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1 item from 2003

Pirates of the Caribbean

16 September 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »


Wednesday, July 9

Since the previous Walt Disney Co. film based on one of its theme park attractions was the unbearable "The Country Bears", "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" is surprisingly not bad. For one thing, the filmmakers draw upon the entire legend and lore of pirate life -- of high-seas ambushes, mountains of gold, cruel captains, lusty rogues, feisty damsels, drunken sailors, barroom brawls, ancient curses and furious sword fights. So the film pays bemused tribute not only to one of Disneyland's most popular rides but those old swashbucklers who once graced movie screens.

Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio are mostly associated with animation, and this is one time when a cartoon approach in live action is exactly right: The movie's flamboyant personalities and tongue-in-cheek action push the envelope of high camp without ever succumbing to sheer silliness. This $100 million-plus production, stylishly directed by Gore Verbinski and lavishly produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, has the makings of one of summer's big hits.

The film includes a number of "scenes" from the Disneyland ride, such as the imprisoned pirates trying to coax a dog carrying a jailhouse key toward their cell to a raucous tavern featuring zaftig serving wenches. But the smartest borrowing -- and one of the best of the 600-odd visual effects shots -- is the living skeletons.

The curse of the title occurs when black-hearted Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) relieves fellow pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) not only of his command but his ship, the Black Pearl, and its treasure, leaving him to die on a tiny isle. Sparrow mysteriously survives and, as the movie opens, sails into Port Royal harbor in little more than a dinghy.

What Sparrow doesn't learn until later is that the Pearl's treasure carries a curse that dooms his former crew to sail the seas as the undead. Only moonlight reveals them as living skeletons.

The Pearl attacks Port Royal, just after Sparrow arrives, to retrieve a gold medallion. This is the last piece of the plundered treasure. If the treasure is completely restored along with the payment of a "blood debt," the curse will lift. The crew also kidnaps the medallion's owner, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), daughter of the governor (Jonathan Pryce). Two men pursue the Black Pearl, hoping to rescue this beauteous damsel: Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), a blacksmith and childhood friend secretly in love with her, and haughty Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport), who fancies himself her fiance.

Despite his loathing of pirates, Will joins forces with Sparrow. The duo hijacks the fastest ship in the British fleet and sets sail for the Isla de Meurta, where the pirates hope to break their curse.

This sets up a series of set pieces of comic action and effects -- the attack on Port Royal, the escape of Sparrow and Will, sea battles between the Black Pearl and other vessels, no less than two climaxes in a torch-lit island cave and, most impressively, moonlit battles between British sailors and pirate skeletons.

Actors try out a range of salty brogues that pitches much of the dialogue in a sea of confusing accents. However, Depp takes the opposite approach with precise enunciation of every line in what is best described as an accentless accent. Depp plays his charming rascal in the lightheaded manner of a man who has either been in the sun too long or knows something no one else does. Perhaps it's a bit of both.

Rush zeroes in on the comedy in his wily villain. Knightley continues to display the athleticism exhibited in "Bent It Like Beckham" as a damsel who is able and willing to fight and escape with the best of men. In the closest thing to a straight man in the movie, Bloom attacks his role with the pent-up fury of a man who only hates pirates because pirate blood races in his veins.

The large cast, costumed and made up as filthy scalawags and sinister buccaneers, gives tremendous energy to every scene. There are many solid gags among this motley crew -- the pirate forever chasing his false eye, the parrot trained to speak for its mute master, the series of fetching wenches who deliver slaps to Sparrow for past wrongs.

Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and production designer Brian Morris manage to convey the giddy feel of the original Disneyland ride -- that we are in a dark world, where we may safely gasp and giggle at its outlandish villainy and savage avarice. Klaus Bedelt's music is at times over the top, but he takes his cue from a production that banishes all subtlety.

Next up in Disney's self-looting is "The Haunted Mansion" in November. Let's just hope they never tackle "It's a Small World".


Buena Vista Pictures

Walt Disney Pictures in association with Jerry Bruckheimer Films


Director: Gore Verbinski

Screenwriters: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio

Screen story by: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert

Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer

Executive producers: Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, Bruce Hendricks, Paul Deason

Director of photography: Dariusz Wolski

Production designer: Brian Morris

Music: Klaus Badelt

Costume designer: Penny Rose

Editors: Craig Wood, Stephen Rivkin, Arthur Schmidt


Jack Sparrow: Johnny Depp

Barbossa: Geoffrey Rush

Will Turner: Orlando Bloom

Elizabeth Swann: Keira Knightley

Norrington: Jack Davenport

Gov Swann: Jonathan Pryce

Pintel: Lee Arenberg

Ragetti: Mackenzie Crook

Running time -- 144 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13 »

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