The Good: Fun, Decent plot, Moments of acting, Moments of character, Special effects, Music
The Bad: Some predictability, Sparrow not as eccentric as I'd heard, Disney “standards"
The Basics: Fun and entertaining, The Curse Of The Black Pearl opens a new chapter in action-adventure/comedy and is worthy of a viewing, if not to own.
Sometimes, there is little point in writing a review. When I was still writing for the review website, I would occasionally look back at some of my older reviews that were buried under the 300 other reviews of the same film/product and I’d know that they are not being read. There is no point in writing a decent review for older material after twenty people have rated it. I can only imagine that there aren't people who look through the lists of reviews looking for an obscure reviewer. And, let's be honest, with some of the pop-culture standards like Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl, 99% of the movie-going public has already made up its mind, watched it or not and a review now is not going to sway someone. I doubt there is someone reading this review –in my brand spankin’ new blog - and saying, "Hmm . . .Pirates Of The Caribbean, I wonder if THAT'S a movie I would enjoy . . ." So, writing this review is somewhat pointless, save that reviews of well-reviewed works by some of us more obscure reviewers provides a baseline for our reviews on less-well-reviewed works. This review helps readers understand that my pantheon of reviews means. What does my 10/10 rating for Magnolia (reviewed here!) truly mean, if you can't compare it to something you've likely already seen? As important, what does my 0/10 rating for Did You Hear About The Morgans? (reviewed here!) or "Wrong Turn" truly mean if you can't compare it to another movie that is probably not as meaningful or well-known? And so . . .
When Disney announced that it was making a film based on their ride Pirates Of The Caribbean, I cringed. Some part of my mind was terrified that if it was successful, they would find a way to make their "Small World" ride into a movie complete with hypnotic, cult-indoctrinating theme and I would be forced into the killing spree I kept myself from as a child when visiting Disney World. Writers Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, and Jay Wolpert and director Gore Verbinski take a potentially deathly idea and create an entertaining comedy-adventure movie that succeeds beyond its concept.
As a child, young Will Turner is rescued from a pirate attack by a crew which includes Elizabeth Swann, who takes from him a necklace with a gold dubloon. Years later, as Turner pines for Swann and Swann - the local governor's daughter - avoids the advances and proposals of naval Commodore Norrington, the port they live in find themselves under siege by pirates who take Swann and head for the open sea. Desperate to recover the woman he loves, Turner enlists the aid of pirate captain Jack Sparrow, who is currently jailed in the port.
Sparrow and Turner steal a boat and head after the pirates that abducted Swann. They soon realize that the pirates are not normal, every day standard pirates. They are undead, cursed by stealing the gold and destined to roam the seas until all the pieces are back where they belong. Jack, who has a history with the ship - the Black Pearl - and its captain - the villainous Barbossa, uses the rescue attempt to gain revenge for wrongs done against him in the past and to recover the ship that used to be his.
Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl is entertaining and while I am not usually a fan of big special effects movies, the effects in this one are remarkably well done. The undead pirate crew is fun to watch and the effects move at a pace that makes them intriguing, easy to follow and of impressive quality. The effects are most prevalent at night, in moonlight, making it much easier to retain realism and the effects department seems quite attentive to this.
Similarly, the music is used quite well as an effect to keep the movie flowing. Whenever there is not a battle or significant dialogue, the music becomes sweeping and big to accompany the cinematography. Composers Klaus Badelt and Craig Eastman do fine work here using music as an effect.
What I like about The Curse Of The Black Pearl is that it is well put together. Things make sense and that is refreshing. So, those oriented to details will find much to enjoy about the movie. A nice example of this is that Sparrow's compass - when confiscated by the authorities - is noted as one that is not pointing North. It's not listed as "broken," just that it does not work like normal compasses. That becomes important and justifies the obsessive quality Jack has with preserving his personal effects.
This leads us to the characters. Given that this movie has been out in the public imagination for almost four years and already spawned one of the most successful sequels of all time - with another due this summer - there has been a lot of hype about the characters in The Curse Of The Black Pearl. That last sentence ought to be cut down; there has been a lot of hype about Captain Jack Sparrow. The best description anyone had given me before seeing The Curse Of The Black Pearl was that the movie works like two movies, with the standard pirate plot going in one predictable, regular direction, and one with the eccentric Jack Sparrow doing and saying things that are more winks to the audience.
I didn't see that. The Curse Of The Black Pearl only works because it does not take itself too seriously and the main force behind that is Captain Jack Sparrow, who - sadly - did not seem all that over-the-top to me. Sure, he's a crazy pirate, but he was hardly as funny or detached from the story or the other characters as I anticipated given the hype around him. Sparrow provides both comic relief and an opportunity to sell the idea of the treachery of the pirates. Sparrow works and he's what keeps the movie moving and entertaining.
Sadly, the more troubling character aspects come in two forms. The first is Captain Barbossa who is possibly the most subtle advertisement for Captain Morgan rum (how did they NOT do a tie-in here?!) and who is pretty much the villainous archetype. There seems to be no real connection to suggest why Sparrow would have had him as a member of his crew beforehand and little to suggest his ambition for a fleet of pirate ships once the curse is lifted. Morgan, er, Barbossa's big ambition to get the curse of the Aztec gold lifted is not so he won't be invincible, can wear decent clothes, or even make love to a woman. His ambition is to eat an apple. Fine, I can dig that. Man's been undead for a while, wants fresh fruit, cool. Why is it so easy for Sparrow to manipulate him with the prospect of more, then? It doesn't jive.
Far, far, far worse are the Disney influences on The Curse Of The Black Pearl, which I know is ironic for a Disney film. Disney has certain "kid friendly" standards that it keeps intact almost universally throughout its many animated and live-action films. Since Disney's rebirth of animated movies in the late '80s, early 90s, there have almost always been sidekicks for comic relief. Often they are a pair and their sole function in the movie is to make cheap gags, provide plot exposition for five year-olds and tell what the director isn't gifted enough to show or say what the writer cannot figure to say any other way. This might work in a "G" movie, but it's somewhat insulting in the PG-13 Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl.
In this movie, the pair is Pintel and Ragetti, undead pirates on Barbossa's ship, the latter of which is missing an eye. This witless pair explains pretty much everything, knocks into things and does things in an insultingly Disney way that most viewers are smart enough to figure out on their own or could live without.
That said, the rest of the characters are fairly standard. Elizabeth Swann is not a Disney princess, but rather the damsel in distress who at opportune moments can stand up for herself. Norrington is exceptionally generic as the "wealthy/successful suitor" that Swann should want and an adequate foil to Will Turner, down to how each uses objects in their surroundings. Turner almost always has his hands on something, Norrington gives orders to others, keeping his hands usually off the things he wants to manipulate.
And outside the characters, the action is pretty standard for a period piece like this. There are sword fights, people swinging on ropes, and the ship to ship battles involving cannon fire. The truth is, by the time this movie was made, it takes a lot to be a knockout with special effects battle scenes. The sword fights are living deep in the shadows of the battles from The Lord Of The Rings and Star Wars. It's just a factor of time, but there is nothing distinctive or great about them that pushes the envelope forward and the truth is, they are fairly unmemorable.
But they are entertaining. The swordfight between Turner and Sparrow is fun to watch. The stunts are decent, the pace is kept up well.
What makes The Curse Of The Black Pearl worth recommending and watching boils down ultimately is the acting. It's always wonderful to see Jonathan Pryce (save Carrington) and his role as Governor Weatherby Swann was one of the few pleasant surprises for me going into the movie. Orlando Bloom is fairly bland as Will Turner (there is nothing truly distinctive about him) and Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann continues her career as a photocopy of Winona Ryder. There is nothing here to recommend her performance as anything extraordinary.
So, it comes to Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Depp to sell The Curse Of The Black Pearl. And they do. Rush is playing the villainous Barbossa and while the character is problematic, Rush plays him well. There are moments where Barbossa must maintain a tired quality where his imprisonment as an undead wears on him and those moments Rush sells us on some form of underlying humanity in the character. And when he needs to be bad, Rush sells us on that with his icy gaze and menacing tones.
It is Johnny Depp that rules the movie, as Jack Sparrow. What Depp does - better than the character in some ways - is sell the idea that Sparrow is not necessarily crazy or not part of the world, but rather that in order to live the life the Captain is living, he has to act the way he does. Depp is adept at the fast-talk, the quick reversal and the physical comedy needed to keep The Curse Of The Black Pearl moving and from taking itself too seriously.
In the end, The Curse Of The Black Pearl is a pirate movie that is effectively mixing comedy and adventure to be something worthwhile and entertaining. But it's not saying something larger and its quality is in entertainment value, primarily in the form of the two biggest characters in the movie - Sparrow and Barbossa. If you want fun, this'll do.
But don't expect more.
For other films featuring Johnny Depp, please visit my reviews of:
Alice In Wonderland
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
For other movie reviews, please visit my index page!
© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.