Pirates of the Caribbean:
The Curse of the Black Pearl

By Kim Hollis

July 11, 2003

Looks like Legolas has upgraded from hobbits and dwarves.

Avast, ye scurvy dogs! Get thee to a movie theater right away, because Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is a fantastic adventure that is not to be missed.

Considering that the story is conceived from a theme ride at the various Disney parks, it would have been really easy for Pirates of the Caribbean to repeat the failures of last year’s Country Bears. Instead, what we are given is a nigh-perfect, rip-roaring, swashbuckling summer movie that is sure to become a quotable classic in years to come.

And let’s be frank. The primary reason for the movie’s success is the scene-chewing virtuosity of Johnny Depp, who brilliantly portrays pirate Captain Jack Sparrow with a wild abandon that throws caution to the wind. The actor is always best in roles that allow him to push the envelope of outrageousness, and his part in Pirates of the Caribbean is no exception.

Never before has such a dirty, unsavory, ambiguous character been so appealing. Captain Jack Sparrow is impossibly attractive in his ugliness, and Depp is unabashed in his willingness to be both the butt of the joke and dispenser of perfectly timed and delivered quips.

There’s more to Pirates of the Caribbean than just Johnny Depp, though. The story revolves around two young people -- one a blacksmith, the other a governor’s daughter -- who clearly have feelings for each other that each both are trying to keep hidden due to their class differences. The two young lovers are sent on an inevitably colliding path when a band of pirates invades their provincial seaside town, kidnapping our heroine, Elizabeth Swann, in the process. Will Turner, the optimistic and youthful blacksmith, enlists the assistance of rival pirate Captain Sparrow to rescue the gamine damsel. Of course, as anyone who has seen commercials, trailers, or is vaguely familiar with the story knows, things are immensely complicated by the fact that the villainous pirates are victims of a curse that renders them nearly unstoppable.

Two excellent up-and-coming actors take on the parts of Elizabeth and Will in the film. Keira Knightley, who co-starred in the recent indie hit Bend It Like Beckham, is enchanting as the tomboyish and clever girl of privilege. Her counterpart is played by Orlando Bloom, who is stealing teenage girls’ hearts thanks to landing the role of Legolas in the monster Lord of the Rings series. He’s unremarkable in the role but then again, he isn’t really meant to stand out all that much since Will is essentially the straight man to Captain Sparrow’s jocular wiseacre.

Also vital to the goings on is the movie’s primary villain, Captain Barbossa, portrayed by the inimitable Geoffrey Rush. His performance is just a notch below that of Depp’s, imbuing the iniquitous Barbossa with an oily and degenerate glee.

There are some top-drawer supporting performances, too. Jack Davenport (who has a following thanks to his role on the BBC’s Coupling) is surprisingly multifaceted as the upstanding Commodore Norrington. I had expected his part to be rather small, but the pleasant surprise is that this talented actor actually gets a lot to do. In another smaller role, David Bailie is also worthy of note as Cotton, a friend and eventual crew member for Captain Sparrow.

Two comic relief duos are good for a number of laughs and are definitely set to be audience favorites. The first of these are two members of the Royal Navy, Murtogg and Mullroy (Giles New and Angus Barnett). This pair’s interaction with Captain Sparrow is well-written and snappy, requiring actors with an excellent sense of timing to make the scenes work, and New and Barnett are absolutely up to the challenge. On the other side of the fence are cursed pirates Pintel and Ragetti (Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook), who turn the word “parley” and conventions of the sea into humorous running gags. The odd-looking duo is also responsible for much of the visual humor that pervades the film.

After the grandiose performance of Depp, of course, the real stars of the film are the cursed pirates. The digital effects by ILM aren’t good so much in an awe-inspiring Matrix way as they are clever, effective and funny in a classic Ghostbusters manner. At times evocative of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series, the skeletal pirates move in a surprisingly natural manner and the visuals as the crew moves in and out of the moonlight are all well done.

A rousing score from Hans Zimmer helps to mesh Pirates together thematically. The man responsible for the music for films such as The Lion King, Gladiator and Black Hawk Down has created an accompanying soundtrack that is memorable and very in touch with the action that takes place in the movie.

It all ties together so well thanks to director Gore Verbinski, who is coming off an outstanding atmospheric effort in The Ring and who has done a terrific job of melding just the right blend of humor, action, and goofy scares in Pirates of the Caribbean. Thanks to his expert guidance along with the tutelage of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Pirates of the Caribbean is easily one of the summer's best films.

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