movie film review | chris tookey

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Disney Enterprises/ Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc - all rights reserved
  Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Review
Tookey's Rating
8 /10
Average Rating
6.91 /10
Capt. Jack Sparrow: Johnny Depp , Capt. Barbossa: Geoffrey Rush, The Governor: Jonathan Pryce
Full Cast >

Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Written by: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio and Jay Wolpert

Released: 2003
Origin: US
Length: 134

Johnny Depp (pictured centre) triumphs in a jolly romp.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Pirates of the Caribbean is a joyous swashbuckler that marries modern digital effects to traditional Errol Flynn-style heroics. It has a sense of humour that pokes fun at the old pirate sagas but cheerfully reproduces their cliches in loving detail.

Though based on a Disneyland ride, it's more than a crass commercial spin-off. It has top-notch production values (credit should go to director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer).

The movie does the hard work of charming and exciting the audience, but then blows much of that goodwill by going on for too long. Shorn of 10 minutes, this might have been some kind of classic. As it is, it's just one of this Summer's more enjoyable blockbusters.

All the actors sound British, and all but two really are. The ostensible hero is a shy young swordsmith (played by the ridiculously handsome Orlando Bloom, second left, who as every teenage girl knows was Legolas in Lord of the Rings). He's in love with a girl (the pretty Keira Knightley, left, from Bend It Like Beckham).

She is, of course, far beyond him - daughter of a Caribbean governor (Jonathan Pryce on auto-pilot) and seemingly certain to marry a dashing, if rather conventional, young naval commander (that's Jack Davenport in an unfortunate wig).

The plot, which is really just an excuse for all the fighting, kidnapping, plank-walking and yo-ho-hoing you would expect, has our hero and heroine fall in with a crew of cursed pirates who turn into skeletons whenever moonlight hits them. They're led by the Australian Geoffrey Rush (pictured right), giving us his Captain Hook and gnashing teeth that will give nightmares to hygienists everywhere.

The script by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio and Jay Wolpert (the writers of The Mask of Zorro, Aladdin and Shrek) is above average for this kind of romp, but not strong on plot logic. Since Rush's pirates are undead, there is no tension whatsoever during the fight scenes - and some of these seem to go on forever. They're also probably too violent and frightening for sensitive children, especially those under 11.

An inordinate amount of time is given over to minor pirates and soldiers who are not nearly as funny as the film-makers think they are.

Too many gags misfire. For instance, there's a promising comic idea of a mute pirate whose parrot talks for him - you'd think that this original notion, laboriously set up, would be exploited later for laughs, but instead it's forgotten. And the one-eyed pirate who keeps losing his eye is meant to be amusing, but instead he's just annoying.

The good bits all centre upon the young lovers' only ally, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). He's an eccentric, incompetent, semi-sozzled buccaneer with a taste for black eye-liner which strongly suggests past membership of Adam and the Ants. He has an extremely strange English accent - one part Keith Richards to two parts Tommy Cooper. His swaying walk suggests that too many months at sea and over-exposure to rum have permanently wrecked his sense of balance.

If Depp hadn't been able to keep up his wildly improbable accent, or if he had for a second allowed us to see him making fun of the whole, overblown project (which must have been tempting for a man of his intelligence), it could have sunk the movie.

Instead, Depp gives one of the cinema's great comic performances - mesmerising to watch and certainly the only reason to sit through the movie a second time. From his first appearance, drifting into port on a sinking ship, Depp is utterly charming. He wipes the decks with the rest of the cast and turns a mainstream action film into a memorably weird experience.

Pirates of the Caribbean is Depp's breakthrough role with the general public. All of his best performances until now have been in what are politely called "critical successes" - films that make little or no impact on the world's box office, such as Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands and Don Juan Demarco. Pirates will make him what this most daring of actors has deserved to be for the last ten years - an international superstar.

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