"PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL" (2003) Review
Thirteen-and-a-half years ago, ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL” had burst upon the movie screens and to the surprise of many, became a major hit. Even more surprising, the movie ended up spawning a wildly successful movie trilogy within another four years and also a new cinematic icon for the 21st century – Captain Jack Sparrow.
Judging from the forums and blogs on the Internet, it seems to me that ”Curse of the Black Pearl” is the most popular film in the ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise. In a way, I can understand. It lacked the darker aspects of the two sequels that followed. Directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, ”CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL” is based upon the attraction at the Disney parks. In it, the pirates of the ship known as the Black Pearl, led by the vile Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), need to restore the missing piece of the ancient Aztec gold treasure of Cortes and sacrifice the blood of "Bootstrap" Bill Turner to save themselves from eternal punishment owing to a curse that fell upon them when they stole the gold. The buccaneers attack Port Royal and kidnap Miss Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) who has the missing piece of gold. In order to rescue Miss Elizabeth Swann, William Turner (Orlando Bloom) enlists the help of the fabled Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) who devises an ingenious plan to retrieve the Black Pearl from his mutinous former first mate, Captain Barbossa, and help William Turner save the love of his life
Screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio created a frolicking tale filled with swashbuckler action, an interesting supernatural story that involved cursed treasure and undead pirates, and sharp humor that almost bordered on the cock-eyed. Most of this humor came from the leading man himself, the excruciatingly talented Johnny Depp. His portrayal of the morally ambiguous and androgynous Captain Jack Sparrow took a great deal of moviegoers and critics by surprise. He certainly took me by surprise. No other actor in Hollywood or anywhere else has ever portrayed a pirate in this manner. Not surprisingly, Depp won an Academy Award nomination and a Screen Actors Guild award for his performance.
It seemed a shame that Geoffrey Rush had failed to earn any acting nominations for his performance as the menacing Captain Barbossa. Come to think of it, his performance was more than menacing. Like Depp, he gave a performance filled with a great deal of off-the-wall humor and sharp dialogue. I also enjoyed Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s performances as the star-crossed young lovers, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Ironically, both actors seemed to have better chemistry with either Depp, Rush or both than with each other. Until the final battle. And I found that odd, considering that their screen chemistry seemed a lot more convincing in the final action scene inside the large cavern on Isla de Muerta and in the two following sequels. I wonder if this had anything to do with the fact that Will and Elizabeth spent most of the movie suppressing their feelings for one another.
As for the rest of the cast that made up the movie, they were superb. Jack Davenport gave a commanding, yet sardonic performance as Will’s romantic rival – Commodore James Norrington of the Royal Navy. Mind you, Davenport really grew into the role in ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST”, but he did a good job in this film. And what would a ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” be without Kevin R. Nally as Josiah Gibbs, Lee Arnberg as Pintel and MacKenzie Crook as Rigetti? I could list all of the supporting characters that made this movie memorable, but it would take forever. I will simply state that Verbinski was very lucky to find himself with an excellent cast.
I had noted earlier ”CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL” is not as dark as its two successors. I wonder if this is the reason why many fans prefer it over the other two. If I have to be honest, I do not share the same sentiments. Do not get me wrong. I love this movie. But it is not my favorite ”PIRATES” movie. That honor goes to the second film - ”DEAD MAN'S CHEST”. As much as I love ”CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”, there were times I wish it had been a little more ambiguous. With the exception of the Jack Sparrow character, the other characters are clearly either the good guys or the bad guys. There seemed to be little room for moral ambiguity.
There was another aspect of ”CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL” that I had noticed – even when I first saw the film. For a movie set in the Caribbean, I really did not see much of it. Yes, there were scenes set aboard ships. But aside from a sequence featuring Jack Sparrow’s arrival at Port Royal and his first meeting of Elizabeth and Norrington, the movie never really captured the aura of the Caribbean – at least for me. And I had noticed something else. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski used a lot of close ups in his shots. I remembered that those close ups made me feel slightly dizzy and claustrophic when I first saw the movie.
Despite certain elements of the film that did not appeal to me – Wolski’s photography and the less ambiguous tone of most of the characters – I still love ”CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”. I love the story, Klaus Badelt’s score, Gore Verbinski’s direction, and the characters. Especially Johnny Depp’s performance. Hopefully, this movie and the two that followed will one day be viewed as film classics. They are already classics in my eyes.