July 22, 2003 – Don't go to see "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" to enjoy the scenery — unless by that you mean Johnny Depp and his insatiable appetite for chewing it up. (And if you do, don't miss this fine and funny flic.)
There are colorful characters aplenty, but no azure skies, sapphire seas, emerald isles or beautiful beaches to speak of in this film, which is unique for being based on theme-park rides at both Disneyland and Disney World.
It's a story of people more than places: Pirate Capt. Jack Sparrow (Depp) lost his ship, the Black Pearl, to mutineers led by now-Capt. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who dropped him off on a deserted isle with the traditional bottle of rum and a pistol with one bullet (which, being resourceful, he had no need to use). As our story begins, with Jack in the Caribbean colonial outpost of "Port Royal" (pronounced, if not spelled, "Royale"), who should sail into the harbor but Barbossa's boys — to make off with the governor's daughter, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley).
The pirates think Elizabeth is the daughter of "Bootstrap" Turner, one of their own who met his end without disclosing the whereabouts of the object that led to his demise — a gold Aztec coin. Why do they think this? Because she wears that very coin around her neck. Why? Because a dozen years earlier she took it from a boy about her age who was rescued at sea by a ship commanded by her father. Why? Because she thought the kid was a pirate and she wanted to save his life — which she did.
Now Daddy is governor. Young Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) is a swordsmith's apprentice who turns out fine weaponry while his master sprawls passed-out drunk. Liz has just endured a proposal of marriage from the crushingly boring Commandant Norrington (Jack Davenport).
Sparrow, who by wits and wiles is eluding or escaping from somebody or other throughout much of the film, ends up after one chase in the smithy's foundry, where he and Will engage in a darn good display of swordsmanship. Quickly bonded by Will's determination to rescue Elizabeth and Sparrow's desire to get his ship back, they manage to make off with the fastest vessel in the harbor, the one under Norrington's command. They head for "Tortuga," where they pick up crew in one of those "Star Wars" bar scenes, then sail after the Black Pearl — which is somehow moving right along with its square-rigged sails in shreds.
The final bit of background: Barbossa and his crew, as we soon see, are under an Aztec curse, morphing into hideous skeletel cadavers by the light of the moon. To break the curse, they need to retrieve the last missing gold piece, return it to the treasure-trove, and spill the owner's blood upon the booty.
This kind of story could get gory. But under the deft Disney handling it's barely scary, especially for kids, who are used to monster effects. (The rating is PG-13.) The battles that abound, on ships and ashore, are choreographed to elicit giggles and cheers, not averted eyes.
Depp, who has said he's channeling the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards in his Sparrow persona, dominates the screen with audacity and elán. Critics across the country have universally applauded his performance, whether praising or panning everyone and everything else in the film (the praises far outweighing the pans).
For a boy from Kentucky bred in Florida, he pulls off a believable Brit accent in the company of the Canterbury-born Bloom, the London-bred Knightley and the Australian Rush. This, mind you, is the actor who has played everything from Edward Scissorhands and Ichabod Crane to J. Hunter Thompson, the "Chocolat" gypsy and guitar in a rock band.
And then there's his looks: The last thing those smoldering brown bedroom eyes need is kohl streaks beneath them — but, hey, it may be a legitimate touch. Eighteenth century seafarers didn't have polarized shades, and they had a lot more glare to contend with than football players do. Beads in his dreadlocks, rings on his fingers, Jack's a swashbuckler with swish who oozes worldly sex appeal but never gets or takes so much as a kiss in the whole movie — although he gets soundly slapped a few times.
Bloom, by contrast, has to play it straight as Will, competing with his own heroic Legolas Greenleaf, the elf prince archer of "Lord of the Rings." (In the waist-length blond wig, remember?) That he holds his own in tandem with Depp is impressive, and he's the one the girls are flocking to the cinema to see, anyhow.
Knightley, who made her debut in "Bend It Like Beckham," not wanting her pirate captors to know who she is, identifies herself as "Elizabeth Turner," using Will's name. Free association leads to another name: She could be a young Kathleen Turner, and at just 18 (going on 30) she has plenty of time to work on it.
Speaking of age, if there's one thing to fault Depp on, it's his youth. He just turned 40 and looks barely older than Bloom, who's 26. Barbossa could more believably be Jack's father than his former mate. But that (like the shredded sails) is a picky point in a movie predicated on the predilection of the moviegoing public for suspending disbelief.
The film works best for those with a fairly sophisticated vocabulary, by the way. The dialogue among the leading characters is wickedly witty with nary a four-letter word within earshot, abetted by extended banter between two sets of Laurel and Hardy characters — a pair of British Redcoats and a couple of the Black Pearl's crew. At odd moments, the invoking of "the Pirate Code" stops everybody hilariously in their tracks.
Finally: Yes, Disney is planning a sequel, with commitments from Depp, Bloom, Knightley, director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. So says The Hollywood Reporter.
The film is rated PG-13 for "action/adventure violence." It's playing at Sunny Isle Theaters.
Its length is variously given as 133 and 143 minutes. The explanation may be the credits at the end. They're worth sitting through as the theater empties around you — both to grasp the magnitude of the technical support that went into making the movie and to catch the final few seconds of "epilogue" imagery at the very end.
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