It’s been a long time since the world was treated to a good, old-fashioned pirate movie complete with lightning swordplay and buried treasure. In case you’re keeping track at home, Cutthroat Island doesn’t count. Despite having some pretty nasty hesitations (it’s based on a theme park ride and has the words Jerry and Bruckheimer attached to the producing credits), Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is the best and most fun film of an otherwise lacklustre blockbuster summer season thus far. Even in the best of summer seasons, Pirates of the Caribbean would stand out.
The Black Pearl is the type of ship legends are made from. Rumor has it that every time she plunders a passing vessel not a survivor remains. But is she real? Let’s just say that if she wasn’t in the context of the film, there wouldn’t be much of a film now, would there? Led by Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), the crew of scallywags are cursed to live eternally as skeletal ghosts that can no longer feel the rush of excitement that comes with being a pirate. When young governess Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) is kidnapped aboard the Black Pearl, meek Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and former Black Pearl helmer Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) head out to sea to save her. There’s also plenty of doubloon chasing, plank walking and the like to get your long-overdue pirate fix quenched.
While there’s not a lot to the plot, that’s all right because its focused on action and, more importantly, a sense of adventure. While The Matrix Reloaded, Terminator 3 and others have pushed the bar of how far and how many explosions, car chases and shoot-outs we can handle in our cinema, none of this summer’s offerings have had much adventure. While none of the Indiana Jones films have a lot of violence, they’re still loads of fun. Why? Because Dr. Jones is pushed to the limits in unique locations, over high stakes and in fast-paced situations. While I may suffer from a momentary lapse of sensory overload watching the ghost twins in a freeway chase, jumping from car to car in pursuit of Trinity, Morpheus, et al, adventure is more of a sense of wonderment like when a boulder follows Indiana Jones or Elliott and E.T.’s silhouettes fly across the moon. While Pirates might not have a single defining moment of wonderment that will remain in pop culture’s consciousness in the years to come, it does as a whole tap into the same subconscious sensibilities that make you wish you were there. This is something that cannot be measured by a special effects count or a budget.
I’ll be the first to admit that while I was starved for a traditional pirate movie, Pirates of the Caribbean didn’t get my hopes up. With Bruckheimer attached I knew things were going to look good as they went boom and nothing was going to be overly compelling. And after the debacle that was The Country Bears, this corporate synergy driven trend of Disney marrying original Disneyland attractions looked to be going nowhere. Again I was shown that expectations and film aren’t always compatible. If I get stoked for something, more often than not I’m disappointed. On the other hand, if I expect something to stink, there are occasions where I’m pleasantly surprised. Like most, I’ll take the warm and fuzzy feeling of pleasantries any day.
As far as modern actors, you can’t normally go wrong with Johnny Depp. Nine times out of 10, he makes something that is at the very least interesting, even if his films aren’t always great. His characters are generally an oddball type that are eccentric, yet still grounded. Think Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He is a man who genuinely appears to appreciate his craft. In the skin of Captain Jack Sparrow, Depp does the best impression of the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards I’ve seen in pirate garb. And why not? Sparrow is a rock star for his period. Someone people know, fear, hate, love – he’s the kind of rebel everybody wants to be. Depp is deliciously over-the-top but he still holds back just enough not to make his character a complete farce. His restraint also works to the benefit of the rest of the cast as they are not completely upstaged.
I’ve never completely understood the notion of paying to see a movie a second time while it’s still in the theater when there’s other stuff waiting in the cue. I have done it, but I can count those occasions on one hand. But after seeing Pirates of the Caribbean and taking a bit of time to mull it over, I’m realizing that it might be time to break another personal rule of thumb. This movie is pure escapism at its best. I might not be a better person for having seen it but I am happier whenever I think about it. And bits and pieces are popping to mind with no less frequency than when I walked out of the theater. Either that’s a good thing or I’m pathetic.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Gallery