Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Pirates Of The Caribbean - The Curse Of The Black Pearl

Her Cool Pirate

Pirates Of The Caribbean -
The Curse Of The Black Pearl

USA 2003 Directed by Gore Verbinski
Disney Blu Ray Zone 2

Here we go then. It so happens that it’s finally time to watch the Pirates Of The Caribbean films again from the start, since I’ve not really watched these since their cinematic release. My impression of these at the time was similar to what I later thought of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies... that being that the first one in the franchise is a pretty good film and that it’s been followed up with some truly dreadful sequels, none of which has managed to disprove the old adage that, in terms of the quality of both series’ of movies, lightning doesn’t strike twice.

This first one is, in retrospect and as I look at it now, just a little too long in terms of its total running time of almost two and a half hours. That being said there’s very much a case to be made, in my mind, that the movie is made watchable by one particular actor and, coupled with a pretty cool score, he’s the thing which makes this one worth watching at all... although that’s not to dim the light of the other very good performances in this.

The film is based on the 1967 Disneyland attraction of the same name (minus the subtitle). It was the last such attraction to have been steered by Walt Disney himself, although he died a few months before it opened and it’s kind of ironic that, since this film was so financially successful and popularly received, the ride was closed down for a while to make it even more like the movie version... although there are apparently plenty of references to the original ride in this film.

The opening of the movie is a prologue chapter on a ship under the command of a character called Norrington, played by Jack Davenport. Here we see the younger versions of Elisabeth Swan and Will Turner before they grow up, by the next sequence, to be played by Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom. Elisabeth’s father, played by Jonathan Pryce, is quite keen that Elisabeth marry Norrington, even though there are obviously years between them (although Jack Davenport doesn’t seem to age at all in the time between the sequences). Of course, she is in love with the village blacksmith, the aforementioned Will Turner, who she knows to have something to do with piracy from the opening sequence, although she’s doesn’t reveal this information to Will. I remember sitting in the cinema and watching this first ten or so minutes of the film and looking at my watch and thinking... please don’t let the entire film be this dull and boring all the way through. Luckily, it’s just at this moment that we get the opening salvo of shots of Johnny Depp’s entry in the story. The music swells as the camera holds back from an establishing shot and we see Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow in command of his vast ship and the score gives wind to his sails. It’s only then that it’s revealed that Sparrow’s ship is, in fact, a tiny boat with one smallish sail and a reliance on how the camera can change the perspective of a shot and flatten it out. A nice little punchline as the boat is obviously sinking and Jack starts trying to bail it out as he nears port. A follow up shot not so long later sees Jack gliding confidently into port with a pullback to reveal he’s standing on top of the still sinking mast which just manages to get him to port so he can gracefully step off as the boat goes under. Nice stuff and this has got to be one of the best and most elaborately shot entrances for a character in modern Hollywood.

And then the writers throw a plot and some action at everything of varying quality but the film is, frankly, completely reliant on Johnny Depp’s exaggerated performance of Captain Jack Sparrow as the very heart and soul of the entertainment. Without Depp, in this case, the film would be nothing but here he really adds the ingredients so sorely missing from the sequences which find themselves "Deppless" and some nice concoctions of skeletal pirates, blood sacrifices to Aztec gold, coupled with some great swordplay and chase choreography make the film a pleasure to behold. Admittedly, it’s a slow trundling pleasure but there are some nice little movie references too, to keep the weary audience afloat and there are a lot more doubloons than duds in this one... something which sadly can’t be said for the other films in the series, if memory serves.

There’s a nice moment, for instance, where Jack Sparrow and Will Turner decide to team up and use an overturned rowing boat to walk beneath the surface of the sea, like a miniature submarine, using the naturally formed pocket of air left in the top of the boat to breathe. This is, of course, a nice little shout out to the exact same submersible solution created by James Hayter in The Crimson Pirate, as he uses the idea to transport himself, Burt Lancaster and Nick Cravat out of trouble (if you’ve never seen this marvellous movie, make a point of doing so... not only does Hayter’s character invent this submersible when called for... he also invents gun powder and the hot air ballon throughout the course of the story). Similarly, a well choreographed bit of ‘rescue nonsense’ at the end of the movie where Turner tries to get Jack Sparrow away from his impending execution is similarly choreographed almost like a dance routine and recalls the acrobatic antics of Lancaster and Cravat in certain scenes in The Crimson Pirate.

And then there’s the score. Although it’s composed and credited to Klaus Badelt (who also did a marvellous score for the reboot of The Time Machine), he also had a lot of help, primarily from Hans Zimmer who wrote the themes and, according to the original soundtrack album credits, ‘over produced’ the CD release. When you start digging deeper, however, you start to realise that there were a few composers working on the movie but, be that as it may, it’s a great score. There have been some marvellous scores over the years for pirate movies... the as yet unreleased score for The Crimson Pirate by William Alwyn and the much re-issued John Debney score to Cutthroat Island, to name but two... and The Curse Of The Black Pearl certainly joins them in having a rousing and much loved score. It does the job admirably and the strong Jack Sparrow action theme, albeit somewhat similar to something which originally appeared in Zimmer’s score for Gladiator, is one of those cues which people will be humming through the ages. It’s mixed quite heavily into the foreground in this movie and, frankly, it’s all the better for it. More movies these days, where the sound designers are in love with their own miasma of audio bombast and submersion, should give the music greater room to breathe, in my opinion. The films would certainly reap the benefits.

So there you have it. Well before Pirates Of The Caribbean came out, I was an admirer of Johnny Depp as a great actor and on screen personality and, although I’ve learnt in recent years that a good Johnny Depp performance isn’t always enough to save the day (Secret Window, The Tourist, Mortdecai etc.) this is definitely a film where he shines enough to carry the action and weight of the movie on himself and turn it into something quite watchable. There’s much buckling of swashes to be had in this first installment of Pirates Of The Caribbean - The Curse Of The Black Pearl and, though I couldn’t watch it every decade, I feel like there’s still a few viewings of this one left for me. If you like big adventure movies and you’ve never seen this one before... you’re in for a good time.

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