The Curse of the Black Pearl

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Pryce
Director: Gore Verbinski
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 143 Minutes
Release Date: December 2, 2003

"Ya best start believing in ghost stories, Miss Turner…YOU'RE IN ONE!"

Film ****

As much as I get tired of referring to box office figures, given the recent history of the pirate movie I don't think anyone was expecting Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl to explode the way it did this past summer. There was hardly any buzz prior to the movie's release, though there certainly wasn't any negative buzz whatsoever. When it hit theaters, people saw it, were obviously blown away, myself included, and a strong word of mouth helped it become one of the top hits of the year, and it deserves to be such.

Any movie can manage to make loads of money, and still not add up to anything significant, as is the case with many movies of that stature. But Pirates of the Caribbean falls into that rare territory of a huge blockbuster that is very capable of delivering in terms of all around quality. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski, who previously helmed The Ring, have combined talents to bring the screen a remarkably entertaining adventure, which delivers top of the line quality in the categories of story, action, and visual effects.

The movie, based on the longtime Disney theme park attraction, is in the tradition of a good old-fashioned Saturday Matinee entertainment, the best of its type since the Indiana Jones movies. The movie opens on the town of Port Royal, where the elegantly beautiful Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) is being pressured by her father, Governor Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce), to consider accepting an expected proposal from the recently promoted Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport). Despite respecting her father's request, Elizabeth has secretly had her eye on young Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) the town blacksmith.

Enter the arrival of Captain Jack Sparrow, played by Johnny Depp in one of those brilliantly unconventional performances that seems to take on a life of its own. Sparrow claims to be a noteworthy and smart pirate, but you wouldn't be able to tell by his unorthodox behavior and odd movements which may suggest that he has a taste for endless rum. Intending on commandeering another vessel, after the sinking of his previous one, Sparrow is marked by both the Royal Navy and be Will, both of whom don't take a liking to pirates.

It isn't too long before a much feared clan of pirates, the crew of the Black Pearl; a sort of urban legend in Port Royal. When Elizabeth is immediately kidnapped by the vicious captain of the ship, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Will is determined to rescue her. There is a catch, though, as he will need Sparrow's help, since it turns out he claims to know more about the Black Pearl than anyone.

Meanwhile, Barbossa explains to Elizabeth why he and the crew have such a huge interest in her. They need her because she happens to have a gold medallion in her possession, something she was given as a little girl. The gold piece is actually part of an ancient treasure, and it needs to be complete with this last piece. As it turns out, in a remarkable scene of discovery, Barbossa and the crew of the Black Pearl have been cursed, appearing in skeleton form under the moonlight. Once the gold piece is restored with the treasure, the curse will be lifted.

I mentioned earlier that the movie has a sort of an Indiana Jones feel to it, and there couldn't be a much better comparison. Once the story has been set, Pirates of the Caribbean bursts into a relentless adventure movie machine. Even at a lengthy pace of 143 minutes, the movie never seems to let up its energy for a second. At about the 90 minute mark, the rest of the movie is in full action adventure mode, including a bravura ship battle, various swordfights, and a killer sequence where the pirates attack their enemy under the moonlight, which is a sequence I will leave for you, dear viewer, discover.

A great deal of credit to the success of the movie must go way of the headlining cast, especially to that of Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush. It's hard to recall a movie where both the hero and the villain seemed to chew up so much scenery simultaneously. I have long been a fan of Depp's, an actor whose track record is so incredible it's hard to select a single great performance. With Pirates of the Caribbean, I believe the actor has delivered his most signature performance yet, injecting the most oddball characteristics into Jack Sparrow, a character that seems to be believably inspired by Keith Richards.

As for Rush, a terrific actor especially in playing villainous roles, this gives him the opportunity to go way over-the-top, which is perfect for a character like Barbossa. Donning some truly nasty teeth, and an utterly flawless pirate accent, Rush's dark wit is the perfect match to Depp's dashing goofiness, resulting in some wonderful scenes between the two. Orlando Bloom, best known to the masses for his work as Legolas in the Lord of the Rings film series, shines in his biggest role to date as the dashing hero, and as for Keira Knightley, she may well be on her way to superstardom as a result of this movie, in addition to Bend it Like Beckham. And may I say, she is quite a beauty, as well.

It's been a while since I've awarded a high rating to a movie of this stature, then again there hasn't been a movie like this in quite sometime, but Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is simply a movie adventure of gargantuan proportions. The combining elements of eye-popping scenery, superb action, and an engaging story, which also contains a bit of a surprise near the end, add up to quite a memorable movie experience.

Video ****

While Disney's Finding Nemo may go on record as THE best video transfer of the year, the stunning video presentation applied to Pirates of the Caribbean is worthy of just the same level of praise, for a live action movie, of course. The movie has a stunning sense of style to it, thanks to both director Verbinski and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, whose previous work includes that of The Crow and Dark City. The anamorphic picture is a prime example of an ultimately flawless transfer, featuring an extraordinary level of detail, image clarity, and color usage. I also think Disney should be praised for making the decision to only release a widescreen version of the movie.

Audio ****

The THX-certified 5.1 mix (Dolby Digital and DTS) on Pirates of the Caribbean results in one of the best audio tracks of the year, maybe even THE best. Right from opening scene, the level of range is ever so present. From the countless action scenes, to the range provided from various set pieces, to the powerhouse music score by Klaus Badelt, this is one sound presentation that is guaranteed to rock the boat! A truly marvelous achievement.

Features ****

Disney has unlocked a treasure chest of extras unto this prestigious two disc set which should satisfy anyone's pursued bounty.

Disc 1 contains three commentary tracks; the first one with director Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp, which is quite a marvelous listen. The second is with co-stars Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport, and the third is with writers Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, and Jay Wolpert.

Disc 2 includes more treasures, including a documentary titled "An Epic at Sea: The Making of Pirates", an interactive bit called "Below Deck: An Interactive History of Pirates", a featurette titled "Fly on the Set", a blooper reel, a Moonlight Serenade scene progression, a producer's diary with Jerry Bruckheimer, as well as "Diary of a Pirate". Also featured are image galleries, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, and a bellyful of additional computer-enhanced features.


Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is a marvelous action adventure extravaganza that is also one of the year's best entertainments. With knockout performances from Depp and Rush, and explosive production values put to good use, this promises a welcome franchise, as well as a rebirth of the pirate movie.