The last time I saw any of the Pirates of the Caribbean films was in the cinema. Given that I will be writing about pirates fairly soon (and that HMV had the blu-rays for cheap) I figured it’s about time I returned to give the franchise another watch. I’ll be doing one each Sunday, starting today with part one, Curse of the Black Pearl.
The first thing that really struck me as surprising was how much of this first film I actually remembered. A lot of it from the first act. Granted the introductory shot of Captain Jack Sparrow coming into Port Royal on a sinking boat is pretty damn iconic at this point, but I could quote even minor lines like the blacksmith’s “Just doing my civic duty, sir” pretty much verbatim. Not bad for a film I haven’t seen since the Summer of 2003.
The second thing that really got me was how much iconography in the film is lifted pretty directly from the ride. The Pirates of the Caribbean ride is one of my favourites at Disney World, and one I ride multiple times whenever I go. I remembered the famous scene with the prisoners and the dog, but a lot of the Black Pearl’s crew assault on Port Royal looked to be lifted almost directly from latter portions of the ride itself.
Which brings me onto my final surprise: Captain Barbossa. Having seen the latter films more recently (in relative terms), my memory of Barbossa was that of the chaotic neutral anti-hero. In Curse of the Black Pearl, he’s a straight up villain. I can see why they made the change though. Geoffrey Rush is just too likable in the role, clearly having the time of his life hamming up every scene. I don’t know if he ever dreamed of being an actual pirate as a child, but it’s very easy to imagine.
Unfortunately, while the opening hour or so set in Port Royal was magnificent, I felt the film suffered a little as it moved away. It was still a fun pirate adventure filled with double and triple crosses, but a lot of it seemed centred around the characters just sort of arriving and departing a single small island with a treasure cave. The story lost its way a little in the latter half, and never quite reached the heights of the Port Royal and Tortuga sections.
Director Gore Verbinski mitigates this somewhat by having an excellent eye for staging action. When the major (again, relatively speaking) battle scenes start up, there are a lot of different players to focus on, from Jack’s duel with Barbossa and Norrington’s Dauntless crew facing off with the undead Black Pearl pirates, to some lighter comedic segments with Governor Swan and Pintel and Ragetti.
With everything that goes on in these scenes, a lesser director might have lost everything in the shuffle or employed Michael Bay-esque shaky cam to trick the viewer into thinking the action is more visceral than it actually is. But Verbinski (with help from his choreographer and editor) manages to keep everything geographically consistent and stages some excellent battle scenes. Which, if memory serves, will be thoroughly blown out of the water by the next couple of films.
That’s all for this week. Come on back next Sunday as I continue the rewatch with the second in the series, Dead Man’s Chest.
1. Curse of the Black Pearl – A fun, lighthearted pirate adventure that is let down slightly by not being able to maintain its excellent quality going into its second half.