Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by Gore Verbinski. Written by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio and Jay Wolpert. Running time: 134 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for violence). Starring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

From the moment it was announced I knew that Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl would be a bad movie. Just look at the signs:
1. It's based on a forty-year-old ride at Walt Disney World, making this the most desperate plea for cash I've ever seen.
2. Jerry Bruckheimer is the producer. The name Jerry Bruckheimer is not a good sign.
3. The name is way too long and clunky. It reeks of juvenile screenwriting.

So, as you can see, all of the signs point towards a crappy movie thrown into theaters to make a quick buck. But I can be wrong. In this case, I was. Pirates of the Caribbean is not terrible. It's not even bad. In fact, it's really quite good. I know, I'm as surprised as you are.

A capsule description of the plot would work like this: Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is an infamous pirate. Captured after rescuing a damsel, Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley), from drowning, he his arrested by her father (Jonathan Pryce), and her would-be fiancee (Jack Davenport). He escapes, but after losing a duel to blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), he is caught again. When the town is attacked by the crew of the pirate ship Black Pearl, its captain, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), kidnaps Elizabeth. Will is in love with Elizabeth, and he springs Jack from prison in order to track down the Black Pearl. Swashbuckling ensues.

There hasn't been a good pirate movie in a long while. So it's certainly refreshing to see one that's well-made, despite being involved with Jerry Bruckheimer. In fact, none of the problems that plague Bruckheimer-produced films are abound in Pirates of the Caribbean. Let's take a look at Bruckheimer's problems, and how Pirates of the Caribbean compares.

Pathetic Acting:
Pirates of the Caribbean is not going to go down as the best-acted movie of the year, but Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow will go down as one of the year's most memorable and impressive performances. It is the kind of performance that deserves an Oscar nomination but will, undoubtably, not get one, because of the nature of the film. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are effective, and they make a decent couple. Geoffrey Rush is also good, in a delightfully over the top performance.

Mindless And Stupid Writing:
This was the aspect of Pirates of the Caribbean that I was most worried about. I had some serious doubts that it would be possible to create a compelling motion picture based on a Disney ride. Luckily, they pulled it off. The script is light-hearted and fun, and while it isn't really wonderful writing, it is effective. The plot is simple, but it works.

Special Effects In Place Of A Story:
As mentioned just above, the story is not original, but it is effective at what it does. The special effects, firstly, are not perfect. Some of the skeletons' animations look downright goofy, but overall, they work. And other than the undead, most of the movie is largely effects free. There is never a sense that the effects are being used to cover up the lack of any coherant plot.

Hyperactive Directing:
Gore Verbinski (last year's The Ring) is a much more capable director than has previously worked with Bruckheimer, even if his filmography doesn't really show it. Atmosphere plays a large part in Pirates of the Caribbean, and it is all handled very well. There are no bright, flashy colors, and not a superfluous split-screen to be found. In fact, there is only one true quick cut in the entire production. Yet again, it isn't one of the best directing jobs of the year, but it is still good.

So, there are no Bruckheimer-style problems to be found, but that doesn't mean there aren't any at all. The movie runs a good thirty minutes too long, for one - the long fight scenes with the undead (who can't be killed, by the way) become repetitive, and you begin to wonder why the protaginists are even trying any more - and the denouement is a bit on the weak side.

Without Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean would still not have been bad, but it would have been significantly less fun. WIth Depp, it is an excellent example of summer film-making, and undoubtedly the surprise hit of 2003. Pirates of the Caribbean will be one of the big money-makers of 2003, and, unlike many summer films, it will certainly deserve it. And, if you're interested in another ride-related movie, The Haunted Mansion comes out this Thanksgiving. And it looks terrible too. But who knows?

© 2003 Matt Noller