When the first Pirates of the Caribbean film was announced, there weren’t a lot of people who had high hopes for it. Oh, I knew I’d go see it, but I didn’t expect much. The only exception to this I know is my friend Doug, but he’s not an objective voice on this one. Doug will watch anything with wooden ships and/or pirates in it; he actually liked Cutthroat Island. And then the reviews started coming in. Gore Verbinski had done the unthinkable and created something far more than anyone thought possible: a genuinely good and entertaining film based on a theme park ride. Usually it goes the other way—movie first, theme park ride second.
We get a nice tease at the start when young Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley eventually) not only rescues a young boy named Will Turner (Orlando Bloom after the opening scene) from a ship that has been raided by pirates. Will is wearing a medallion that looks suspiciously like it should belong to pirates, and since the penalty for piracy is death, she hides it.
Jump forward a decade and Elizabeth is grown up and appears to be a suitable marriage match for the newly minted Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport), at least in the eyes of her father, Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce), the governor of the Caribbean port town of Port Royal. Will Turner has been apprenticed to the local drunken blacksmith and has used his time making swords and training with them. See, Will has a problem with pirates.
Enter Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), a pirate captain who is alternately completely incompetent and brilliant. Jack wants nothing more than to reclaim his old ship, the Black Pearl, which was stolen from him in a mutiny by his first mate, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). As it happens, Jack finds himself imprisoned and the Pearl arrives in Port Royal. The crew of the ship, once Jack’s crew, has been cursed by a treasure they stole. They need the medallion that Elizabeth possesses to break the curse.
And thus we have swashbuckling battles, sea fights, and some tremendously good action for close to two and a half hours. It’s a fast two and a half hours in no small part because it’s entertaining as hell.
Much of the entertainment value of the film comes from a few key performances. First, of course, is Johnny Depp, who was Oscar-nominated for what is essentially a long impression of Keith Richards. Depp’s performance immediately became iconic as one of the great acting roles of the new century. Equally fun is the scenery chewing of Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa, who manages not only to incorporate every pirate stereotype and still create a fresh and interesting character.
Beyond that, we have the stooges both on the naval side and on the pirate side. For the Royal Navy, we have Murtogg (Giles New) and Mullroy (Angus Barnett), who are a both half comic relief and half straight man. They even get their own heroic moment near the end of the film. On the pirate side, Pintel (Lee Arenberg) and Ragetti (Mackenzie Crook) play essentially the same roles, just with comic malice.
Even this pales in comparison to the excellent action sequences that run through the film. This is swashbuckling at its best, and big-budget film stunts at their best. Everything that anyone would want in an action film is here, and there’s no skimping on the stunt work or the action sequences. There’s also no shortage of humor or scares. The effects work is brilliant throughout. The undead sailors are obviously an effect, but they look great.
Okay, there are some problems with the plotting (watch the sequence at the end with Jack’s shot and when the coin goes into the chest). So what? This is tremendously entertaining stuff all the way through. It’s the sort of film that is exactly what it should have been. It doesn’t take itself seriously, but is serious enough that it’s not played for farce. It has something in it for everyone who might come across it—action, romance, comedy, scares, and supernatural fun.
You know what sucks about it? It ended up being such a success that it spawned a series of films that have become increasingly silly and less and less relevant. The reviews and IMDB ratings for these films have consistently fallen, from film to film. Of course there’s going to be a fifth one, more’s the pity. If only they could have left well enough alone and let Jack Sparrow be the icon he was meant to be instead of the cartoon character he’s become.
Why to watch Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: It’s far more fun than the theme park ride on which it is based.
Why not to watch: Where the series went after this.
If I'm not mistaken, "pintel" is Old English for "dick." The term is used in Robert Zemeckis's "Beowulf" when both Beowulf and Wiglaf try to stab Grendel in the crotch during the night-fight at Heorot.ReplyDelete
I, too, was pleasantly surprised by "Pirates." I've seen the first two movies in the series all the way through, and have seen enough of the third to know, more or less, what happens. Haven't seen the fourth at all. I do have to credit the screenwriters for not insulting the audience's intelligence by crafting simple, over-linear plots.
Oh, yeah—forgot to mention that, as a fight-choreography junkie, I'm right there with you re: the magnificent swashbuckling.ReplyDelete
You may be correct about "pintel." I can tell you that a pintle is a type of weapon mount. If you see an old school Jeep with a weapon mounted on the back on a swivel, that's a pintle mount.Delete
The sword fighting really is about as good as it gets here. If for nothing else, it's worth seeing for the fight choreography.
I'm completely with you on my initial attitude about the film when I first heard of it. It was along the lines of "What are Depp and Rush doing in a film based on a Disney theme park ride?" And like you I was very entertained by it.ReplyDelete
And the character of Captain Jack Sparrow is perfectly introduced early on when the Admiral says to him "you are the worst pirate I have ever heard of" and Sparrow responds "but you HAVE heard of me."
I'll buck the trend some and say that I enjoyed the second one just as much as the first. The action scenes on the island with the three way sword fight, mill wheel, treasure chest being fought over by three different parties, etc. etc. was top notch. And Knightley got to buckle some swashes, too. The third and fourth ones do drop off in entertainment quality.
Good screenwriting and fun performances cure a lot of ills. I'll agree that the second one was good, but I didn't love the cliffhanger ending or some of the logic behind it. Creating a fourth film was nothing more than a money grab once the trilogy was completed. It would be like doing another Matrix film. Or, perhaps, a fourth Indiana Jones movie.Delete
I still say that as good as that line is, Sparrow's arrival at the dock on the sinking ship is one of the great character entrances of all time.
I'm with Chip here, I enjoy part 2 just as much as the original, but then there's elements of part 3 that I like too (part 4 can walk the plank, though). Capt. Sparrow is such an iconic character, even if most of his great moments were in the first film, and have barely been expanded upon since.Delete
Rush is my favourite part of these films though, he's got such a great piratey voice. Don't mention making a 4th Indiana Jones movie, that would be a terrible idea.
I agree that Rush is the unsung hero of these films. He looks like he's having such a great time in the role, and he really did tune it perfectly. Any less and he wouldn't be as fun, but any more and he'd be far too camp.Delete
I love this movie. Love it love it love it for the point you made - it never takes itself too seriously, but it's not played for farce. To me, this is one of those rare crowd pleasing films that captures lightning in a bottle - everything was working. Good performances, crackerjack story, great fights, good laughs, etc.ReplyDelete
I pretend the sequels don't exist. I'm a happier person that way.
I do the same thing with The Matrix and for the exact same reason. I mean, I knew a sequel would happen. I just wish it hadn't.Delete
I don't hate the sequels but they are far less fun. The swashbuckling is the one reason to see the. The stories are convoluted and forced but the stunts are usually top notch. I'll agree with the comment above, the three way sword fight in the second film was excellent. Stand alone adventures with Jack Sparrow would have worked better but when you spend $200 million to make a film, you've got to cover your tail. This was one of my favorite surprises in a theater. The original film fires on all cylinders. The entrance of Jack was comic and character brilliance.ReplyDelete
I lost interest after the second film. I saw enough of the third one to know that I had seen enough.Delete
I had few expectations for this movie and enjoyed it so much. What I liked is that it was an ensemble and didn't focus so much on Depp. His character gets less interesting as the leading man than he is as the comic foil. When they tried to set him up with a romance with Keira Knightley in the 2nd film, it was a big mistake. I was stunned by how bad the sequel was, and the 3rd one did little to improve on it besides adding Geoffrey Rush again. I didn't bother with the 4th film. I really need to revisit this film again to remind me how good it is.ReplyDelete
I didn't mind the second one, although I agree that the Depp/Knightley plot was uninteresting. I watched parts of the third one and decided I didn't need to see the whole thing. As for the fourth one, I wasn't even aware it came out and have no plans to see it.Delete
The fifth one will make money when it's released, but my overall impression is that people are caring less and less.