'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl' review: Mostly an enjoyable romp (Oscar Movie Series)
Pirate movies were a Hollywood staple for about three decades, from the mid-'20s (The Sea Hawk, The Black Pirate) to the mid-to-late '50s (Moonfleet, The Buccaneer), when the genre, by then mostly relegated to B films, began to die down. Sporadic resurrections in the '80s and '90s turned out to be critical and commercial bombs (Pirates, Cutthroat Island), something that didn't bode well for the Walt Disney Company's $140 million-budgeted film "adaptation" of one of their theme-park rides. But Neptune's mood has apparently improved with the arrival of the new century. He smiled – grinned would be a more appropriate word – on the Gore Verbinski-directed Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, an enjoyable (if a little overlong) romp that became one of the biggest box office hits of 2003.
'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl' plot
The flimsy plot follows the young Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), daughter of Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce) of Port Royal, Jamaica, as she is kidnapped by a band of pirates led by the fearsome Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Although Elizabeth has been promised to navy officer James Norrington (Jack Davenport), 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 and 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.
'Almost' – but not quite – 'film magic'
In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, several elements help to transform the cliched boy-rescues-girl storyline into – almost – film magic. Director Gore Verbinski, fresh off the commercially successful horror flick 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 – excessive length is an issue, while the sense of fun feels a tad laborious at times – The Curse of the Black Pearl offers lively sword fights, 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 'made to order'
Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush, two performers ever eager to chew on the scenery around them, 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 – this time around without any 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 effective. (According to reports, Depp's inspirations were actually Richards and Pepe LePew.) Never before, not even as the aberrantly awful director Ed Wood, has the actor created such a cleverly delineated specimen of homo bizarrus, flawless low-class British accent and all.
To boot, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl presents the would-be Tyrone Power of the early 21st century: a new and improved Orlando Bloom, who cuts as dashing a figure as the star of The Black Swan. Gone are the fake blond hair and the vapid stare that had marred Bloom's performance in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Sword fights and simian zombies
Now, movies with in-depth character development and intricate plots can last longer than two hours. Empty-headed adventure films are meant to last considerably less. With a running time of almost 2½ hours, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl does overstay its welcome a bit. Editors Stephen E. Rivkin, Arthur Schmidt, and Craig Wood could have easily excised a good 20 minutes from the film without any significant loss to the action or characters.
That said, when Johnny Depp starts lisping, Geoffrey Rush begins to spit venom, Orlando 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?
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003).
Dir.: Gore Verbinski.
Scr.: Ted Elliott. Terry Rossio. From an original screen story by Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert.
Cast: Johnny Depp. Geoffrey Rush. Orlando Bloom. Keira Knightley. Jack Davenport. Jonathan Pryce. Lee Arenberg. Mackenzie Crook. Damian O'Hare. Michael Berry Jr. Kevin McNally. Zoe Saldana.
'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl': Oscar Movies
Gore Verbinski's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl received five Academy Award nominations.
- Best Actor
Winner: Sean Penn. Mystic River.
- Best Visual Effects
John Knoll. Hal T. Hickel. Charles Gibson. Terry D. Frazee.
Winners: Jim Rygiel. Joe Letteri. Randall William Cook. Alex Funke. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
- Best Sound Mixing
Christopher Boyes. David Parker. David E. Campbell. Lee Orloff.
Winners: Christopher Boyes. Michael Semanick. Michael Hedges. Hammond Peek. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
- Best Sound Editing
Christopher Boyes. George Watters II.
Winner: Richard King. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
- Best Make-Up
Ve Neill. Martin Samuel.
Winners: Richard Taylor. Peter King. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Below is a list of the pirate movies mentioned in the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl review, in addition to other key exemplars of the genre.
- Captain Blood (1924).
Dir.: David Smith.
Cast: J. Warren Kerrigan. Jean Paige. Charlotte Merriam. James Morrison. Allan Forrest.
- The Sea Hawk (1924).
Dir.: Frank Lloyd.
Cast: Milton Sills. Enid Bennett. Lloyd Hughes. Wallace Beery. Marc McDermott (as Mark MacDermott). Wallace MacDonald. Bert Woodruff. Claire Du Brey. Lionel Belmore.
- Peter Pan (1924).
Dir.: Herbert Brenon.
Cast: Betty Bronson. Esther Ralston. Ernest Torrence. Philippe De Lacy. Virginia Browne Faire. Mary Brian. Jack Murphy. Anna May Wong.
- The Black Pirate (1926).
Dir.: Albert Parker.
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks. Billie Dove. Donald Crisp. Sam De Grasse. Anders Randolf.
- Old Ironsides (1926).
Dir.: James Cruze.
Cast: Charles Farrell. Esther Ralston. George Bancroft. Wallace Beery. Charles Hill Mailes. Johnnie Walker. Boris Karloff.
- The Road to Romance (1927).
Dir.: John S. Robertson.
Cast: Ramon Novarro. Marceline Day. Marc McDermott. Roy D'Arcy. Cesare Gravina.
- Treasure Island (1934).
Dir.: Victor Fleming.
Cast: Wallace Beery. Jackie Cooper. Lionel Barrymore. Lewis Stone. Nigel Bruce. Otto Kruger. William V. Mong. Dorothy Peterson.
- Captain Blood (1935).
Dir.: Michael Curtiz.
Cast: Errol Flynn. Olivia de Havilland. Basil Rathbone. Lionel Atwill. Ross Alexander.
- Doctor Syn (1937).
Dir.: Roy William Neill.
Cast: George Arliss. Margaret Lockwood. John Loder. Graham Moffatt.
- The Buccaneer (1938).
Dir.: Cecil B. DeMille.
Cast: Fredric March. Franciska Gaal. Akim Tamiroff. Margot Grahame. Walter Brennan. Ian Keith. Anthony Quinn. Douglass Dumbrille. Beulah Bondi.
- The Sea Hawk (1940).
Dir.: Michael Curtiz.
Cast: Errol Flynn. Brenda Marshall. Claude Rains. Flora Robson. Donald Crisp. Una O'Connor.
- The Black Swan (1942).
Dir.: Henry King.
Cast: Tyrone Power. Maureen O'Hara. Thomas Mitchell. Laird Cregar. George Sanders. Anthony Quinn. George Zucco.
- Reap the Wild Wind (1942).
Dir.: Cecil B. DeMille.
Cast: Ray Milland. Paulette Goddard. John Wayne. Raymond Massey. Robert Preston. Susan Hayward. Lynne Overman. Milburn Stone. Charles Bickford. Walter Hampden. Louise Beavers. Martha O'Driscoll. Hedda Hopper.
- The Spanish Main (1945).
Dir.: Frank Borzage.
Cast: Maureen O'Hara. Paul Henreid. Walter Slezak. Binnie Barnes. John Emery. Barton MacLane.
- Frenchman's Creek (1945).
Dir.: Mitchell Leisen.
Cast: Joan Fontaine. Arturo de Córdova. Basil Rathbone. Nigel Bruce. Cecil Kellaway. Ralph Forbes.
- Treasure Island (1950).
Dir.: Byron Haskin.
Cast: Bobby Driscoll. Robert Newton. Basil Sydney. Walter Fitzgerald. Denis O'Dea. Finlay Currie. Ralph Truman. Geoffrey Keen.
- The Crimson Pirate (1952).
Dir.: Robert Siodmak.
Cast: Burt Lancaster. Eva Bartok. Nick Cravat. Torin Thatcher. James Hayter. Margot Grahame.
- Moonfleet (1955).
Dir.: Fritz Lang.
Cast: Stewart Granger. George Sanders. Viveca Lindfors. Joan Greenwood. Jon Whiteley. Melville Cooper.
- The Buccaneer (1958).
Dir.: Anthony Quinn.
Cast: Yul Brynner. Claire Bloom. Charles Boyer. Inger Stevens. Henry Hull. E.G. Marshall. Charlton Heston. Lorne Greene.
- The Pirate Movie (1982).
Dir.: Ken Annakin.
Cast: Kristy McNichol. Christopher Atkins. Ted Hamilton. Bill Kerr.
- The Pirates of Penzance (1983).
Dir.: Wilford Leach.
Cast: Kevin Kline. Angela Lansbury. Linda Ronstadt. George Rose. Rex Smith.
- Pirates (1986).
Dir.: Roman Polanski.
Cast: Walter Matthau. Cris Campion. Damien Thomas. Ferdy Mayne. Anthony Dawson. Charlotte Lewis.
- Cutthroat Island (1995).
Dir.: Renny Harlin.
Cast: Geena Davis. Matthew Modine. Frank Langella. Maury Chaykin. Stan Shaw.
'Pirates of the Caribbean' movies
The international success of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl – $654.26 million worldwide (approx. $860 million in 2015) – has inevitably led to increasingly bloated – and pricier – sequels. Here they are:
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006).
Dir.: Gore Verbinski.
Cast: Johnny Depp. Geoffrey Rush. Orlando Bloom. Keira Knightley. Stellan Skarsgård. Bill Nighy. Jack Davenport. Kevin McNally. Jonathan Pryce. Tom Hollander. Naomie Harris. Lee Arenberg. Mackenzie Crook.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007).
Dir.: Gore Verbinski.
Cast: Johnny Depp. Geoffrey Rush. Orlando Bloom. Keira Knightley. Stellan Skarsgård. Bill Nighy. Chow Yun-fat.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011).
Dir.: Rob Marshall.
Cast: Johnny Depp. Geoffrey Rush. Penélope Cruz. Ian McShane. Sam Claflin. Kevin McNally. Astrid Bergès-Frisbey. Stephen Graham. Greg Ellis. Damian O'Hare. Óscar Jaenada. Richard Griffiths. Keith Richards. Gemma Ward. Judi Dench.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)
Dir.: Joachim Rønning. Espen Sandberg.
Cast: Johnny Depp. Geoffrey Rush. Javier Bardem. Orlando Bloom. Brenton Thwaites. Kaya Scodelario. Kevin McNally. Stephen Graham.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl box office source: Box Office Mojo.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl cast info via the IMDb.
Images of Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Walt Disney Studios.
Maureen O'Hara and Tyrone Power The Black Swan image: 20th Century Fox, via Doctor Macro.