U.S. Release Date: July 9, 2003
Distributor: Buena Vista
Director: Gore Verbinski
Writer: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer
Composer: Klaus Badelt, Ramin Djawadi (Additional music)
Cast: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Zoe Saldana
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (action adventure/violence)

A Theme Park’s Thrill Put to Screen
by Scott Holleran

Disney's first in a series based on its popular theme park attraction, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is a frivolous excursion. Blending horror and adventure, with mild gore, this Jerry Bruckheimer production—too ghoulish to be a bonafide swashbuckler—begins with the story of a ghost ship, the Black Pearl. She sails under a dreadful curse.

Directed by Gore Verbinski (The Ring) and written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (The Mask of Zorro), the tale introduces a spirited young girl, singing the Disneyland attraction's tune, "Yo-Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)," and an orphaned pirate boy pulled from sea in the aftermath of mysterious bedlam.

The pair grows to be feisty Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and lower class love interest Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). She's the governor's (Jonathan Pryce) comely daughter. He's a skilled blacksmith—and swordsman—whose late father was apparently a good pirate. Class keeps them apart.

What throws them together is an inebriated joker named Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, hamming it up), a swarthy scoundrel who once commanded the Black Pearl until she was seized by Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, spot-on in his dastardly portrayal), who left Cap'n Jack for dead on a deserted isle. When Barbossa's pirates snatch Elizabeth in a raid, Will reluctantly enlists Depp's unsteady character to rescue her.

Barbossa's foul-stenched mates seek to lift the curse by spilling a few drops of Elizabeth's blood, and, intermingling motives, moody music and effects, the silly monster mash—the pirates are half-dead—crawls into a creepy, bawdy affair. Light as a feather and just as ticklish, Elizabeth and Will are an attractive couple, with Jack Sparrow as their wasted, fairy godfather escaped from Pleasure Island (though he holds his own with a blade), and they spar with snappy dialog. Wobbly Jack's best line: "but you have heard of me."

Verbinski doesn't overdo the darkness, using bones and booty in a rousing ride with outlandish characters, night fights in moonlight and the omnipresent promise of action. Walking the plank, swinging from masts, heaving bosoms, lusty looks, exotic animals, an occasional swig from a bottle of rum—it's all part of the deal—sometimes too much, as when Jack and Elizabeth are stranded and the movie meanders off course.

Cuts are quick and sound is thunderous, but the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl floats by, eager to please. It is long and loud and Jack may wear thin—he hardly makes a lick of sense—depending on one's tolerance for Depp's affectations, a femme cousin of John Wayne's Rooster Cogburn in True Grit; the down-and-out clown with a heart of gold—brazen, unstable, and flying higher than a hippie at a Grateful Dead concert.

This glorified ghost story with the lights turned out does not pretend to be seriously sordid, though it leans toward the horror side. Like a good Halloween scare (and the Disneyland attraction), Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, aims low and pulls off a jolly old ghost tale.

Buy on DVD
DVD Notes
The two-disc collector's edition is packed with loot and it begins on disc two in a buried treasure under Pirates in the Parks. The archival feature, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, charts the course of the franchise.

The 17-minute Disneyland program shows the attraction from storyboards and Audio-Animatronics wiring to a scene-by-scene ride through the attraction's first incarnation, complete with original audio track—a real treat in an age of overblown effects. Your host: Walt Disney, whose enthusiasm is contagious. Press pause for snapshots of early Disneyland—including the pirate ship from Peter Pan—which have since disappeared.

A multitude of the usual DVD extras are abundantly featured in this dandy package: commentaries from director Gore Verbinski, Johnny Depp, all four writers, producer Jerry Bruckheimer's photo gallery, behind-the-scenes bits, bloopers, deleted scenes, computer (not Mac) stuff and a printed guide with flow chart.

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