Pirates of the Caribbean:
The Curse of the Black Pearl

directed by Gore Verbinski
(Walt Disney, 2003)

OK, here's the short version: Johnny Depp + Orlando Bloom + piratical garb and swashbuckling = life is good.

Understandably, that might not be enough for those still deciding whether to plunk down the price of a movie ticket to see an action-adventure movie based on, of all things, a theme park ride. But go. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is worth every penny. It has everything you could want in a pirate movie, right down to the parrot.

The plot centers around a medallion made of a gold coin, part of a cursed Aztec treasure that has doomed the crew of the Black Pearl to a state of half-life, half-death. They seem to be live human beings, but moonlight reveals them as near-skeletal zombies, and they have no need of food or drink. They also can't be killed. They're in search that one final coin, which when treated properly, will lift the curse.

The medallion has fallen into the hands of colonial governor's daughter Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), who took it from Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) when both were children in order to protect him. Will is devoted to Elizabeth, but his lowly station as a blacksmith puts Elizabeth out of reach. Her father, Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce) has his eye on matching her with the very proper and rather stuffy Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport), a prospect that does not entirely thrill Elizabeth.

Enter Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), former captain of the Black Pearl, in time to save Elizabeth's life. From here the plot kicks into high gear. The Black Pearl arrives soon after, and in the looting and mayhem that ensues, Elizabeth becomes the prisoner of Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and his ghastly crew. Of course, Will and Jack take off after her and, of course, the commodore and governor are right behind.

For anyone concerned about the skimpiness of the premise, Pirates of the Caribbean being one of Disney's "tamer" rides, there is probably enough plot here for several movies, not to mention boatloads of swashbuckling excitement. The action is relentless, cutting between the different characters swiftly, and there are few, if any, distracting plot holes. Anyone familiar with the theme park ride will recognize elements of the film, such as the prisoners attempting to bribe the jailhouse dog to drop a ring of keys. While this familiarity isn't essential, it will add to the experience.

The casting and characterization is superb. Depp is the quintessential pirate, with braids and beads and dreads in his hair and beard, yet at the same time, he makes the part completely his own, from his first appearance to the very end. His gait is that of a man who spends most of his life at sea, and if he appears a bit feckless and fey, it is a mistake to underestimate him. Bloom has the somewhat thankless task of playing second fiddle to Depp's flamboyance, but it is delightful to watch his character develop from humble and self-effacing to confident and crafty. Knightley's Elizabeth is bright, bold and brave; she doesn't resort to helpless screaming and hand-wringing but keeps her cool (mostly) and fights for herself.

Rush's character is marvelously complex; he's not just the Bad Guy. There is something incredibly poignant about his desire to taste an apple first thing when the curse is lifted that humanizes the character, makes it sympathetic. Similarly, both Davenport and Pryce's characters undergo change.

For a movie with so much swordplay, there is very little gore, and the action relies more on suggestion rather than shock -- certainly a salute to the heyday of the pirate flick. The special effects are awesome, particularly of the transformation of pirates to pirate zombies. Still, this may prove a bit too scary for the younger set; parents be advised to leave young children at home. Finally, when you go, stick it out through the credits to find out what happens with one of the characters.

I don't know when I've had this much fun at a movie! The time flew by, and I was transfixed from beginning to end. Looking for the perfect summer diversion with lots of engaging eye candy? Set sail with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl!

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 19 July 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.