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"Pirates of the Caribbean" - Movie Review

  • Holly McClure Movie Reviewer
  • 2003 7 Jul
  • COMMENTS
"Pirates of the Caribbean" - Movie Review

Genre: Action, Adventure

Rating: PG-13 (for action/adventure violence)

Release Date: July 9, 2003

Actors: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Tom Wilkinson, Keira Knightly, Jonathan Pryce, Jack Davenport

Director: Gore Verbinski

Special Notes: To maximize authenticity, all of the actors playing pirates and a few playing British naval officers, spent weeks training with stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge and his sword masters (who trained Flynn and Fairbanks). Johnny Depp received training in the art of fencing when he starred in "Don Juan DeMarco" several years ago and Orlando Bloom likewise had already spent time with both Ruge and his team on "The Lord of the Rings." Few ships in existence today could pass for a vessel dating back to the 18th century and the studio and producers initially assumed they would have to build every ship featured in the story until they found a full-scale period reproduction of the first American vessel to make landfall on the Pacific Northwest Coast in 1789 -- The Lady Washington. The Lady Washington's crew was also used in front of the camera. The crew was a combination of men and women, experienced professionals as well as trainees, ranging in age from 16 to mid 50s, all of whom can now claim to have appeared as pirates in a major motion picture; the ladies even sported facial hair. Depp, who developed his ideas for the character of Jack while reading the script in his sauna, says he modeled a large part of the character after legendary Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, added a bit of the cartoon character Pepe Le Pou and tossed in some modern day Rastafarian.

Plot: The story is set in motion in the seventeenth century with 10-year-old Will drifting in the Caribbean Sea amidst the murdered crew and burning wreckage of a British ship that was attacked by pirates. The same day of his rescue, young Elizabeth (who has a romanticized notion about pirates) sees a gold medallion around Will's neck of a Jolly Roger skull and takes it from the unconscious boy thinking she has spared his life. Years later we see Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp), a charming pirate who has sailed all over the world, come to the Caribbean seeking adventure and treasure. Captain Jack's troubles begin when his precious ship, The Black Pearl, is stolen by the conniving Captain Barbossa (Rush). Then Jack is accused of kidnapping the governor's (Pryce) daughter, Elizabeth Swann (Knightly), and thrown in jail by her fiancé, British Commodore Norrington (Davenport). When the town of Port Royal is then attacked by Barbossa and Elizabeth is kidnapped by his men, Jack escapes jail and enlists the help of Elizabeth's childhood friend, Will Turner (Bloom), to commandeer the fastest ship in the British fleet and go after Elizabeth. As the two get closer to catching the kidnappers aboard the H.M.S. Dauntless, they discover skeletons in Barbossa's closet. It appears that his crew is cursed to live forever as the undead, with the moonlight eerily transforming them into living skeletons, until their treasure of gold is returned in full to them. When Jack realizes he has the gold coin that could release them from their curse, the deadly chase is on.

Good: Ahoy mates! This swashbuckling adventure is a mixture of old-fashioned entertainment with modern day technology that will thrill audiences with its cast of interesting characters, imaginative sets, electrifying sword fights and realistic special effects. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer is at the helm of this live-action adventure that pays homage to the popular Disney ride but isn't a direct interpretation of the attraction itself (although sketches and original concept drawings were provided by one of the ride's innovators). Rather, the film is an irreverent wink at the famous Disney theme park attraction which has stood the test of time and captivated so many of us for over 35 years. The ride was merely the seed for the idea of the movie; if you're a fan of the ride, you'll spot several familiar tribute scenes (pirates chase women around a balcony, a crab is in the sand next to a skeleton, Depp is in jail and dangles a bone through the bars to lure a dog (holding keys in his mouth) to come closer, and many more). Depp plays his famous pirate-with-a-past to the hilt and does a marvelous job at ultimately giving us a character who mentors Will and teaches him that he can't just blindly follow nonsensical rules and that a man has to make his own decisions, right or wrong, and go after what he wants in life. Bloom gives us a character who's coming of age and has grown up without a father figure, so he looks to Jack to open his eyes to what it means to be a man. He gets to be the one character audiences will relate to most. Knightley gets to play a twenty-first century girl stuck in an eighteenth century world. Elizabeth's strong independence gets her in trouble when she lets her morbid and romanticized curiosity about pirates become an obsession, and in fact she's shocked when her romantic notions are shaken by the cutthroat, dirty reality of who the pirates really are and what they're really like. But it's the attention of both Jack and Will that change Elizabeth's notions of romance and adventure. I enjoyed Rush in his wonderful portrayal of the feared pirate Barbossa. He's both scary and intense enough to keep the story suspenseful but personable enough to keep his character human and realistic.

Bad: Gore Verbinski directed the horror thriller "The Ring" and has incorporated the same knack for intense storytelling in this friendlier pirate tale without the darker elements of a horror movie. For parents believing that this movie will be "kid friendly" like the theme park ride, let me clarify that this is not a children's movie. However, this movie could be considered "teen friendly" because of the mature themes, adult humor and levity throughout the story. By definition a pirate movie is going to have a group of dangerous, unscrupulous characters who drink, use crude language, are filthy to look at and have no qualms about killing. On top of being a nasty bunch, they happen to have a curse on them that makes them turn into ghosts in the moonlight. This crew is willing to do whatever it takes (even kill Elizabeth) to return the gold coin and be freed from their curse. A few funny characters have been thrown in to keep the story humorous (one pirate has a wooden eye that keeps popping out, another has a bird who talks for him, etc.), so the audience doesn't ever take the story too seriously. There are numerous sword fights with casualties and there are other scenes with knives and swords (Elizabeth stabs a dinner knife into Barbossa's chest, but since he's undead, it doesn't hurt him; a fork lands in a pirate's fake eye; Jack shoots a pirate in the chest), but nothing is graphically portrayed. And of course there are the scenes of the pirates in the moonlight who appear in their skeletal form and look disgusting and creepy (flesh falling off their bones and their eyes bulging out). I will say if your children have seen the commercials for the movie, then they've seen the worst of what the pirates look like. But there are still a few scenes that are intense, so parents, you'll need to be discerning about what may frighten or disturb your children, depending on their age and maturity. There are a few mild profanities, some mild sexual innuendoes made by Barbossa and several women slap Jack on the face. There is obviously an abundance of violence because of the numerous battles and fights that various characters get into. And again, there are causalities -- but nothing graphic.

Bottom Line: I enjoyed the creative way this movie was made, and the incredible special effects and superb cast make it a memorable movie. I likewise enjoyed spotting the "spoofs" on the Disney theme park ride, and I laughed a lot at the humorous dialogue and swashbuckling antics of Depp and the pirates. But parents let me stress again: the scary and disgusting skeletal appearances of the pirates are definitely not appropriate for children with impressionable minds who get nightmares easily. Like I said, the commercials show what the skeletons look like but the sight of them in an intense, action-packed scene might be terrifying for a child under 13. That's why this movie is rated PG-13 and is intended for older audiences who can understand the difference between reality and fantasy. I'm obviously not suggesting this movie for everyone -- only those who enjoy a fun-filled fantasy adventure mixed with spooky special effects. Still, it reminded me a bit of the old pirate movies I used to watch as a kid: "Treasure Island", "The Crimson Pirate" and "Captain Blood." I think even Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks would enjoy this exciting swashbuckling addition to a genre that hasn't seen much in the way of pirate movies for several years.