“.. not only takes you on a wonderful adventure, but it also lays the groundwork for one of the best trilogies in film history.”
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is the first film in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The film, for those who don’t know, follows the trio of Elizabeth Swann, the Governor’s daughter, Will Turner, a blacksmith and long-time admirer of Elizabeth Swann, and Jack Sparrow, the worst pirate you’ve ever heard of (but at least you’ve heard of him). To streamline the plot of the movie: the three characters go on an adventure to help (well, not really) get Jack Sparrow his boat back; but little do they know the crew of that boat, The Black Pearl, have all been cursed by Aztec gold and now they are skeleton pirates. Trying to spell it all out like this makes the plot seem like a mess, but trust me it totally works in the film.
Now it is my personal opinion that Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the best trilogies ever made, even just in terms of the scale of production. Much like with something like The Lord of the Rings, you get these really elaborate, practical sets and costumes, characters and lore that will occupy your mind for days, and the undeniable feeling of wonder and adventure when you watch it. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (from now on called “Pirates 1” or “Pirates” or “the movie”) kicks off this amazing trilogy by delivering one of the movies that shaped my childhood. Now I’m not going to pull the whole sympathy shit by saying that I grew up with this movie and it helped me fix a problem in my life or anything like that, I’m just going to say that for children, which I was at one point, this movie is great fun and fuel for many hours of playing with sticks in your backyard. One thing that truly amazes me is how Pirates 1 manages to make a film that is kid friendly, but without pandering to them. Instead of having the movie be filled with constant jokes they had one character (Jack Sparrow) for comedy, and the rest of them (for the most part) were serious. If I’m being honest this movie actually gets pretty scary as well, but not in any way that is too much for children. Now of course the star of the movie is Johnny Depp playing Captain Jack Sparrow, but before I get into that I want to discuss the other characters first. If I had to describe the bulk of the performances in Pirates 1, the term I would use is “flat”. Honestly there just isn’t much there for a lot of the cast, but I don’t necessarily think that it is their fault. Part of what makes some characters rather 2D is that serious tone that I was talking about earlier. Sure the movie is serious, but its’ still for children so things can’t get too serious, if you know what I mean. This unfortunately leaves a lot of actors in this weird limbo where their performances aren’t great or bad, but just in the middle. Now of course this isn’t true for everybody because there are a few standouts, the main one being Jack Sparrow. You could easily argue that Jack Sparrow is the star of this franchise despite the films technically being about Elizabeth and Will, and I wouldn’t disagree with you. Now in the later films Jack Sparrow is moved into more of a starring role, but that all happened because of Johnny Depp’s wonderful performance in Pirates 1. Not only does Depp play Jack Sparrow as the ‘comic relief’ character, but there is still this aura of seriousness to him. The subtleties are where Depp truly shines in his portrayal of Jack Sparrow; the facial expressions, the movements, the general attitude. All of it creates this amazing image of this eccentric pirate.
Moving one to some of the technical aspects of the film, let’s talk about the effects. Now as I mentioned before, Pirates 1 (as well as the rest of the franchise) uses practical effects wherever it can. This means that the boats are real, the swords are real, and pretty much everything else is real as well. This is greatly appreciated by me because that means that I can go back and watch these movies without having to ignore much. One thing that was a little tough to get through however were the effects for the “skeleton crew” of the Black Pearl. Now by no means were these effects bad, but they were very apparent in the movie. I’m sure that when the movie came out these were the best special effects that anyone had ever seen, but unfortunately they didn’t age as well as one would hope. Now these aren’t ‘Alien 3’ level, but they are still kind of tough to sit through at times. On another not, one thing that Pirates 1 did very well was the action, more specifically how it was shot and choreographed. Once again because this is a “kids movie” there needs to be some light-hearted moments, and you find that a lot with the action. Be it the hilarious sword fight in the blacksmith shop, or loading cannons with cutlery, there is always something going on that makes you laugh in an otherwise serious scene. And once again there was the perfect amount of comedy meaning it didn’t detract from the overall feel of the movie (in my opinion). I also really enjoyed how this action was shot because it managed to be fast-paced, but not so much so that you lose the thread of what’s happening. The comedic moments in these scenes were also very well shot as well, making sure to really nail the timing for all of the gags that occur. The last thing I want to discuss is probably one of the high-points of the entire franchise: the score. Not only does the music in Pirates 1 capture the feeling of the scenes perfectly, but it has become an icon in the pop culture world. Be it the more intense moments accompanied with a sombre score, or the swashbuckling action scenes paired with the amazing theme song that we all know and love, the music in Pirates 1 never disappoints.
Overall Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl does have its flaws, but the good truly does outweigh the bad. For every mediocre performance you have Johnny Depp creating an icon with his portrayal of Jack Sparrow. For every use of CGI that’s questionable you have hours of beautiful practical effects that will take your breath away. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl not only takes you on a wonderful adventure, but it also lays the groundwork for one of the best trilogies in film history.
I give Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl a B