Friday, November 27, 2015

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Review

A good twelve years ago Disney threw us a curveball of a movie. No one seemed to know it was coming until the trailers hit the internet, and no one had seen a movie quite like it, so there were no preconceived notions or expectations to live up to. Not only did this movie wow us with a great deal of fun and creative action, it reignited interest in pirates and once again made them a romanticized notion that people surprisingly flocked to. I am, of course, referring to Pirates Of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003).
Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) arrives at Port Royal in the Caribbean without a ship or crew. His timing is inopportune, however, because later that evening the town is besieged by a pirate ship lead by Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). The pirates kidnap the governor's daughter, Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), who's in possession of a valuable coin that is linked to a curse that has transformed the pirates into the undead. A gallant blacksmith, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), in love with Elizabeth, tentatively allies with Sparrow in pursuit of the pirates.
As far as I can tell, this was the first time Disney had attempted to make a feature film based on one of their park rides. There have been other attempts which can best be described as bad. I suspect part of the appeal of Black Pearl was to see exactly how a notorious kids theme park ride transitioned into a movie. Really well, as it turns out.  There are lots of nods to the ride in the film, but none are so overt that they beat you over the head with them. For example, the ride's song "Yo Ho "A Pirate's Life for Me" was sung three times in the film; twice by Elizabeth and once by Jack in the final scene. The jail scene where prisoners try to tempt the Prison Dog who held the keys to their cells with a bone is taken directly from the ride. Even Jack's line, "the dog is never going to move" referenced the fact that the dog in the ride never actually moves. If you know what to watch for, you can see many actors behaving like the puppets do on the ride for a second or two on screen or in the background. This movie was so influential that it sparked interest in going on the Disneyland ride. Kids who grew up watching the movie ended up disappointed by a trip to Disneyland when they didn't see Jack Sparrow in the ride. Disney ultimately had to change the ride up a bit to resemble the movie due to its popularity. The ride now features Jack Sparrow, Barbossa, and Davey Jones (who appears in later films).
This was the first time in ages a legitimate sea epic had been filmed. Parts of the sea-faring scenes were actually filmed on location in the Caribbean oceans. Real sea ships were used in many of these scenes, while meticulously decorated barge "stunt doubles" with computer-generated imagery filling in the details were used in other scenes. This gave the movie a realistic feel to it that wouldn't have worked as well if it were all CGI visual effects. But what CGI effects were used were fantastic! Even twelve years after its release, it still looks good; the movie has aged very well.
Objectively, the story here isn't great. It's decent and fun, but isn't great. I truly don't think this movie would have done nearly as well with anyone else cast as Jack Sparrow. Johnny Depp was encouraged to adlib and improvise a lot in this movie, and he does. Depp's outstanding, unforgettable, and charismatic character often takes center stage and steals scenes he's in. He effortlessly shoves the cliché love plot out of the way and makes the film his own. Jack Sparrow is so charming, funny, and likable that you can't help but enjoy the movie as a whole. I'm not sure how the cast and crew were able to keep a straight face when Depp was hamming it up as the character he created. Even Jack Sparrow's catchphrase, "Savvy?" was improvised by Depp.
The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is a great movie. It's not perfect, but there truly is very little that can be said about this film in a negative light. It is clever, witty, and sharp. One of the true achievements, however, is that it isn't too witty and sharp; it knew its boundaries, unlike the sequels. The seriousness of the situations these characters were put in feel real, which caused us to care about what was happening to them. This movie became an instant cult classic and reignited film fans' love of pirate adventures. The fact that it had no expectation contrasts with its sequels, which is why it was probably so successful. The movies that came after this first one had their good and bad attributes, and even with a fifth installment coming out in 2017, I cannot for the life of me imagine it topping The Curse of the Black Pearl. In fact, I can't see any pirate film surpassing this landmark film for some time to come. This is absolutely worth owning a copy; I've got my own copy already comfortably resting on a shelf next to some of my other favorites. If you haven't seen this movie, you're missing out. If you have seen it, it's high time you saw it again.

If another theme park ride (Disney or otherwise) were made into a movie what would you like to see? Comment below and let me know!

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