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Vault: 'Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl' (2003) Dir. Gore Verbinski

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Kevin R. McNally, Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook


Based on the Disney ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ theme park ride, this summer blockbuster re-invented the pirate genre and launched a major franchise...

Elizabeth Swann (Knightly) hides a secret; a gold medallion found 8 years previously on a young boy who was the only survivor of a destroyed ship. The boy grows into blacksmith Will Turner (Bloom), friend of Elizabeth and her father, Governor Weatherby (Pryce).

The medallion is part of cursed Aztec gold being hunted across the Caribbean by Captain Hector Barbossa (Rush), a merciless pirate who sails the mighty ship ‘The Black Pearl’. They need the gold and a sacrifice to eradicate the curse put upon them.

When Swann kidnapped, it falls to Will to rescue her with the help of a pirate who knows a great deal about Barbossa and the Black Pearl; Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp). Whether he can be trusted or not is yet to be discovered…

The pirate genre in Hollywood never really hit the mainstream. We had many in the 1920s and 30s with your Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks swashbucklers, and then others popped up through the years, a few token efforts in the 80s and 90s that teased pirates and fantasy and adventure (“Hook”, “The Princess Bride” and “The Goonies” spring to mind) but the genre bombed out with “Cutthroat Island’ in 1995.

Then this little beauty is teased in 2002 – a film based on a popular Disney ride and (subconsciously) the successful LucasArts computer game series “The Secret Of Monkey Island”. With a top cast of talent and heartthrobs, a lavish production budget and a simple story of good and evil, it gave the pirate genre (albeit temporarily) the boost it needed and the return to the industry to please fans and film lovers worldwide.

There is no expense spared in this swashbuckling adventure - from the direction, to the score, to the cast and special effects. Everything is used perfectly.

We have great direction from Gore Verbinski, gorgeous cinematography capturing both the beauty and dread of the Caribbean by Dariusz Wolski and an iconic, rousing soundtrack by the inimitable Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt. Couple the work behind the camera with the talent in front and you’re onto a crowd pleaser. 

Johnny Depp reach a point in the late 90s where he was “good” but nothing “great”. Along came his quirky, slurring Keith Richards-inspired pirate Jack Sparrow and re-launched his career to showcase his talent for playing outrageously OTT characters in any situation and creating not just another Johnny Depp character, but a character brought to life physically and emotionally. When you think that the likes of Jim Carrey (pulled out due to 'Bruce Almighty), Michael Keaton and even Christopher Walken were up for this part, it makes you see that nobody could have created Sparrow like Depp did.

Cap'n Jack, while easily overdone and abused in later films as a one-trick pony, here is unlike a character we’ve seen before. He’s funny but dangerous, cruel but caring, exciting but cowardly; a real human being living as pirate the only way he knows with many demons haunting his past we get glimpses of here and there to flesh out his story. Physically and vocally he creates a unique character and is everything what you’d expect a loud and brash Johnny Depp pirate to be, and is great fun to watch and cheer for.

Geoffrey Rush plays the evil Captain Barbossa with plenty of hammy dialogue and OTT snarls and “yarrrghs!” than you can shake a peg-leg at. But for a pirate film, he creates a perfectly grounded villain brought to life with CGI when the curse sets in and shows a wonderful amount of humanity to a character plagued by something that has ruined his life, pushed to the limits to find a way out. His screen time with Depp is wonderful; he keeps it level headed and real while Depp bumbles and quips his way through.

Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly, eye candy for the fangirls and boys, slip into their roles of well-to-do and well-spoken period-piece heroes. Bloom can’t really act, we know that, but he has the look and style of a young swashbuckler who is as gifted with a blade as the next man. Knightly does what she does best – playing the same role she has in a manner of British films as a wealthy/well-spoken/prim and proper young woman who looks pretty in billowing dresses or tight corsets and still packs a punch in her action roles. Along with the dashing Jack Davenport and regal Jonathan Pryce, they all encapsulate that British sense of pomp and circumstance that ruled the Caribbean waters with their patriotism to King and Country.

While there is a little too much silly humour for me, in the likes of lots of gurning, lingering camera shots for comical reactions and too many slapstick characters who are there just to keep the family friendly humour present, it delivers on everything you’d expect from a pirate film. Exciting sea battles, well-staged sword fights, sun-kissed beaches and ports and scary villains brought to life with so-so CGI. The story is simple to follow even if it does go back and forward a little towards the end, but it’s something we’ve loved subconsciously from childhood brought to life on the big screen with superb set design, props and authentic make-up and costumes. 

We all wanted to be pirates; swinging onto ships as canons roared, battling with swords and jumping around rooftops as we did. To visit rowdy taverns, escape from jails, steal ships and plunder treasure, kissing handsome gentlemen or romancing buxom women.

The swashbuckling pirates life is brought to life and reminds us what it’s like to let go of reality and escape into nothing but fantastical adventure.

'Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl' is a Walt Disney Pictures / Jerry Bruckheimer Films production

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