Have you seen the latest Pirates of the Caribbean yet? What did you think? If Leonard Maltin’s review is any indicator, things aren’t looking so good. Granted, the public is by no means tired of watching the adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow, and as long as a franchise makes money, new installments will keep coming. Personally, I lost interest after the second Pirates, because in my opinion it’s hard to top the first movie in a series. Most of the time. Anyway, here are my eight reasons why Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is the best of this long-running saga (Uh huh, eight–I couldn’t resist.):
Captain Jack Sparrow’s Entrance
Depp was an inspired choice for Captain Jack Sparrow. Any other actor would have done the character up too silly, or scary, or pretentious. Only Johnny Depp could make Captain Jack the epitome of cool and still keep things funny. The first time we see him, he projects a thousand-yard stare before stepping casually onto a dock from a sinking mainmast. Try to imagine, say, Will Farrell or Ryan Reynolds doing this–it just doesn’t come off the same. Or any other actor saying that they made ropes out of their back hair so they could sail away from the deserted island they’d been marooned on. Ewwwww (but it would have been way more gross and creepy if someone besides Johnny Depp had said it).
Depp played Captain Jack in the first Pirates with a languidness that belied his single-minded desire to win back the Black Pearl. He’s never terribly aggressive, but unless he absolutely has to get involved, he skirts around the perimeter of the action while waiting for his big opportunity to strike. When battles on land or sea are going on, Jack is usually locked up in a jail cell watching cannon balls whiz past his head. Captain Jack has always been full of surprises, though, except that now we expect them. When the character was new, it was somehow more fun.
Orlando Bloom’s Entrance (Well, kinda)
In between seeing the first Lord of the Rings movie and starting to date the guy who’s now my husband, I had a massive crush on Orlando Bloom. I don’t think that needs explanation. 🙂
This wasn’t Bloom’s first movie, but he was still the icing on the cake in 2003. For a while, it looked as though Bloom was going to be the new Errol Flynn, because in the early part of his Hollywood career especially, it seemed as though he had a sword in every movie he made. Pirates is no different, except that his character, Will Turner, also makes the swords. Will’s a great foil for Captain Jack, as he’s young and a bit naïve, but he becomes sure of himself very quickly. As Bloom is famous for his earnestness, it wasn’t much of a stretch for him to play Will, who trained with the sword three hours a day and who risked hanging when he helped steal a ship to save the girl he loved. Curse of the Black Pearl wasn’t Bloom’s only Pirates movie, but it was the one where he had the most to discover and was therefore showcased the best as an actor.
Keira Knightly Demonstrates the Corset
Keira Knightly did a superb job of acting here, and her Elizabeth Swann had a ton in common with Will–she’s young and naïve, and like him, it doesn’t take long for her to find her footing. As a little girl, she took a piece of Aztec gold from Will’s neck so people wouldn’t think he was a pirate, but she had no way of knowing what would transpire as a result. I like that she’s feisty and resourceful, with plenty of hidden talents, such as routing a ship full of experienced pirates.
One of the things I like best, though, about Elizabeth’s turn in the first Pirates is that it helps me immeasurably in explaining the effects of corsetry to the third-graders who come to our Living History program. All I have to do is mention Keira Knightly fainting, and every kid knows exactly what I’m talking about. So thanks, Keira.
Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa
While I think I would have preferred Gary Oldman in this part, Geoffrey Rush is an interesting actor, and his Captain Barbossa is sleazy, slimy, and weaselly. I like that he has a twinkle in his eye throughout this movie in spite of being the villain–it’s obvious he was enjoying himself hugely. When Barbossa says the Code of the Brethren and parley are more like “guidelines,” his face is awash in fiendish glee.
Ride the Ride, Movie the Movie
Curse of the Black Pearl was touted as being based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and for obvious reasons, it’s the only film in the franchise to do that. It was kind of an experiment–Disney is infamous for basing rides on films, not films on rides, so the movie was a long shot to begin with. I remember being pleasantly surprised when I saw the finished product, though–it was fun spotting all the allusions to the ride throughout the movie, and seeing the characters put their own spin on them.
The Writing Was Pretty Darned Good
One of the big litmus tests for good writing is whether or not it’s memorable, and it’s pretty tough to forget the plot of Curse of the Black Pearl. It helps that the format was textbook romantic archetype with hints of Gothic, too. The knight (Captain Jack) goes on the quest (rescuing Elizabeth, winning back the Black Pearl), accompanied by his squire (Will Turner) who learns enough to become the knight’s equal, and they have to face the dragons (Captain Barbossa and his merry band of skeletons) who are forever decaying (that’s one of the Gothic parts). No, it wasn’t terribly ground-breaking, but the writers stuck with what works.
By contrast, I can’t remember what the second Pirates movie was about, except for Elizabeth and Will having their wedding interrupted to go off on another adventure, plus there’s something about Will’s dad. Then there’s the bit about Captain Jack on another island with a tribe of natives and painting eyes on his eyelids. Beyond that, in the words of Sergeant Schultz, “I know nothink.”
As a word nerd, I tend to focus on the verbal aspect of films, and the dialogue in Pearl is nicely done–the lines are light and just formal enough. Ever since the advents of Monty Python and The Princess Bride, plenty of period films have tried to imitate the funny-but-formal-ish style, and most of them miss the mark (but more on that another day). Pearl nails it.
A teensy sample:
Jack Sparrow: Parleley, parlelellyleloooo, par le nee, partner, par… snip, parsley…
Jack Sparrow: That’s the one. Parley. Parley.
Pintel: Parley? Damn to the depths whatever man what thought of “Parley”.
Jack Sparrow: That would be the French.
The Humor Wasn’t Bad, Either
Writing dovetails into humor, of course, and despite having some scarier elements, Pearl is not a movie that takes itself too seriously. At all. Between pirates who turn into skeletons, the lurching, Keith Richards-esque Captain Jack, and bits like a Thing-ish hand chasing Elizabeth’s dad around the captain’s cabin, seriousness is glancing frantically around for the nearest exit. What makes it work is that the actors are serious, while the lines and action are not always so.
It Was Fairly Innovative
I enjoyed seeing the way the sets were utilized in the film. A great example is the sword fight between Jack and Will at the beginning–the characters fight on the rafters, use a wagon like a seesaw, and dodge around a poor mule that happens to be caught in the middle. It’s not up to the level of Westley and Inigo’s sword fight, or Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham’s, but it’s not too shabby, either. Another instance is when Elizabeth finds herself in the thick of those zombie pirates, and she’s bounced and swung and thrown every which way, making the audience feel just as confused as she is.
Black Pearl is by no means a perfect film. Despite running a wee bit long, it’s mostly paced evenly and stays interesting. Too bad the films that have followed haven’t really measured up, but then again, they can be excused for it. The majority of franchises don’t have a Roy Sullivan-like staying power, but only because lightning rarely strikes twice in the same spot. It sure is fun while it lasts, though.
Thanks for reading, and there’s plenty more derring-do at Movies Silently. Heaps of thanks to Fritzi for hosting the Swashathon–it’s a blast! I’m looking forward to reading the rest of everyone’s posts. 🙂
All right everybody, see you next week with my review of Pioneer Girl!
This film is available on Amazon.