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PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN
Three Movie Hi-Def Collection

Film reviews by Gordon Justesen
Technical specs by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgaard, Bill Nighy, Jack Davenport, Chow Yun-Fat
Director: Gore Verbinski
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 462 Minutes
Release Date:
September 16, 2008

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

Overview:

It certainly was no surprise to Blu-ray aficionados that Disney's triumphant Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy would make for some of the format's best offerings.  Thanks to a broad scope, vivid visual style, plenty of action, drama, comedy and just plain fun, these movies were practically crying out for high definition glory. 

And it was safe to say fans weren't disappointed.  Disney's Blu-ray releases opened and expanded upon their already terrific DVD offerings with more features, better video, and more dynamic audio than ever before.  And if you're new to Blu-ray, as I am, now's your chance to take advantage and enjoy some of the best discs ever released. 

The studio has packaged all three double disc Blu-ray releases into one terrific set.  Believe me when I say that if you're looking to find out what your new high definition system can do, you can't do better than this collection, which gives you all the bells and whistles of Blu-ray and will open your eyes and ears to the next generation of home entertainment quality.  These are the ones you will go to when you want to show off your system.  Not to mention, the movies are a pretty good time in their own right!

The Curse of the Black Pearl ****

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. 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 Keira Knightley, well 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.

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.

Dead Man's Chest ***1/2

If anything, 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was a watershed blockbuster release. No one was expecting the film to become the monster success that it was. But thankfully, audiences all around the world embraced the picture and not since the likes of The Matrix was a follow up anticipated more intensely.

Three summers later it was officially proven that the first film’s success was no fluke, as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest went on to become not just the biggest box office smash of 2006, but of all time as well. It set an amazing opening weekend record in the form of $135 million, and went on to take in more than $400 million in the U.S. alone. It’s true that box office figures are irrelevant to the true success of a film, but honestly…that is something of an achievement.

And let’s be honest, this franchise deserves to be the incredible blockbuster series that it is, and for multiple reasons. First off, The Curse of the Black Pearl was one of the most astounding adventure movies to ever reach the silver screen since the days of Indiana Jones. It was such an effortlessly made action epic with spectacle, razor sharp wit, and a truly one of a kind performance from Johnny Depp, who has made his Captain Jack Sparrow one of the most iconic characters in movie history.

To make the news even better, Dead Man’s Chest is just as exhilarating an experience as its predecessor. Even as the film’s set up accompanies nearly the first hour of the movie, it never begins to bore for a second. What’s more, the remaining hour and a half is a spectacularly executed series of nonstop action, thrills, twists and turns. Which leads to another interesting fact about the Pirates series, which is that at such a lengthy running time, both movies never run out of steam or even come close to boring the viewer. Not many films are capable of such an execution.

The story picks up with Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) about to be married. But they’re wedding plans are interrupted when the two are arrested. The charges are helping with the escape of Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp). In order to avoid execution, they must agree to help locate Jack and advise him to hand over the magic compass he has in his possession.

Jack, meanwhile, has problems of his own. Actually, he has a monstrosity of a problem. He has become the target of the deadly Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), a part human, part squid Pirate who vows to own Captain Jack’s soul as part of a debt. Jack is searching for a mysterious key that will unlock the even more mysterious Dead Man’s Chest. Jones is also on a hunt for the same key, but for a different reason.

Once the plot is set in motion, Dead Man’s Chest becomes the ultimate cinematic movie ride, and moving at such an effortless pace. It’s one crazy action sequence after another (including one of the most amazing swordfights I’ve ever seen), and a lot of it infused with a high dose of comedy, a lot of which incorporated by Captain Jack’s reputation for being not the brightest bulb on the planet.

And just like the first film, Dead Man’s Chest is loaded with some of the most amazing visual effects to be seen in a single movie. The appearance of Davy Jones and his dreaded crew offers a special sight for the eyes, as does the sight of his vessel, Kraken. While many will state that effects surpass that of the first one, I think it’s of equal quality, simply because the sight of the cursed pirates in and out of the moonlight is still a stunning thing to look at.

Such as the case was with the two Matrix sequels, Dead Man’s Chest is the first in a two-part follow up. It’s kind of good that it was done this way since this first sequel offers enough thrills and spills for three movies. It manages to conclude with more than one spectacular cliffhanger ending, making way for the second sequel, At World’s End, which will sail into theaters this upcoming summer.

Without question, if you were blown away by the first one, prepare for the same jolt of entertainment with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. It continues the high level of enthralling entertainment ignited by its predecessor and Johnny Depp is at his ultimately zany best in his signature role!

Features ****

There is an exclusive Blu-ray feature called "Liar's Dice", a high definition game that makes for an amusing timekiller.  That's on the first disc, along with an audio commentary featuring screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio.

There are numerous documentaries including “Captain Jack: Head to Toe”, “Meet Davy Jones”, “Mastering the Blade”, “Charting The Return (A Pre-Production Diary)”, “According To Plan: Journal of Filming the Movie”, “Fly On The Set Featurette: The Bone Cage”, “Creating The Kraken”, “Dead Men Tell New Tales: Re-Imagineering The Attraction”,  “Pirates On Main Street: The World Premiere” and “A Producer's Photo Diary with Jerry Bruckheimer”, along with a blooper reel.

At World's End **1/2

The hugely successful movie franchise, whose first installment was The Curse of the Black Pearl, has now fallen under the Curse of the Three-quel. After the disappointments in both Spider-Man 3 and Shrek the Third, I was praying that the third chapter in the Pirates of the Caribbean series wouldn’t fail to disappoint, especially since the first two movies were so phenomenally entertaining. Unfortunately, the result of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End was a mixed bag, and being that this was intended as the conclusion of the film series, the results should’ve been much better than mixed.

Watching this third chapter, I was largely reminded of my reaction to The Matrix Revolutions. I had made it through two fantastic pieces of popcorn entertainment in the form of the first two films, only to be less than enthralled in the very installment where so much excitement should be displayed. As it turned out, getting to this point was a whole lot more fun than experiencing it.

The main problem with At World’s End is that it has way too much plot build up, and the movie happens to clock in very close to three hours. And yet, the movie’s final hour is phenomenally executed, with the effortless action and breathtaking effects we come to expect from the Pirates movies. But the first two movies had those qualities going on from beginning to end, and both of those were two and a half hours long.

The movie picks up right where Dead Man’s Chest left off (both sequels were filmed back to back). Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, brilliant as always in his definitive role) is locked inside the dreaded locker belonging to the squid/human Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). Now the unlikely trio of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and the newly resurrected Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) are planning an attempt to rescue Jack by traveling to the land beyond death.

And other characters are brought into the mix. There’s Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) from the Orient whose presence is requested in helping to rescue Jack. Then there’s the case of the mysterious Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris), who helped in the resurrecting of Captain Barbossa, but may have some deadly intentions of her own.

Being a die hard fan of the first two movies, I found it nearly a drag to sit through the uneven first hour and 45 minutes of this installment. There are some neat bits, like the scenes that have Captain Jack talking to hallucinations of himself. But prior to the movie’s rousing final hour, all we are treated to is endless exposition and plot setup and very little in the way of action and razor sharp wit.

And the endless exposition brings with it another problem in that there are too many confusing plot elements that occur along the way. Characters turn against each other countless times to the point we’re not sure who are the good guys and bad guys. And they’re reasons for turning on each other are never fully explained, at least not very coherently.

Now I happen to like Dead Man’s Chest a lot, but it did have its share of detractors. And while it does serve as mainly a transition between The Curse of the Black Pearl and At World’s End, I admired its nonstop action approach, with constant thrills for it’s entire 150 minute running time. In the end, I think, it might have worked out better for the trilogy if the second movie had more of the build up and plot exposition and if the third movie had the roller coaster execution of the Dead Man’s Chest.

However, just like the first two movies, this is a spectacular looking production to say the least. Director Gore Verbinski once again delivers many intriguing visuals and an array of striking special effects sequences. And Johnny Depp is as solid as always with a one of a kind wit that only he can bring to the table.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is hardly a bad film, but it falls just a bit short of the first two movies in terms of pacing and quality.

BONUS: Keith Richards pops up in very role he was expected to play; Captain Jack’s father.

Features ***1/2

Disc One includes a gag reel titled “Bloopers of the Caribbean”.

Disc Two contains the rest of the extras, or “booty” as I should properly phrase it. Included are Deleted Scenes with optional commentary by director Gore Verbinski. There’s also many a featurette, including “Keith and the Captain: On the Set with Johnny and the Rock Legend”, “The Tale of Many Jacks”, “The World of Chow Yun-Fat”, “The Pirate Maestro: The Music of Hans Zimmer”, “Masters of Design” (A Five Part Documentary), “Hoist the Colors” and finally there’s the interactive game, “Inside the Brethren Court”.  Finally, there is an exclusive Blu-ray offering, "Enter the Maelstrom".

I would also like to add at this point that the menu screens for all three Blu-ray releases are quite cool, with a talking skull that guides you through your choices!

Video ****

On to the goods...this, friends, is why you decided to get into Blu-ray in the first place.  These visually sumptuous offerings are filled with detail, color, contrast, and style, and until you've seen them in high definition, you've never experienced them fully.  Every frame is a visual treasure chest, particularly when the action takes to the high seas.  The water, the spray of the ocean, the weather...wow.  Just wow.

Audio ****

With choices of Dolby Digital or uncompressed 5.1 tracks, sit back and get ready for an adventure in your living room.  These audio offerings are dynamic, explosive, and expansive, with plenty of signals going and coming in all direction, fantastic music, and dialogue clearly balanced against all effects.

Summary:

The Pirates of the Caribbean: Three Movie Hi-Def Collection is about anything a fan of Blu-ray could ask for.  Now, thanks to this fantastic six disc three movie collection, you can really discover what your new high definition system is capable of!

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