At last! A movie with a title that takes up more screen room than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name! Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is also a full-blown, summer-movie blockbuster that fully fits the season and can be enjoyed without guilt.
Put aside that the film is “based on” a theme park attraction — this is universes away from the execrable Country Bears. Forget, too, that the movie bears the imprint of the anti-Christ of producers, Jerry Bruckheimer (I suspect we’ll have plenty to blame him for once Bad Boys II hacks, stabs, bludgeons, blasts and bulldozes its way into theaters.) And live with having to sit through attached trailers for Freaky Friday (a movie we were all dying to see remade) and The Haunted Mansion. Just get thee to a multiplex and catch this clever, witty, stylish, hugely entertaining film.
Pirates of the Caribbean is everything a summer blockbuster should be and rarely is. No, it’s not deep; it has nothing on its mind except to entertain and amaze. And yet it does both these things with such assurance, style and fun that, in this case, that’s quite enough.
That Pirates of the Caribbean is based on the Disneyland/Disney World attraction has little relevance to the movie itself. Suffice to say that it both captures, improves and very much enlarges upon (especially in the area of bosoms) the look of the attraction. The film even has the wit to poke fun at its own less-than-overwhelming origins: One scene copies the theme-park ride’s animatronic tableaux where imprisoned pirates try to coax a dog to bring them the keys to their cell — mocking the endless-loop pointlessness of the ride by having Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) sourly remark, “You can do that all day and that dog is never going to move.” Beyond that — and a few visual references — all the film shares with its point of origin is a name.
The movie itself is a wild take on the old Errol Flynn (whom Orlando Bloom slightly resembles) swashbucklers done with a great sense of the genre’s history, complete with the appropriate purple-dialogue exchanges during swordfights, and even an obvious tip of the plumed chapeau to Robert Siodmak’s Burt Lancaster pirate-romp The Crimson Pirate. Yet Pirates of the Caribbean is very much its own film. I can think of no buccaneer flick boasting anything near this particular mix of swashbuckling and Flying Dutchman-style ghost story. The result is a great adventure film that can stand on its own merits alongside such genre classics as The Black Pirate, Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk, while bringing something very new to the table.
This rich creative license is apparent from the moment Depp’s over-the-top Jack Sparrow “sails” into view on a rapidly sinking boat, deftly stepping from its mast (the only thing still above the water) onto the dock with the quiet air of having planned his entrance in just this manner. Actually, Pirates would be worth the price of the ticket for Depp’s performance alone.
Festooned in dreadlocks, with beads in his hair, a braided beard, flashing gold teeth and eye makeup that Tammy Faye Bakker would waffle at, he’s a preposterous delight from start to finish in what has to be the feyest performance since the heyday of Charles Laughton. His shtick is marvelously theatrical and brilliantly broad. How can you not love a film in which Depp’s pirate first encounters hero Will Turner (Bloom) and proclaims, “You seem to know me — have I threatened you before?”
It’s a good thing that Pirates is so strong and stylish; otherwise, Depp’s performance would throw the whole thing off-balance. Happily, the film — handled with consummate artistry and an assured sense of drama by Gore Verbinski — provides a brilliant housing for this central performance. (Verbinski, proving thatThe Ring was no mere fluke, now moves to the forefront of major filmmakers working today.)
Even things previewed in the trailer — the zombified pirates, for instance — turn out to be so much more than you expect. When heroine Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) learns that she indeed is in a ghost story, the film plunges into an extended and genuinely creepy sequence where we see the crew of the Black Pearl for what they are for the first time. It’s a truly breathtaking blend of filmmaking and special-effects artistry.
All performances are rock solid and the production faultlessly slick in the best sense. Plus, Pirates packs great sword fights, incredible stunts, piratical doings, a curse, romance, a parrot and, last but not least, a cunningly evil monkey. I can’t think of any reason not to see this movie.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke