Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Directed by Gore Verbinski

I admit it; I wasn’t expecting much of this movie. It’s from Disney; it’s based on a theme park ride. What kind of movie could you possibly make with this combination?

A very good one, apparently.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is a great, swashbuckling adventure movie in the tradition of old Hollywood movies and the later Indiana Jones films.

Like Spielberg and George Lucas earlier in those Indiana Jones movies, director Gore Verbinski and writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio seemed to have taken this film as an opportunity to not simply make a good film of a certain type but to have a lot of fun doing it. And this really comes across on screen.

Disney, who some of us tend to think of as the corporate anti-Christ, the devil against whom all creative people must battle, somehow have again put together a DVD package that most of us wish other studios would follow.

From the beginning of the film to the end, Verbinski and Co. have filled the movie with every kind of swashbuckling, adventure scene you could imagine.

Yet they manage to knit all these scenes into a compelling storyline (if a bit episodic).

There are twists and turns throughout as they use the Robert Louis Stevenson technique of identity manipulations – as soon as we think we know a character, it turns out there is something we didn’t know.

An obvious example is Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) who is unaware of his true identity (a standard theme of adventure stories of the 18th century). And Bloom plays him perfectly. His face communicates his honesty, integrity and bravery.

Then there’s the mysterious and quirky Captain Jack Sparrow, played by Johnny Depp. He’s another character you’re never quite sure about. Is he a hero or a villain? A fool or clever? Drunk or sly?

Depp plays him in such a way that you’re never quite sure. While some of this is likely in the script, I think Depp’s performance really nails the character’s oddball qualities and leaves us always wondering.

Depp often brings curious elements to his performances. He’s a kind of latter day Brando. He takes risks; tries different things. The result tends to be either a bizarre and baffling performance or something brilliant.

I think he’s brilliant more often than he is off the mark and here, in Pirates, he’s bang on.

Finally, there is Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa. Has any actor ever had so much fun playing a pirate?

I think any other actor doing what Rush does would come across as way over the top and silly.

But Rush gets it and ends up with a bristly pirate that meets the standard and sets it anew. Arrrr!!!

Above all, this movie is just plain fun. In that sense, it does have something of the feel of an amusement park ride. It takes you up and it takes you down and all the while you squeal with delight.

This is what they call a grand adventure and one of the year’s best movies. If you haven’t see it – go! See it now.

3½ stars out of 4.

(Originally published in 2003.)

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