Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop
 

Good swashbucklers just aren't in style anymore. It's been years since a pirate has sailed into the box office and made movie making history. But the applause must go to Disney for this grand achievement which can truly be deemed an 'epic.' Pirates of the Caribbean is in the grand old style of Errol Flynn. Not only are the sword fights grand, the escapes harrowing, and the cast top-notch, but the plot is truly brilliant and the two and a half hour pace never seems to lag. Most viewers will find themselves swept into an adventure unlike any other with a beautiful damsel in distress, a handsome rogue as her rescuer, and a motley crew of bloodthirsty buccaneers to provide the backdrop.

 

The story begins on the deck of a British royal navy ship under the command of young Captain Norrington (Jack Davenport) and the Governor of Jamaica (Jonathan Pryce). His daughter Elizabeth is standing at the stern singing one of her favorite romantic odes about a band of pirates. But as the mist parts before the massive hull, she sees a half-dead boy clinging to a piece of driftwood. He's brought on board and not a half dozen paces into the murky gloom they come upon the ruins of a merchant ship. Tending to the boy, whose name is William Turner, she discovers in his possession a gold piece stamped with a skull and crossbones. She takes it, believing him to be a pirate and not wanting her father to demand his arrest. Years later, Elizabeth (Kiera Knightley) still has the gold piece stashed in her dresser drawer. She takes it out one afternoon to wear it to Captain Norrington's promotion ceremony. Her father is very impressed with the naval officer and hopes Elizabeth might make a good match. But her heart belongs to Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), an apprentice to a blacksmith and expert sword maker. He also returns her affections but has never found the courage to speak of his love.

 

Their fates are about to collide with the mysterious and comical Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), a former buccaneer in search of the legendary pirate ship The Black Pearl. His appearance at port makes quite a stir, particularly after he saves Elizabeth's life... and then threatens it. Captured by Norrington's men and sentenced to hang for his crimes against humanity, Jack Sparrow is the only one Will can turn to when his beloved Elizabeth is kidnapped by a dangerous crew of pirates under the command of the infamous Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). The piece of gold she has stolen from Will is the only link that will release the pirates from an ancient and terrible Aztec curse. With his rescue of Sparrow, Will has branded himself an outcast... and will risk everything to rescue his "bonny lass."

 

Though the plot may seem fairly cut and dried, the script is actually far more complex than a simple summary might surmise. Full of surprising plot twists, witty dialogue, excellent swordplay, and gorgeous battles, Pirates of the Caribbean is brilliant. It's rare when a writer wishes they would have penned a film script, but I can't find any faults with the writing. The acting is also very solid. Much has been made over Johnny Depp's "improvising" the character of Jack Sparrow. He really goes out on a limb with his interpretation of a slightly batty, overall likable, and sometimes downright sinister (perhaps former, perhaps not) pirate captain. The thing is, it totally works. His gold-toothed smile, his half-slurred speech, and "sea legs on land" stride never fails to engage a laugh. His own entrance to the film is particularly memorable, one of the movie's best comic moments. He also has some of the best one-liners, cracking jumbled information and gags, much to the amusement and often confusion of his costars.

 

This is one of the most stunningly visual movies I've ever seen. The costuming was beautiful, the backdrop romantic, and some of the cinematography, like a pirate ship sailing under a full moon, downright jaw-dropping. There are some historical flaws but the viewer is having too much fun to care. This film deserves a number of Oscar nominations for merit alone, and that's not including the excellent performances by Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, and British beauty Kiera Knightley. I really enjoyed many aspects of the script, one of them being how gentlemanly both Elizabeth's suitors are. Rather than quarrel over her, they reach a mutual agreement she should be with the one she loves. The loser gracefully backs down and tactfully suggests the victor highly value her in return. It's a nice departure from the usual stuffed-shirt, overly possessive jilted fiancé.

 

The aspect which will concern some Christian viewers is based on the premise of the film... an ancient curse placed upon the stolen gold by "the gods" of the Aztec Indians. Because of their greed in stealing this gold, the pirates are neither alive nor dead, and in the moonlight are revealed as sinew and bones. (For people who've seen the trailer, this won't come as a surprise.) The CGI involved is impressive but younger children will be frightened by skeletons looming out of the darkness, teasing Elizabeth, attacking sailors on British ships, and engaging in fatal combat with main characters. These figures are very creepy and sometimes horrific, thus my suggestion only older children be allowed to attend. The film also implies that sometimes stealing is justifiable if it's for a good cause.

 

I'm very wary of ghost stories. I think too many of them border on the occult, but I never felt uncomfortable with this film and I doubt many others would find it unsavory either. There's enough humor to elevate some of the darker elements, and for once it's eye candy which pays off for the two-plus hours spent in a cramped theatre seat. But a final word of advice for those of ye brave enough to forge these waters... stay until after the closing credits. There's a tantalizing little tidbit to leave you thirsting for more...

 

 

Sexual Content:

Cleavage; innuendos; a girl is stripped down to her chemise after nearly drowning; we see the outline of her breasts in the wet fabric. Elizabeth is told she can either dine with the pirate captain as he requests or be stripped naked and handed over to the crew.

  

Language:

One insult (b*stard), a few uses of the term "bloody" and one "bejesus."

    

Violence:

Many scenes are intense and violent; pirates attack people in the streets, Port Royal is blown to bits, and navel officers are killed in a raid. At sea, two ships fire into one another's innards, creating devastation. The violence isn't overly graphic, with very little blood.

 


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