Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl review by Mike Long

Today, Hollywood places a great deal of emphasis on factors such as hype, special effects, release dates, stars, etc. The one aspect that filmmakers seem to overlook these days is character. When we look back at our favorite movies, it's typically great characters which made these films memorable. However, this summer, box-offices were plundered by a truly fantastic character in the form of Captain Jack Sparrow, as played by Johnny Depp. Captain Jack made the pretty-good Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl a truly memorable film, which has recently hit DVD.

Along with its wonderful main character, Pirates of the Caribbean also has a fiendishly convoluted story. Pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) comes to the island-town of Port Royal to find a new boat to commandeer on the same day that Norrington (Jack Davenport) is being promoted to Commodore. Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce) is attending the ceremony with his daughter Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), who has chosen this day to wear a golden amulet that she'd gotten as a child from Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), who has grown-up to be a blacksmith's apprentice. Elizabeth doesn't realize that the amulet is cursed, and it sends out a signal the pirate ship, The Black Pearl, which is under the command of Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). The Black Pearl invades Port Royal, and Elizabeth is taken hostage. The British Fleet, now led by Norrington, is hesitant to pursue the pirates, so Will, who secretly loves Elizabeth, recruits Jack Sparrow to aid him in rescuing Elizabeth. So, this young apprentice and a washed-up pirate hit the high seas to save the damsel in distress and to learn that The Black Pearl hides many supernatural secrets.

It doesn't take a genius to ascertain why Pirates of the Caribbean was so successful. The film is very well-made and features top-notch special effects. I don't want to give anything away to those who haven't seen the film, but the pirates aboard The Black Pearl hide a dark secret and the effects surrounding their plight are incredibly well-done and may be some of the most seamless CGI that we've seen thus far. Also, when was the last time that you A) can remember a successful pirate film, or B) even remembering seeing a pirate film? This sub-genre, which had been explored in both A and B-pictures in the past, was ripe for a comeback, and this film offered thrills that many film-goers had never before seen. And, of course, you have the wonderful cast of Pirates of the Caribbean. I rarely talk about awards, but Johnny Depp deserves some sort of statuette for his portrayal of Jack Sparrow. Depp totally loses himself in the role, creating a character quite unlike anything that we've ever seen before. Sparrow is an action hero who is also an effeminate drunk -- when was the last time that you saw that? He is funny and unpredictable, and the script stays true to the fact that Sparrow is a true pirate, and his odd take on life keeps the audience on its toes. Rush is very good as the evil Barbossa and seems to be having a great time. Knightley is far better here than in Bend it Like Beckham and manages to make Elizabeth likable. Bloom's uncanny resemblance to Luke Perry is distracting at first, but he's able to make Will much different from Legolas from The Lord of the Rings.

Aside from the fact that it's a bit too over-the-top at times, the only real flaw with Pirates of the Caribbean is the film's length. At 143 minutes, it's simply too long. Seeing the film a second time, one can easily spot the scenes/shots that could have/should have been deleted. And who thought that a prolonged fight scene between two immortals was a good idea? The characters in this scene even point out the futility of their battle. It's great that director Gore Verbinski has achieved success with his last two films, but he needs a producer who will tell him when/what to cut. For an example of this, note that Verbinski's remake The Ring is 19 minutes longer than the Japanese original, but nowhere near as effective. If Pirates of the Caribbean had been streamlined a little bit, it would be a true classic.

Pirates of the Caribbean plunders its way onto DVD courtesy of Disney DVD/Buena Vista Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image here looks fantastic, as it is very sharp and shows basically no grain -- which is quite a feat considering the fact that a great deal of the movie takes place outdoors in bright sunlight. The colors look very good, and the night-time scenes are never too dark. There are trace elements of edge-enhancement, and a few moments of video noise, but otherwise, the transfer look great. The DVD carries both a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a DTS 5.1 audio tracks. Both of these tracks sound fantastic, as they provide clear dialogue and fine music re-production. The film is full of action scenes which allow many opportunities for stereo, surround, and subwoofer effects. These tracks have wide soundfields and the dynamic ranges on both are good. In a side-by-side comparison, the DTS track sounds slightly better, as it is clearer and the explosions have more resonance on this track. Still, you can't go wrong with either.

The two-disc set contains a number of extra features. Disc 1 contains several audio commentaries. The first features actor Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski. This is an odd chat. It's not necessarily bad, but it's not that good. The problem is that neither speaker sounds very enthusiastic. They offer some good information has have some good anecdotes about the film, but they each sound as if they are about to fall asleep, so it can be difficult to sit through the talk. There is a writer's commentary which features Stuart Beattie, Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio, and Jay Wolpert. This commentary is much better, as the participants delve into the story of the film and discuss how the script (which was written in a very short time) evolved. There are also two mini-commentaries on the DVD. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer provides comments over select scenes and talks mostly about the process of bringing the immense project together. Actors Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport also speak over certain scenes, providing a giggly, yet fun chat in which they talk mostly about their characters and how their appearances change throughout the film.

The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 2. "An Epic at Sea" is a very in-depth 38-minute making-of featurette, which offers interviews with the cast and crew, and tons of behind-the-scenes footage. The segment explores the origin of the film, the locations, the special effects and much more. In a similar vein, "Fly on the Set" (21 minutes) is made up solely of behind-the-scenes footage, and shows the filming of certain scenes, but contains no interviews or overall structure. The "Diaries" section contains three subsections; "Producer's Photo Diary" (4 minutes) offers a series of on-set photos taken by producer Jerry Bruckheimer; Actor Lee Arenberg chronicled his experiences on the film in the 10-minutes "Diary of a Pirate"; and "Diary of a Ship" (11 minutes) details how the replica ship Lady Washington was readied for the film. The 3-minute Blooper Reel is quite amusing, and it's fun to see how Depp doesn't break character, even when there's been a flub. "Below Deck" is an interactive feature in which the viewer can explore different sections of a ship in order to learn more about real-life pirates. As I've already mentioned that I feel that Pirates of the Caribbean is too long, imagine my bemusement at finding 19 deleted scenes, which make up some 19 minutes on the DVD. Most of these scenes are merely brief moments which were excised from the film. "Moonlight Serenade" Scene Progression (7 minutes) breaks down the scene in which Elizabeth discovers the pirates' secret by exploring how the various elements of the scene were put together. The Image Gallery section contains 9 subsections. Finally, "Pirates in the Parks" offers a clip from the 1968 TV show "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" (18 minutes) in which Walt Disney himself describes the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

8 out of 10 Jackasses

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