|PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN (2003)|
|"No survivors, huh? Then who tells the stories?"|
|Time: 143 mins.|
Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Depp), Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Sound and Makeup.
Who would have believed a film based on a theme park ride would be one of the most enjoyable action movies of the summer season? Disney must be laughing all the way to the bank. While PIRATES is more entertaining than it has a right to be, I have a feeling (after seeing the trailer) lightning will not strike twice when they release THE HAUNTED CASTLE. However, who knows? Even with a plot as deep as a puddle, the effects, art direction and a quirky, charming performance by Depp give this swashbuckler an appealing energy and rousing sense of fun that sweeps you into the action. Verbinski and company never try to make something more serious out of this tale, keeping the camp quotient high and steering any potential boredom out to sea. The film seems to lose its flair whenever Depp is off-screen, but thankfully that doesn’t happen very often. Bloom and Knightley are appealing as the romantic leads, each making the most of their first major movie roles. They don’t exactly burn the screen with sexual chemistry, but then again this is a PG-13 movie and no one’s really coming to this flick to watch them mooning over each other.
One expects bloodthirsty pirates, ships battling on the high seas and dazzling swordplay, which the film does deliver in some instances better than others. We get plenty of pirates, who are quite angry and dirty, but aren’t all that menacing. Sure, they kill, plunder and pillage; however, their actions fail to drum up the requisite fear one should feel in their presence. That being said, they are the living dead and that makes for some very amusing moments along the way. How they got that way is the basis for the plot, which is fairly intriguing since the filmmaker’s didn’t exactly have much to go on. Rush plays Barbossa, the captain of the mysterious Black Pearl, an infamous pirate ship that has been rampaging through the Caribbean seas for a decade. They are searching for the last piece of Aztec gold, which they stole and squandered, to lift the curse the original owner, Cortez, placed on the pieces. Miss Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) is the owner of said piece, coming upon it 8 years earlier around the neck of a boy, Will Turner (Bloom), they rescued floating in the sea. They each hide their feelings from the other, as Will is only a blacksmith and Elizabeth is the governor’s daughter, betrothed to another man, Commodore Norrington (Davenport).
When Elizabeth accidentally pitches over the embankment into the sea, she finds herself rescued by the most unlikely person, the notorious pirate Jack Sparrow (Depp). Jack came to Port Royal looking to "acquire” a ship and despite his good deed finds himself facing a date with the noose. He would have escaped if he hadn’t encountered the honorable Will Turner, who gives Jack more trouble than he ever imagined. That is until the crew of the Black Pearl arrives in Port Royal, leaving devastation in their wake in an attempt to reclaim the key to their freedom from the curse. Being something of an expert of pirate lore, Elizabeth employs an ancient rule that saves her life and brings her face to face with Barbossa. She knows they came for the gold and uses that knowledge to bargain for the fate of Port Royal. Barbossa agrees to her request, but refuses to return her to shore, since that wasn’t part of the deal. Her kidnapping by the pirates forces Will to turn to the only person who can possible save her life Jack Sparrow. You see, Jack was the captain of the Black Pearl until they mutinied and left him on a remote island to die. Fortunately, this was before they stole the gold, so Jack escaped the curse, but he’s willing to do anything to get his ship back. Plus, he’s the only one who knows the location of their secret hiding place.
Thus, our two heroes, with a newly recruited ragtag crew and the British on their tails, sail to the rescue of the fair maiden, who proves time and again, to their annoyance, that she’s more than capable of handling herself. The final third of the film focuses on the pirates misguided attempts to lift the curse (they never claimed to be smart), Will’s efforts to win Elizabeth’s respect and heart and Jack’s tricks to regain the captaincy of his beloved ship. Elizabeth’s fiancé Norrington, along with her father (Pryce) and a battalion of British soldiers, also join the fray. While there’s nothing out and out surprising about how the film ends, the road to happiness is paved with witty one-liners, brutal battles and ferocious swordplay. On the surface, the action sequences get the blood pumping, but as they play out it becomes clear that the frenetic editing generates pace while hiding the flaws of the lackluster fight choreography. Sure, soldiers in hand-to-hand combat with supernatural skeletons is different and the effects are initially creepy, but once the secret is revealed the “now they’re human, now they’re the undead” aspect wears thin. Fortunately, there’s enough visual/physical comedy to help overcome any slowdown in the story or boredom with the effects.
My biggest disappointment with the action sequences was the lack of exciting swordplay. The first encounter between Bloom and Depp is the most original and fun, parrying their expert technique with witty banter as they take their battle from floor to ceiling of the blacksmith shop. This scene is the best in the film and I waited for something comparable in vain. The final fight between Jack and Barbossa is supposed to be "the epic moment”, but since there’s never any doubt who’s going to win, it’s over before it begins. Bloom takes on several pirates at the same time, yet his efforts are also weakened by a distinct lack of danger and passion. The script is partly to blame, as by this time the story has nowhere to go. Though the real culprit is the editing, which makes it clear that not a whole lot of thought went into these encounters. Cropping all the shots is supposed to bring the passion to the forefront, but denies us the style, skill and force of the swordplay. I’m sure this is something most people won’t care about; however, as a fan of swashbuckling epics I couldn’t help but feel cheated. As for the rest of the action, the visual effects are occasionally cartoony, but are well done for the most part.
Rush makes an adequate villain, balancing Barbossa’s need for charm, intelligence and ruthlessness quite well. Knightley holds her own, making what could have been a mere damsel in distress role into a part full of strength as well as beauty. No one’s better at creating unique and lovable characters than Johnny Depp and he clearly relishes his role here. Captain Jack Sparrow may be the worst pirate ever, but he’s one you’re not likely to forget. His quirky mannerisms are a continuous delight throughout the film, creating anticipation for what he’s going to say or do next. Unfortunately for Bloom, his performance here is not going to break his career wide open. Clearly, Will Turner is not half as interesting as his character in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, but, despite having little to work with, he still fails to bring much energy to the role. He’s likable and certainly the better romantic choice, but when you’re competing with pirates for attention, you’d better pull out all the stops or you’ll fail to garner any attention. We’re supposed to root for him, but by the end of the film Depp has completely stolen his thunder. I guess I'll have to wait for his next non-LORD film to see what kind of actor he really is.
While not the most thought-provoking entry into the summer sweepstakes, PIRATES is solid fun that the whole family can enjoy. Wee ones may be frightened by the skeleton effects, but this is a ghost story played more for laughs than scares. The only viewers who may have nightmares from this pic are executives at the other studios. What frightens me is that I'm willing to watch it again. Let the rush to convert more mindless thrill rides and video games into major motion pictures begin.