Based on the well-known Disney theme park ride, something has to first
be said about the name of this mega-budgeted swashbuckling adventure.
"Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" must rank
as one of the most preposterously overlong titles to ever be given
to a non-sequel motion picture. The ride, after all, is called "Pirates
of the Caribbean," and works just fine without a subtitle. Whoever
it was at the studio who chose this new-and-unimproved title should
be bitch-slapped and sent packing with a pink slip. But I digress.
The movie in question is noticeably more ambitious than one might
expect from a film based not on a novel or short story, but an actual
amusement park water ride. Director Gore Verbinski (2002's "The Ring")
injects his multifaceted story with a steady, assured build-up and
indelible technical craft. The alternately foreboding atmosphere and
beauteous scenery, aided by fog-drenched watery surroundings, massive
rock caverns, and deeply blue-hued moonlit nights, is extraordinary
to look. Verbinski and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (2002's "Bad
Company") impress by holding an actual cinematic vision, and not stopping
until they have achieved it shot-for-shot. It also helps that, with
a steady amount of violence, swordplay, darkness, and potentially
frightening images, the PG-13 film (Walt Disney Pictures' first ever)
is not sugarcoated, dumbed-down, or aimed solely at children.
The bad news about "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black
Pearl" is that after a stunningly involved and richly moody opening
45 minutes that had me preparing to give away the award for this year's
"Best Summer Movie," the proceedings quickly went downhill. Suddenly,
the freshness of the first-third was replaced by too many banally
uninteresting scenes of needless exposition and an even larger amount
of repetitious action sequences that basically repeated themselves
over and over, ad nauseum.
Set in the 18th-century Caribbean, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp)
is a lowly vagabond sailor--bumbling but talented--who manages to
save the life of lovely, headstrong Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley)
before getting arrested for piracy. When an infamous group of immortal,
undead pirates who turn to skeletons in the moonlight, led by Barbossa
(Geoffrey Rush), arrive to possess a sacred gold coin owned by Elizabeth,
and consequently kidnap her, courageous blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando
Bloom) decides to break Jack Sparrow out of jail so they can join
forces and save her. What they do not yet know is that Barbossa's
master plan is a human blood sacrifice that will break their curse
and restore mortality to the crew of the Black Pearl.
At nearly two-and-a-half hours, "Pirates of the Caribbean" hasn't
the faintest idea how to move its plot along or wrap things up in
a reasonable time frame. The climax, which should have been a grandly
realized, edge-of-your-seat action sequence between the mortal heroes
and skeletal villains, is nothing if not a dreary, seemingly unending
endurance test that jumps back and forth between the Black Pearl and
the lavish caves. So is a two-way battle between pirate ships, complete
with bombs blazing and ample explosions, that has no idea when to quit.
Director Gore Verbinski, along with screenwriters Ted Elliott and
Terry Rossio (2001's "Shrek"), are smart-minded and natural in their
initial story set-up, but the longer the movie plays at, the more
flaws become apparent. Most prominently, the goal of the heroes to
stop the pirates from achieving mortality is nonsensical, because
if they were mortal, at least they could be defeated and killed. And
naturally, it is expected that pirate movies, a mostly forgotten genre
that hasn't had a success in well over a decade, should hold taut
swordfights, death-defying stunts, and at least one scene where someone
is forced to walk the plank. "Pirates of the Caribbean" has these,
all right, and then exhausts every single one of them by replaying
variations on the same scene without any movement forward in the story.
As luscious as much of the movie is, it is also burdened with a chronic
long-windedness that eventually becomes tedious.
As Captain Jack Sparrow, a goofy, nearly androgynous pirate who is
constantly switching sides based on his own benefits, Johnny Depp
(2001's "From Hell") is a force to be reckoned with. He makes the
character his own, filled with all-out originality and charm, and
every time Depp is onscreen, the proceedings are better for it. The
same goes for Geoffrey Rush (2002's "The Banger Sisters"), deliciously
evil and over-the-top as head villain Barbossa. Keira Knightley (1999's
"Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace"), who should also be known
as an eerie, nearly identical doppleganger of Natalie Portman, makes
for a bewitching damsel in distress who knows how to fight her own
battles. The weak spot of the nain actors is Orlando Bloom (2002's
"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"), a bland, uncharismatic dullard.
As much hype as Bloom has been getting of late, one would expect his
first leading performance to not be as instantly disposable. No sparks
are ignited between he and Knightley, although, in all fairness, too
little time is spent on their romance for it to have much of an impact, anyway.
"Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl"--I still
can't quite get over that hideously long title--is blessed with keen
filmmaking sensibilities by Gore Verbinski (even if they are not as
evident as in his previous feature, "The Ring"), a visual creativity,
and almost seamless visual effects. The skeletons, done with CG, move
smoothly, realistically, and without the herky-jerky motions that
often plague computer-created beings. Ultimately, what begins so well
soon becomes too much of a good thing in every department. By the
end, the film has gone from being a cheesy delight to an aimless,
tired smorgasbord of empty action scenes.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman