a critiQal film review Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Plot: When she was younger, Elizabeth (Knightley) helped rescue the only survivor of a pirate attack, a young boy named Will, who was wearing a mysterious pirate gold medallion. Fearing for Will's safety, young Elizabeth hides the medallion and forgets about it...until years later, when she discovers it may be part of a curse on the crew of the Black Pearl, a pirate ship of legend.

Reviewed
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  • ...Depp's performance as Captain Jack is just one of the highlights in this must-own swashbuckling adventure!

Ah, ’tis the season of summer blockbusters arriving on DVD! Just this past weekend, the summer’s hit film Pirates of the Caribbean arrived on DVD, and I just had to see it.

I’d seen previews for this film 6 months before the film even hit the theaters, and had been dying to see it ever since the first glimpse the previews had shown. After all, look at all the film has going for it: it’s a pirate adventure (that includes elements of a ghost story), it’s produced by near-legendary producer Jerry Bruckheimer (who’s past credits include The Rock (1996), Bad Boys (1995), Bad Boys II (2003), Con Air (1997), Crimson Tide…just to name a few), and it stars actor Johnny Depp! What could go wrong?

With those high expectations lurking in my mind, I rented Pirates as soon as I could (and no, that wasn’t the first week. This film wasn’t on the shelves every single time I went to my local Blockbuster® for a solid week, every single one of the 30 copies they had), and waited anxiously for the film to start…

Johnny Depp, as usual, was a pleasure to watch in his role in Pirates of the Caribbean. He brought the right amount of action, smugness and humor to his role as slightly crazy pirate Jack Sparrow. The depths of his character keep expounding throughout the film, and he adds just the right amount of color to his acting to make every step of his character believable.

And, surprisingly enough, the movie doesn’t just rely on him to follow through with the acting, either. Depp has a tremendous supporting cast, especially with Bloom and Knightley performing high above any expectations and doing an amazing job of matching Depp act for act.

And what’s a pirate movie without a villain? Pirates of the Caribbean doesn’t disappoint there either, getting Geoffrey Rush to portray villainous pirate Barbosa with character and depth the viewer may not be used to. In the end, you even sympathize a bit with Barbosa, a true feat for a film that portrays Barbosa thwarting the heroes at almost every turn.

It’s a truly exceptional cast, and that alone makes the movie worth renting…but rather than just relying on the exceptional cast, Pirates of the Caribbean doesn’t rest there.The film is also extremely well-written, and truly tries to create each character with a depth and originality that is surprising for a blockbuster film of recent years. The script gives each character a unique identity, and tries to stay away from the cookie-cutter heroes, villains, and secondary characters that are typical of so many films these days.

This originality does cause the only downfall of the film, since the end wraps up just a little too neatly for the characters concerned, but overall this depth of the characters make the movie as a whole so much more enjoyable. Add to that a terrific musical score, and what’s left? Ah yes…the special effects.

Special effects. Too many movies lately have relied solely on the special effects to carry a movie (Spider-Man (2002), anyone? How about Hulk (2003)? The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)? Shall I continue?).

The true place for special effects shouldn’t be to carry a movie, they should be there to help promote the believability factor of any film. After all, suspension of disbelief is, or at least should be, the prime motivation of any film. If the viewer can’t imagine the movie actually happening, they will not be as involved, and no matter how big the special effect, the viewer will come away much less impressed.

If the viewer is involved in the film, through the help of the actors, plot, and special effects (among other things), even the slightest little effect will create a much more memorable moment in the film (For example – who among us who has seen Pet Sematary (1989) can ever forget the hand reaching out from under the bed and slashing poor old Jud’s – Fred Gwynne’s – ankle? Not a big special effect, but one that left a memory long after other movie’s effects fade – due to the film’s ability to suspend our disbelief).

Luckily for us viewers, Pirates of the Caribbean seems to recognize this basic fact, and it’s special effects only help to promote the suspension of disbelief. The director went to great lengths to generate a lifelike literal “skeleton” crew. In fact, the scenes were rehearsed first with the real-life pirate actors, then the scene was re shot – with the absence of the pirate actors. This way, the CGI team created the skeleton crew using the actual movements of the actors the skeletons were based on. It’s an interesting approach to the use of computer imagery in films – and if this movie is any indication, it’s truly beneficial. Every single shot of computer imagery is blended seamlessly with the real footage.

All in all, it’s no surprise to me that Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was such a hit at the box office this past summer. With amazing performances from it’s cast, an extremely well-written storyline that gives depth and originality to each and every character, and it’s seamless blend of computer imagery with real footage, this is one pirate movie that’s going to be sailing straight into my DVD collection – as it should into yours.

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