Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Kevin McNally, Zoe Saldana, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook with Jonathan Pryce and Geoffrey Rush
Plot: When a crew of cursed pirates kidnap the Governor’s daughter, Elizabeth Swann (Knightley), blacksmith Will Turner (Bloom) launches on a daring rescue mission, paired with untrustworthy pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp).
As we look at the inconsistent range of the Pirates of the Caribbean series, as well as wait for a sixth instalment, it is hard not to look at the series as a whole and agree that it is a bit of a mess. Cartoonish, often overstuffed and churning out the same old gunk… However, this makes it all the more important to view the original Pirates movie as its own entity, before the franchise building came into play, before the elaborate storytelling, and accept it as an incredibly strong blockbuster classic.
However, perhaps it is best to measure the success of the Curse of the Black Pearl by going back even further. The origin of this movie is the kind of story usually associated with the biggest clunkers of a film. The source material of Pirates of the Caribbean is not a text, not a play, not even a movie from yesteryear, but an attraction at Disneylands across the world. The entire purpose of this film was to give the ride more depth and more intrigue, drawing in even larger customers to the resort. It seems a pretty lousy drawing board for the film to start with. However, the biggest success of Verbinski’s picture is that this over-stuffed marketing campaign rarely feels like the world’s most expensive advertisement, but a film in its own rights. Verbinski asks himself what Pirates of the Caribbean has that none of the other blockbusters did (a tough question as this time of cinema put him into direct competition with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy). But the secret weapon that made this film so great was that no one was doing pirates anymore. Verbinski essentially takes the classic tales of Treasure Island and Peter Pan and uses them to rework the pirate mythology. By the time you leave the cinema, you will probably have that feeling that pirates were actually pretty cool. Sure, this is a Disney coating of the villains of the 1700s, the film glossing over the fact that when the pirates weren’t being either amusing sources of comedy or fun megalomaniacal villains, they were probably pillaging and raping in their spare times. But there is a definite amount of tongue-and-cheek fun hanging out with the Pirates of the Caribbean. Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow is iconic, the actor making a winning argument that pirates were essentially rock stars, before the rock genre came around. Geoffrey Rush has the time of his life recognising that all the best pirates villains are incredibly hammy and performs the role of Barbossa as such. Meanwhile, Verbinski throws in several minor pirate figures that all get their fair share of the limelight. Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook do little more than act like idiots on-screen, but, for a lot of people, they were the highlight of the film. They might be the face of the pirate lore here, but Verbinski deserves additional credit for writing an entire mythology for them. He adds enough pirate codes, superstitions and trinkets that, by the time the film has rocked to a close, it feels like you’ve known these pirates for years. And we haven’t even mentioned the fact that Barbossa’s crew have a habit of turning to immortal skeletons in the moonlight.
It is this attention to detail that makes this film so amazing. It will always be remembered for the grand set-pieces, something that even when the sequels began to diminish the quality of each instalment remained a strong part of the series. The first encounter between Johnny Depp’s cocky Jack Sparrow and the determined Will Turner, played straight-faced and stoically by Orlando Bloom, that results in an inventive swordfight in a blacksmith is never anything less but full-on fun. Then there is the first look at the CGI pirates, Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann (this role was arguably career-making for the actress) being thrown away a haunted pirate ship by the skeletal crew. And the finale will go down as one of my favourite endings to an action film ever with plenty of sword fights, stunning spectacles and a shocker of a final shot to boot. But while these big moments are definitely amazing, it is the smaller moments that grip you when you are watching the film. Perhaps this is where Curse of the Black Pearl properly earns its stripes, as it makes every moment that much better. Some of this is down to the performances. Johnny Depp might be one of the more controversial actors out there, but he definitely adds an additional flavour to the part, whether it is a particular facial expression, an amusing turn of phrase “why has the rum gone?” or suddenly jumping to terrifyingly sinister in a heartbeat. It can even be something as simple as him running his blade along Will Turner’s, trying to intimidate him before a fight. But there are loads more examples along the course of the film. The reason this is quite a lengthy film is because it does take time out to make a joke about two overly dedicated Navy guards bickering over pirate lore. It lingers on a mute pirate who talks through his parrot. These are the little golden moments you forgot about and it is these moments that make Curse of the Black Pearl always a pleasing watch to sit down and take it once again.
Final Verdict: It’s always nice to see Pirates of the Caribbean before the franchise started to dwindle, the first entry a resounding classic.