Many people groaned when they heard that Walt Disney Pictures was adapting one of its classic rides, "Pirates of the Caribbean," into a movie. If most movies based on video games turn out idiotic, how can you possibly build a movie off of a 5-minute float ride? Well, may the skeptics be forewarned: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is one of the most entertaining movies of the year.
The typical problems with pirate movies is that they are just cheesy. There are usually a bunch of strangely dressed captains and sailors that float around shooting cannons at each other and occasionally become involved in sword and pistol fights. They talk weird, and clichés run amok.
Luckily, director Gore Verbinski plays things perfectly, walking that fine line between cheesiness and instant classic. His pirates are gruesome but funny in their own way; they spoof themselves without actually spoofing themselves. There is a lot of humor, but at the same time Pirates is not a straight-out comedy. Typically, the movie is very dark in setting and action scenes are rampant. Verbinski, essentially, has made the perfect action-comedy.
Also, to bridge the gap between cheesy pirate flick and pirate classic, one essential piece is added to the story of the Disneyland ride; most of the pirates in the movie are cursed. In the moonlight, the pirates reveal their true nature: they are nothing but clothe and bones. They can't eat, they can't have sex, and to save themselves from a lifetime in hell, they have to return the last piece of cursed Aztec gold they stole to its original place and spill the blood of the man who originally took it. As mentioned above, the pirates are gruesome, but in a stylish and entertaining way; they pay much homage to the dirty, ugly animatronics that are seen on the ride. Furthermore, combining excellent visual effects with flesh and bone actors, their skeletal alternatives are creepy and well done.
Essentially, the ghost story twist adds a whole additional level to the story of The Curse of the Black Pearl, which allows it to greatly avoid the unfortunate path of past pirate movies (Cutthroat Island, for example).
The director is helped out by a great cast. Johnny Depp stars as pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, the only "good" pirate in the entire movie. His motives are twisted and questionable at times, but he is an overall likable fellow; he floats around the stage with a goofy yet cynical aura, creating a pirate character never before seen on the big screen. Depp continues to amaze by turning in yet another drastically different performance.
Orlando Bloom, who has only recently become known due to his large role as Legolas in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, also stars as Will Turner, a blacksmith who of course is able to fight with a sword and who is in love with Elizabeth, a young woman of higher social class who is also in love with him but is engaged to another, more suitable man. When Elizabeth gets kidnapped by the cursed pirates, however, it is up to Will to set Jack Sparrow free and save the day. Bloom does a great job of providing and entertaining character that is good with the sword while avoiding any real similarities to Legolas. It would be his biggest mistake, while he is just becoming popular, to typecast himself; after a minute or two, I didn't even recognize him as the white-haired elf.
Pirates is also graced with the presence of Brit Keira Knightley, the (in my opinion) extremely hot and talented heroine of the movie. She last appeared in Bend it Like Beckham, the hit British film. In the day when women can no longer be helpless victims, Knightley does a superb job of the strong captive; she doesn't just stand idly by while the men get to run around and fight. She is the perfect fit for this role.
And finally, there's Geoffrey Rush. There is no arguing that Rush is one of the best actors out there today, and he is absolutely fabulous as the evil villain of the film. He is creepy and intelligent, and is completely believable as the commander of a bunch of half-dead misfits.
Pirates of the Caribbean excels at some many levels. This will no doubt be considered one of the bigger critical surprises of the year, as theoretically it did not have much going for it. The movie lags in a couple parts near the end, but all in all it has some great action scenes, some great comedy, and all around good pirate entertainment. Best of all, the movie is made for all ages; as long as little kids (or their parents) don't mind seeing ghost pirates, there is little in the way of offensive material.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is definitely one of the best popcorn movies of 2003.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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