Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Pirate films were a Hollywood staple for about three decades, from the mid-1920s (The Sea Hawk, The Black Pirate) to the mid-1950s, when the genre, by then relegated to mostly B films, began to die down. Sporadic resurrections in the last two decades have been disastrous (Pirates, Cutthroat Island), something that didn't bode well for Disney's film "adaptation" of one of their theme-park rides. However, Neptune has apparently been in a better mood of late. He has smiled – grinned would be a more appropriate word – on Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, an enjoyable (if a little overlong) romp and one of the biggest box office hits of 2003.
The flimsy plot follows the young Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), daughter of Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce) of Port Royal, as she is kidnapped by a band of pirates led by the fearsome Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Even though Elizabeth has been promised to another, lovestruck swordsman Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) sets out to rescue her from the bowels of Captain Barbossa's ship, the Black Pearl.
Enter an eccentric, more than a little fey ship captain, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), whose vessel has just sank without a trace. Turns out that Captain Barbossa and Jack are old enemies – and that the evil Captain and his crew are suffering the effects of a horrific curse that has turned them into the undead.
Together, Will and Jack will fight the mean-spirited ghostly pirates in order to save their lady-in-distress from a fate much, but much worse than plain, old-fashioned death.
In The Curse of the Black Pearl, several elements helped to transform the cliched, borderline cutesy boy-rescues-girl storyline into – almost – film magic. Director Gore Verbinski, fresh off the commercially successful The Ring, demonstrates that he has the right touch for this sort of mindless entertainment. For even though the magic of Michael Curtiz and William Keighley's The Adventures of Robin Hood is missing here, Pirates of the Caribbean offers lively swordfights, bits of witty dialogue, awesome special effects, hammy acting, and even a girl-rescues-boy episode that should please the most jaded of filmgoers.
Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush, two performers that have a predisposition to overact, are let loose in this one. Surprisingly, they manage to walk on their respective histrionic tightropes, mugging and gesticulating all the way through, without ever falling off. Since Depp and Rush are impersonating larger-than-life characters, their grandiose acting styles – without a hint of self-importance – are made to order.
Depp's delightfully amoral Jack Sparrow, the long-lost offspring of the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards and limp-wristed Old Hollywood comedienne ZaSu Pitts, is particularly notable. (According to reports, Depp's inspirations were actually Richards and Pepe LePew.) Never, not even as the aberrantly awful director Ed Wood has the actor created such a beautifully delineated specimen of homo bizarrus, flawless low-class British accent and all.
To boot, Pirates presents the new Tyrone Power, Orlando Bloom, who is as dashing as the star of The Black Swan – and perhaps an even better actor. In The Curse of the Black Pearl, gone are the fake blond hair and the vapid stare that had marred Bloom's Lord of the Rings performance.
Now, movies with in-depth character development can last longer than two hours. Empty-headed adventure films are meant to last considerably less. With a running time of almost 2 ½ hours, Pirates does overstay its welcome a bit. The film's editors could have easily excised a good 20 minutes without any significant loss either in continuity or in entertainment. That said, when Depp starts lisping, Rush begins to spit venom, Bloom grabs his sword, and Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer's rousing music plays at full throttle, all is forgiven. And how many films, whether on land or on water, boasts in its cast a cute little zombie monkey?
Note: A version of this Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl review was initially posted in October 2004.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (2003). Director: Gore Verbinski. Cast: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Lee Arenberg. Screenplay: Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio; from an original screen story by Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert.
5 Academy Award Nominations
Best Actor: Johnny Depp
Best Visual Effects: John Knoll, Hal T. Hickel, Charles Gibson, Terry D. Frazee
Best Sound Mixing: Christopher Boyes, David Parker, David E. Campbell, Lee Orloff
Best Sound Editing: Christopher Boyes, George Watters II
Best Make-Up: Ve Neill, Martin Samuel