One would think it a curse to have to transform a theme park attraction into a summer cinematic spectacle, but shiver me timbers, the only hex that burdens Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is its unwieldy title. This rollicking adventure from director Gore Verbinski is in love with the sights and sounds of pirate movie tropes—sailors swinging from ship ropes, sword fights, cannon balls flying through the air, glistening pirate bounty—and benefits immensely from both the filmmaker’s successful fusion of arch comedy, swashbuckling action, mild horror (a trick neither his execrable The Mexican, nor his leaden The Ring, could pull off), and his willingness to let Johnny Depp overact his heart out.
Depp, dressed up in a variety of colorful scarves that only partially contain his unruly tangle of dreadlocks and beaded hair, plays infamous pirate rascal Captain Jack Sparrow with limp wrists, a prancing gait, and a lilting British drawl that turns every “th” sound into an “f.” An androgynous king of the high seas, Sparrow is a gracefully asexual fop who, by embodying both feminine prettiness and masculine brashness, seems well aware of how to bend it like Beckham. Flashing his gold-toothed smile with a roguish delight that playfully hints at the naughtiness being concocted inside his scraggly head, Depp commands the screen so forcefully that it’s difficult to sustain interest in the film when he’s not front and center. During such lulls, one is forced to contend with the de facto love story between blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and governor’s daughter Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), who is kidnapped by the undead crew of the legendary Black Pearl for possessing a piece of their cursed gold. Swann’s abduction and Turner’s quest to save her (which involves enlisting Sparrow’s help) is the plot’s catalyst, but since Pirates’ greatest asset is Depp’s uninhibited antics, things tend to drag when the puckish Sparrow is confined to mere supporting player.
Bloom does an admirable job looking like a mini-Errol Flynn, and Knightley’s delicate features clash winningly with her character’s unladylike feistiness, but both are regularly upstaged by Depp, Geoffrey Rush as the decrepit Captain Barbossa, and a gaggle of peripheral characters (pirates and British alike) who contribute to the richness of Verbinski’s theme park-inspired tapestry. Narrative repetition muddles up the film’s second act, in which the adventurers find themselves visiting, and then revisiting, the same locales and skirmishes, but the occasionally monotonous escapades are bolstered by some playful Harryhausen-esque CGI villains—the Black Pearl’s pirates, when caught in a blade of moonlight, are revealed to be walking, talking skeletons—and the director’s eagerness to embrace, while slyly poking fun at, the hoary clichés his film must dutifully adhere to. Like the hidden stash of Caribbean rum that Sparrow and Swann enjoy after being stranded on a remote island by the dastardly Captain Barbossa, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is an intoxicating delight that abounds with woozy charm and delectable spiciness.
Edge enhancement is most noticeable when the sun is hitting actors from behind. It’s a pity then that there’s more sun than moonlight in Pirates of the Caribbean. Edge enhancement on this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of the film is beyond distracting, almost blinding. The good news is that everything else is a work of perfection. The print used here is remarkably clean, and the interaction between inky blacks and vibrant colors is so pristine it’s as if you’ve stepped into a fragile Victorian dollhouse. If the film isn’t exactly a work of art, its long shots and underwater scenes certainly are. Dolby Digital DTS surround tracks don’t come around too often. Treasure this one because it will most definitely shiver yer timbers.
Four commentary tracks are available on the first disc. Well, only two really. Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp’s track is an absolute bore (it sounds as if they just got out of bed) and is notable only for the occasional adjective they use to perfectly describe a scene or character ("Hepatitis D eyes"). A second track, with writers Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, and Jay Wolpert, is exceptional. They discuss the evolvement of the story over time and the difficulties they faced trying to balance character, action, and comedy with elements of the supernatural. Because Pirates of the Caribbean is as good as Hollywood films come nowadays, this is a crucial listen for aspiring screenwriters. Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport share their thoughts on several scenes, as does producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who provides some of the better insights. If you’re looking to pin down Depp’s performance, Bruckheimer describes it best as a blend of Keith Richards, Pepe Le Pew and Lee Marvin from Cat Ballou.
Disc two begins with the nine-part "An Epic at Sea" making-of featurette, which offers a quickie overview of the film’s actors, locations, production designs, stunts, swords, ships, costumes, makeup, visual effects, and the film’s premiere. The five-part "Fly on the Set" drops you on the set of the film and allows you to observe how five different scenes from the film were made. Even better are the three production diaries ("Producer’s Photo Diary," "Diary of a Pirate," and "Diary of a Ship") and an interactive "Below Deck" feature you can use to learn about the history of pirates. The main reason to skip the nine-part making-of featurette is the elaborate "Moonlight Serenade" scene progression, which offers an incredibly detailed look at how the entire production came together to create the film’s major special effects sequence. Rounding out the disc is a corny blooper reel (there isn’t much here that can actually be considered a "blooper"), 19 generally excellent deleted and alternate scenes, six image galleries, and the hysterical 1968 promo clip "Disneyland: From The Pirates of the Caribbean to The World of Tomorrow," which aired on "Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color." Also included here are Sneak Peeks: Hidalgo, Lion King 1 ½, Freaky Friday, and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over.
Is he gay? Is he drunk? Is he a skunk? Find a special little place in your heart for Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow.