Reviewed by: Charity Bishop
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce | Directed by: Gore Verbinski (also directed The Ring) | Produced by: Jerry Bruckheimer | Written by: Jay Wolpert, Stuart Beattie, Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott | Distributor: Walt Disney
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.
In the memorable opening scenes, 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, Bend it Like Beckham) 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 man and hopes Elizabeth might make a good match. But her heart belongs to Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, The Lord of the Rings), an apprentice to a blacksmith, and an expert sword maker. He, too, returns her affections but has never found the courage to speak of his love. Their fates are about to collide with the mysterious Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, Sleepy Hollow), 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 who 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, Les Miserables, Quills, Shine). The piece of cold she possesses is the only link which will release the pirates from a terrible curse.
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 some truly astonishing CGI battles, “Pirates of the Caribbean” deserves a sailor’s welcome.
Much has been made over actor Johnny Depp “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 former (perhaps reformed, perhaps not) pirate captain. The thing is, it totally works. His gold-toothed smile, his half-slurred speech, and his “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.
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. 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 also 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 that she should be with the one she loves. The “loser” gracefully backs down and tactfully suggests the victor highly value her in return.
The first Disney movie to be released with a PG-13 rating, “Pirates of the Caribbean” is intended for teens and adults, not younger children. Many scenes are intense and violent, with explosions wracking city streets and setting other ships on fire. There are several strong thematic elements, including the intended death of main characters for evil purposes. (Only by shedding blood can the curse be broken.) The violence itself isn’t overly graphic and there’s very little blood.
Sensuality is mostly limited to low-cut period gowns. Women in one scene are presumably prostitutes, but their presence is part of a running gag. There are a few mild innuendoes that will go over most younger viewers’ heads. A woman’s corset is cut off because it’s strangling her. Language is limited to a few uses of the term “bloody.” (“Bloody pirates!”) One of the pirates has a wooden eyeball which he infrequently pops out to examine and complains of the “splinters.” While not being grisly, his eyeball is impaled in one scene by a fork (played for laughs), then pops out another time and rolls across the deck while he frantically attempts to retrieve it.
The aspect which will concern some Christian viewers is based on the entire premise of the film… an ancient curse placed upon the stolen gold by “the gods” of the Aztec Indians. Because of it, the pirates live a half life—they 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 encouragement that only older children be allowed to attend.
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 which will leave you thirsting for more.