Pirates of the Caribbean
review by Elias Savada, 29 August 2003

What kind of film reviewer chimes in with his comments six weeks after a major film has been released? My kind. Listen, if this was a full-time gig, you could call consumer affairs. My life is more than just sitting at the movies (well, not much more, but still…), and I've been decompressing from a international conference (on Jewish Genealogy) that I was co-chairing. Anyway, I apologize for the delay, now on with the show.

Having already come ashore with a summer-to-date boxoffice gross of over $261 million since its release in July, it's easy to see what has attracted such a wide audience to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Plenty of wild action, a well-directed adventure, the requisite number of digital effects, a witty albeit slightly flawed screenplay (based on an amusement ride, no less), and a dashing cast caught up in their wickedly eccentric characters. The downside: it overstays its seaworthiness by half an hour and no one seems to figure out that you can't kill the undead no matter how you slice and dice them (although it makes for amusing, yet extended, swordplay).

Gore Verbinski (Mouse Hunt, The Mexican, The Ring) may be at the helm of the ship, but its architect is producer Jerry Bruckheimer, one of the most influential people in Hollywood and one who really knows how to sell a ton of popcorn to his audiences. At one point this summer, he had the top two pictures in release (Pirates, Bad Boys II). And the Walt Disney Company couldn't be happier that the Caribbean is real close to their heart and their Florida theme park. With Pirates and its other fish-out-of-water tale, Finding Nemo, Uncle Walt's family finds itself with nearly 19% of the boxoffice market share this year.

Artistically, the film is a jolly roger rollercoaster of fun. The screenplay and screen story by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, who teamed up for Shrek and The Mask of Zorro, among other films, with input from pirate buff Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert (The Count of Monte Cristo), both of whom provided earlier drafts. Of course, this wasn't the first film Disney based on a theme park attraction. That is going to make a great trivia question some day. (The Answer: The Country Bears.)

In general, pirate movies, like westerns, don't seem to have large audience appeal these days. Kevin Costner seems to have reinvented, again, the latter genre with Open Range, while Pirates of the Caribbean was certainly touch-and-go before its release, based on more recent swashbuckling duds, particularly Renny Harlin's Cutthroat Island. For those old enough to remember The Pirate Movie (1982), now there was a disaster of a buccaneer movie that should have killed off the genre. It was so bad the entire preview audience was talking back to the dreadful dialogue, at least making it a memorable evening.

Thank you, Mr. Bruckheimer, for bringing back the dead.

Does it grab you from frame one and maintain its comic rapture for the next 200,000 frames? For the most part, yes, and it's mostly because of Johnny Depp's infectiously irreverent performance as Jack Sparrow, a devilish rogue of a pirate with the audacious street smarts of an eighteenth-century MacGiver decorative makeup hints courtesy of Marilyn Manson, and some hair coiffing left over from his brief work in Terry Gilliam's failed Don Quixote project. Dr. Rick Glassman is given suitable credit for Depp's "Dental Special Effects."

After a prologue that tickles your interest, we’re pushed ahead several years to the bustling Port Royal, where a young girl has blossomed into Elizabeth Swann (the statuesque Keira Knightley, who reminds me of Brooke Shields), daughter of the port's Governor (Jonathan Pryce). The Gov wants his strong and independent offspring to marry the ambitious and pithy Captain (soon to be Commodore) Norrington (Jack Davenport), a villainous authoritarian nincompoop cut from the same mold as Don Rafael Montero in Elliott and Rossio's The Mark of Zorro. She'd rather not. Then, Sparrow makes a grand entrance aboard (barely) a sinking ship and soon befuddles most of the unbelievably gullible British Navy with tall tales, derring do, and a great deal of amusing double talk. Lives intertwine. It's all quite hilarious.

But darkness fogs the landscape and some old, now ghostly, pals of Sparrow arrive in town aboard that cursed Black Pearl, proceeding to ransack the neighborhood and provide some enjoyable gallows humor, where Jack misses a dawn appointment. It seems he's busy elsewhere, with master craftsman Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) -- who has a distant wanting for Elizabeth -- hijacking the fastest ship in the British fleet. The kidnapped modern miss, who seems peculiarly well versed in the "Code of the Pirates" (i.e., running gag), discovers the ghastly secret of Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and his blunderful, plunderful crew.

The pirates, with their skeleton crew, and the prissy Brits crisscross the haunted high seas, doing battle and crossing swords on numerous occasions, often stopping midstream to spit out some barbaric one liners or grizzled silliness. None of the living stop to think "Why are we firing weapons of mass destruction against people who are already dead?" but no one seems to care! There's talk about 882 Aztec gold trinkets and the curse of Cortez, of a blood sacrifice on Isla de Muerta (an island set on loan from Raiders of the Lost Ark), and quite a few other Saturday afternoon serial shenanigans. It all makes for a feel-good summer adventure, even if it sags as it stretches past the second hour.

Pirates of the Caribbean has a infectious robust comic vanity about itself that makes for a jovial, seafaring adventure. It's quite a curse of a film.

Directed by:
Gore Verbisnki

Johnny Depp
Geoffrey Rush
Orlando Bloom
Keira Knightley
Jack Davenport
Jonathan Pryce

Written by:
Ted Elliott 
Terry Rossio

PG - Parental
Guidance Suggested.
Some material may
not be appropriate 
for children.







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