Pirates of the Caribbean movie review, Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush

A scene from 'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl'

A scene from 'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl'
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***1/2 stars
143 minutes | Rated: PG-13
WIDE: Wedensday, July 9, 2003
Directed by Gore Verbinski

Starring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Jonathan Pryce, Keira Knightley, Lee Arenberg, Brye Cooper, Jack Davenport

This film is on the Best of 2003 list.

Read our interview with Johnny Depp Read our 1999 interview
with Johnny Depp
Read our interview with Geoffrey Rush Read our 2000 interview
with Geoffrey Rush


A rare movie that will loose a lot of its splash on the small screen without losing much of its fun -- a real keeper! But do the movie justice by getting it in widescreen.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 12.02.2003
This two-disc set is absolutely overflowing with DVD delights.

A thorough, if shallow, 40m making-of that follows events right up to the premiere. "Diary of a Pirate" video journal kept by Lee Arenberg (Pintel), which is the best behind-the-scenes feature on the disc, detailing makeup (he grew his fingernails for 6 months). "Diary of a Ship" follows the Lady Washington (which played the Interceptor in the movie) on its journey from Long Beach to the island set at St. Vincent. "Below Deck" is a history of pirates, but instead of just having be a regular documentary, it's some silly thing you have to navigate from episode to episode while listen to silly intros by CGI pirates. What should take 15m to watch takes 30m to nagivate through and it's hard to tell when you've seen everything. Click "A Pirate's Last Tale" to bypass all the BS.

The three commentary tracks:

Verbinski and Depp aren't terribly exciting in theirs, and sometimes they make reference to things that happened on the shoot without explaining to the listener. They offer nothing about Depp's performance and how he came to the character, and there's little discussion of the technique, filmmaking or how and when they knew this terrible idea for a movie would, in fact, not be crap. Mostly they're just chatting, but Gore does talk about how technology has helped revive the epic genre to return, digitally creating scale.

Selected scene commentaries by Bruckheimer, Knightly and Davenport -- you don't have to watch the whole movie, are a little better, if ironic. It's funny to hear Bruckheimer telling a story about convincing Johnny Depp to wear fewer gold teeth, then hearing Depp tell the same story and talk about how he put in extra gold teeth because he knew they'd ask him to take some out. Bruckheimer's commentary is pure BS, pure press kit, pure salesmanship. Knightley and Davenport spend theirs goofing off -- making fun of each other and laughing at themselves -- and they clearly watched the whole film, so you have to wonder why did the DVD producers cut it up?

Although clearly recorded in two separate sessions, the commentary with the four screenwriters is where it's at. This fascinating listen provides details of all the incarnations this film (and parts of it) went through, and it's easy to imagine how bad it might have been! To hear these scripters talk about the challenges of creating a new pirate movie, let alone one based on an amusment park ride, is quite revealing. One of them spends the closing credits sequence relaying the entire backstory of Jack Sparrow and the Black Pearl in amazing detail, which shows how much thought went into this story.

F/X featurettes. 19m of deleted scenes (but what good are they without commentary?), most of which are ever-so-slightly extended scenes and not all that interesting. "Fly on the wall" featurette is 20m of interesting raw behind-the-scenes footage from several days' shooting. And, as always with these stupid Disney DVDs, there are trailers for a bunch of other movies but not this one. (They even talk about the trailer in one of the commentary tracks, making its absence especially frustrating.)

(The so-called LOST DISC: In 2004, Disney released a two-pack version fo this DVD with a 3rd disc of extras, including well-done interviews with Depp and Rush about creating their characters, more well-made behind the scenes stuff (building and blowing up the Interceptor, etc.). Raw-footage featurettes from the set (followed by the corresponding scene from the movie), and "Spirit of the Ride" showing how elements of the Disneyland ride were incorporated into the film.) Still no trailer, though.


5.1 Dolby; 2.35:1 (16x9 enhanced)
Looks great. Sounds great.
DUBS: French
SUBS: English, French

DVD RATING: ***1/2

  • Gore Verbinski
  • Johnny Depp
  • Geoffrey Rush
  • Orlando Bloom
  • Jonathan Pryce
  • Keira Knightley

  •  LINKS for this film
    Official site
    at movies.yahoo.com
    at Rotten Tomatoes
    at Internet Movie Database
    Watch the trailer (apple.com)
    Depp's flamboyant swashbuckling a highlight of spectacular 'Pirates' flick that sparkles with wit, excitement

    By Rob Blackwelder

    The very idea of a movie based on a Disneyland ride -- let alone such a movie produced by Jerry "Kaboom" Bruckheimer, whose standards of quality extend only to the explosions that substituted for plot in 15 years of imbecilic summer blockbusters -- had me dreading "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" since it was first announced almost two years ago.

    But I'm now here to eat every bad word I said in anticipation of this matinee marvel. Exhilarating from beginning to end, vivid with atmosphere, cleverly cliché-mocking, and blessed with two top-notch, over-the-top performances by Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush (I should have trusted these two intrepid actors), it may well be one of the most enjoyable pirate escapades of all time.

    Festooned in a three-point hat over gypsy hair, a billowy shirt, kohl-blackened eyes and gold-capped teeth that he thrusts forward as he speaks, Depp stars as Capt. Jack Sparrow, a dirty, flirty, disarmingly dishonest swashbuckler of subtly dubious sexuality (a covert pirate flick custom since the silent era) who sails into a 17th century Caribbean colonial port atop the mast of a rapidly sinking sailboat.

    Arrested for a lifelong litany of crimes -- after some stimulating swordplay as he tries to steal another ship, of course -- Sparrow is surreptitiously sprung from the hoosegow when the town comes under attack by another band of raucous buccaneers who have come to spirit away a cursed gold medallion and the governor's gorgeous daughter Elizabeth ("Bend It Like Beckham's" Keira Knightley).

    Sparrow's liberator is Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, "Lord of the Rings"), the talented orphan apprentice of the port's drunkard sword maker. He has been secretly in love with Elizabeth since the day her father's ship rescued him at sea when they both were children, and now he wants the pirate's help with an impromptu rescue mission.

    Together they commandeer the fleet's fastest ship in a sneaky switcheroo that proves Sparrow's gift for chicanery (as its crew overruns a ship they hijacked from the dock, Jack and Will sneak onboard the craft they really wanted in the first place). Then they chase after the villains, who just happen to be a crew of scallywags that had mutinied against Capt. Jack years ago, taking his prize ship (the Black Pearl of the film's title) and marooning him on a lonely isle.

    Not far behind are the irritated British, led by a stuffy, pirate-hating commodore (Jack Davenport) who has been promised Elizabeth's hand in marriage.

    Director Gore Verbinski ("The Ring") brings nail-biting excitement to the pirate raid, in which the Black Pearl's colorfully sinister crew seems to be unstoppable, even when shot or stabbed (most of which happens just out of frame because despite earning a PG-13 and having a grown-up wit, "Pirates" is really a sharp-witted kids' movie).

    As the story unfolds, Verbinski gradually unveils the reason for this invulnerability: The crew has stolen the medallion and kidnapped the girl in an attempt to lift an Aztec hex that has left them in limbo between life and death. When any part of them passes into the moonlight, incredible transparency special effects reveal the pirates to be eerie living skeletons in various states of decay.

    Geoffrey Rush matches Depp "arrgh!" for "arrgh!" in a deliciously menacing performance as Barbossa, leader of the undead horde who has his hands full with Elizabeth, a girl who turns out to be one serious spitfire of a damsel in distress. Knightley shows a lot of promise in a role that demands a precision mix of hero-luring helpless screams and pre-feminist fortitude. Bloom is appealing as the valiant young Will, but blends into the woodwork a bit in what is a thankless, wide-eyed-but-feisty Boy Scout role. (Upstaging a pungent plethora of pirates isn't easy.)

    Depp, however, shines brightest as the flick's devil-may-care anti-action-hero who lives by the seat of his pants and enjoys provoking anyone not of his Puckish persuasion. Refining his drunken Hunter Thompson body language from "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" into a furtively willowy flamboyance, he swashbuckles with the best of them and delivers all his lines with maverick glee. When Sparrow asks how far Will is willing to go to save Elizabeth, the straight-arrow hero responds, "I'll die for her!"

    "Oh, good!" exclaims Sparrow with a wicked little grin.

    Visually vibrant and spectacularly staged, "Pirates" includes deliberate tweaks of many genre staples (a thrilling side-by-side tall-ship sea battle includes cannons firing silverware when they run out of ammo) and takes inspired advantage of the villainous pirates' walking-dead curse (because they don't need to breathe, in one scene they attack their British pursuers from underwater).

    Even managing to incorporate some scenes from the Disneyland ride without being obnoxious about it, the film falls short only in its sweeping yet lackluster swordfights, in a couple minor narrative gaffes, and in dragging its feet on implementing a curse-related twist in the otherwise bracing, extravagant finale.


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