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Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (A Movie Review)

Updated: 2 days ago


Starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Geoffrey Rush, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook, Damian O'Hare, Giles New, Angus Barnett, David Bailie, Michael Berry Jr., Isaac C. Singleton Jr. and Kevin R. McNally.

Screenplay by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio.

Directed by Gore Verbinski.

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. 143 minutes. Rated PG-13.

There is no movie critic cliché that I hate so much as "It's a great ride." Filmmaking and the construction of amusement parks are two totally different art forms. A thrill ride is just a couple of minutes of adrenaline-rushed sensation. It has no sense of character, no sense of plot, no need for subtlety or nuance. Well, Walt Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean is in an interesting position. It is only the second major motion picture ever based on an amusement park ride (and I don't think most people count The Country Bears, either as a film or as an attraction.)

Well, I have to say, as a ride, Pirates of the Caribbean is a great movie. It is an action-packed, funny, awe-inspiring flight of fancy.

The highlight of the film is Johnny Depp's wonderfully eccentric reading of legendary pirate Captain Jack Sparrow. Sparrow is in equal parts a swashbuckling rake, a scoundrel, a rock star, an athlete, a coward, a drag queen, a fearless leader, and a shell-shocked veteran. The performance is giddily over-the-top and grandiose, and it works much better than it has any right to. No other actor working would have the balls to tackle the character in this way, or the chutzpah to pull it off.

Geoffrey Rush also gleefully chews the scenery as Barbossa, a pirate Captain who is cursed to travel the seas as a member of the undead.

The grand guignol passions and offbeat aura of these two leads energizes the film – particularly since most of the other characters are a little bland in their heroism. Pirates tells the story of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), a swordsmith who does not realize that he is the ancestor of a famous pirate. Since he was a boy, Will has been in love with Elizabeth Swann, the lovely daughter of the local governor (Keira Knightley, almost unrecognizable from her role as the best friend in Bend It Like Beckham.) The legendary ghost pirate ship the Black Pearl kidnaps Elizabeth, because she possesses a piece of jewelry that can undo the curse on the ship. Turner releases Sparrow from jail in return for the captain helping him free his love.

They put together a ragtag fleet and follow the ship. This leads to a series of swashbuckling swordfights, death-defying stunts, mind-boggling treasures, and attacks by skeleton pirates. Many people (me included) wondered if it was possible to make a pirate film that wouldn't seem like a bloated relic at this point in history. Pirates of the Caribbean - The Curse of the Black Pearl is wonderful proof that it is, indeed, possible.

Pirates may go on a little longer than it should, but it is still a rousing entertainment. After a summer full of completely unimpressive action films, I'm glad someone has finally done one right. (7/03)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2003 All rights reserved. Posted: July 22, 2003.

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