I’ve been looking for a personal project for a while. By chance, I happened to replace my knackered Pirates of the Caribbean set and started thinking about Disney’s live action output in the past decade. Most of it follows the Pirates formula, but it has some interesting anomalies and talking points. Whilst I have reviewed some of them before, I read them back and cringed myself to death, resurrected and decided to do something about it. From today, my focus is going to be 100% Disney as I’m going to be reviewing the Pirates films, the National Treasures, Tron Legacy, John Carter, The Muppets and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. There will be unrelated reviews inbetween however. I couldn’t think of anything clever as an umbrella topic to group them all under, so it’s my Live Action Disney-a-thon (or LADathon for shortsies). It’s also been ten years to the day since this film was released. Think of that. You’re old.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) (Redux)
I suppose in this climate of making a movie of practically anything with a famous name (Battleship, The Lego Movie, Toilet Duck: The Motion Picture etc) it’s not too much of a stretch, but it still strikes me as odd that somebody (or rather many somebodies) invested heavily in a film based off a clunky theme park ride featuring barely mobile animatronic pirates. Having said that, when it comes to film, I’m a firm believer in the notion that there is no such thing as a bad idea, just bad execution. I believe that Curse of the Black Pearl is proof of that. It’s an unapologetically fun film with plenty of swashbuckling action. But you already know that.
“You didn’t beat me. You ignored the rules of engagement. In a fair fight, I’d kill you.”
“That’s not much incentive for me to fight fair, then, is it?”
The plot follows lowly blacksmith and swordmaker Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and his secret love for the Governor’s daughter, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). After a while, the crew of the legendary and feared Black Pearl, led by Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) pillage Port Royal and kidnap Elizabeth. It’s up to Will and imprisoned, eccentric pirate and former Black Pearl Captain, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to save her. Rewatching the film, I was struck by just how tight the screenplay is. There are no pointless scenes, everything that is set up pays off at some point and the dialogue hits the balance between functional exposition and playful banter throughout. Yeah, I know. All films of this ilk should have a script like that. The sad fact is the majority of them don’t- the sequels to this very film being prime examples. The script is clever, witty and is just plain satisfying. The duo of Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, previously known best for writing Shrek, the criminally underrated The Road to El Dorado and Disney’s own Aladdin, manage to inject the then stale pirate genre with some much needed fun and adventure.
It’s strange that I still rate this film despite it having two of the most wooden leads in recent memory. Both Knightley and Bloom act like recent lobotomy cases, dialogue dripping from their mouths with barely any inflection or feeling. Whilst most of the jokes are given to Depp, any humour that the script affords Will and Elizabeth is killed stone dead by the delivery. Check out the bit where Sparrow has assembled a ragtag bunch of pirates to chase The Black Pearl. Will says “Well, you’ve proved they’re mad!”. It’s not the best one-liner, granted- but the way Bloom hits the line is like he’s never heard a joke before. Another actor could have sold it better. Same with my most hated line in the whole film: Elizabeth’s “You like pain?… (she strikes a pirate with an oar) try wearing a corset!”. Not only is it a god-awful line, the delivery stinks. Ugh. On the better acting side of things. Depp is obviously the scene-stealer and his performance in Black Pearl has stood the test of time and shitty sequels. The man knows his way around a gag. Often overlooked is Geoffrey Rush who is clearly having a whale of a time as Barbossa. He’s not cartoonishly evil, but he has his moments. He also handles the all-important wit with skill. Similarly, Jack Davenport is a fantastic straight man and is often ignored in favour of Depp’s peacocking by most people.
Above all else, Curse of the Black Pearl is FUN. Remember when blockbusters were fun? It has proper swashbuckling action, great swordfights and special effects that still hold up for the most part. I will always love the moonlight reveal of Barbossa’s literal skeleton crew. The final swordfight between Barbossa and Sparrow as they move through piles of gold and shafts of moonlight is fantastic. I will never tire of Jack and Elizabeth being stranded on an island, leading to the famous “why is the rum gone?” line. There are some fantastic character beats in this bit and it elevates the film significantly.
There are so many things about Black Pearl that I find refreshing. The fact that none of the characters are fucking idiots and capable of independent thought is a major one. For instance, Jack only agrees to help Will after learning his surname and asking some not-so-subtle questions about his father. In most films this’d be presented as a big reveal later on, but not here. Will confronts Sparrow on the way there and we’re done and dusted. I also really like the motivation of Barbossa and his crew. They’re not out-and-out evil. They’re bad people alright, but no worse than Sparrow himself. All they want is their terrible curse to be lifted so they can finally enjoy food, drink and “pleasurable company” again. That sounds downright reasonable to me.
Most refreshing of all is the risk that Disney took with this. It was their first PG-13 film, starring an actor known for cult hits not big blockbusters, based off an intellectual property they had knocking around in the shed and given the full support of Disney’s marketing arm. A mere decade later and the landscape has completely changed. Last year’s John Carter (review coming soon) was a risk, but Disney had no real faith in it, didn’t market it properly and it bombed. This year’s Lone Ranger looks to suffer the same fate, despite them cranking up the obnoxious advertising dial a few notches. As you know, the Pirates gamble paid off and launched an entire franchise that’s not done yet (work is underway on a fifth film). I just like it when studios think outside of the box and are rewarded for it.
“She’s safe, just like I promised. She’s all set to marry Norrington, just like she promised. And you get to die for her, just like you promised. So we’re all men of our word really… except for, of course, Elizabeth, who is in fact, a woman.”
It may get unfairly tarred with the same brush as the rest of the series, but Curse of the Black Pearl is a hugely enjoyable film and one of the best examples of being fun for the whole family. It’s bloody brilliant, savvy?