't be remarkable in something like Doctor Who.
The quality of his performance would be, though. Depp's work here got him nominated for a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and an Oscar.
The supporting cast are excellent. Geoffrey Rush is someone I'm always happy to watch, but there's also Jonathan Pryce in a back-up role and a stalwart line-up of other British thespians. Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom are fine. I'm very happy with all these names and I note with interest that if I continue with this series, I'll get Bill Nighy and Ian McShane too. Judged as a Hollywood blockbuster franchise, from an acting point of view I suspect this might be the best of them.
The problem of course is that it's about pirates. I'm on the side of the hangman-happy pompous English here. Pirates need hanging and I'd have been delighted to see Jack Sparrow's neck stretched at any time. Now in fairness the film confronts this issue head-on and makes it a central plank of its theme. It's not just saying "pirates are cool", but mounting an energetic defence of the proposition that "pirates are criminal scum" and making its English authorities surprisingly decent people. They're not villains. This is good. However I'm not sure that the film ever produces any arguments to support its eventual thesis that pirates sometimes deserve our admiration and gratitude, as far as I can see just hoping that we love Johnny Depp.
I don't understand the bird connection, though. The names of the three main characters are linked to birds. Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth Swann are obvious, but William Turner was a 16th century ornithologist.
What I liked best about this film was (a) Depp, and (b) the undead pirates. You can't go wrong with undead pirates, especially when they have a creepy undead monkey. We've seen walking skeletons before, but that an undead pet is a novelty. That was cool.
Overall, I thought this was a thoroughly professional romp with lots of personality. It deserved its success. It also has considerably more historical verisimilitude than it might have had, which is something I'll give a lot of points for. However I've also said it's not the kind of film I'd normally seek out, even though that says more about me than it does about the movie. It's an exciting adventure. That's it. There's nothing surprising about it, unless you count Depp's performance. I don't think there's a single moment in it that's trying to make me think. Instead it's the kind of cinematic comfort food you'd put on when you just want to put up your feet and relax.
It's better than I'd expected, for what it's worth.