Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

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Bold, dashing, brazenly preposterous fun; wow. They got it so right on so many levels. Rating: 9 out of 10.

Toby Baldwin's Film Review

What often makes a movie seem bad is that it constantly slaps the viewer in the face with the fact that they are watching a movie, thus allowing the brain to begin picking apart the story, the acting, the effects, etc. But a combination of a good story, good directing, good script, good cast, good music, etc., sucks the viewer in, thus keeping the brain happily entertained instead. The awareness of the impossibility of the things taking place on the screen is still there, but nicely tucked away by the fun being had. In short, nothing awakens the viewer from the fictive dream.

I try to just enjoy movies. Movies have to be pretty bad to make me switch to amateur-film-critic mode. I'm pleased to say that Pirates of the Carribean left me in happy moviegoer mode throughout, 143 minute runtime notwithstanding. What a fun movie!

Johnny Depp ruled the movie, no question about it. Early reviews talked about his "drunken drag queen" performance, etc., usually by way of trying to compliment him. Yes, he is gleefully over the top, but not in a way that clashes with the overall film. Geoffrey Rush hammed it up as the rival Pirate captain. Keira Knightley (who gave an appealing performance in the sleeper hit Bend it Like Beckam) and Orlando Bloom (flavor of the month several months running since Fellowship of the Ring) prove their earlier successes weren't flukes by classical performances. By classical, I mean that Bloom is an Errol-Flynn like leading man, and Knightley a classically beautiful and charming lady.

The script is the downfall of so many bombastic blockbuster attempts, but thankfully Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, who also teamed up on Shrek, produced a funny, sharp, nicely-paced yarn for director Gore Verbinski to work with. And Verbinski...what's with another horror director so ably crossing into a new genre, as did Peter Jackson before him? This, like Lord of the Rings, benefitted greatly from the director's horror movie skills for the creepy bad guys. Fortunately, the horror is generously glazed with camp. This is, after all, based on a Disneyland ride. As such, it has to be one of the greatest longshot movie adaptation success stories of all time...a movie based on a theme park ride?!? It shouldn't work, but does it ever.

The visuals are just great as well. The effects that must have been CGI never made me stop and go, "Look--CGI," like has happened even in some good movies like Spider-Man. But CGI they clearly must have been. There were flashes of epic cinematography; sweeping ocean shots and ship battles that would befit a film that tried to take itself more seriously. There were plenty of such flourishes in all aspects of the film, including the script; nice touches that the kids won't catch, but that separate a well-crafted film from the empty, all-hype-but-no-heart dreck that usually passes for a summer blockbuster. The music also was far from subdued, instead going for the grand adventurous feeling, and it worked, just like pretty much everything else.

I heard someone compare this to the Indy Jones flicks, and though that may seem at first glance like a cheap, shorthand way to describe a movie, and not likely very accurate, it actually is. There are many parallels there--in tone, pace, etc. Pirates only lacks the distinction of having been the first such movie.

I could ramble more, since I am clearly still buzzing from the movie, but let me wind this up by recommending Pirates of the Carribean as an extremely well-done, fun popcorn flick. Going in with that mindset, I'd say most will thoroughly enjoy the ride. Yo-ho indeed.

Movie details:
Directed by Gore Verbinski.
Rated PG-13 for "action/adventure violence," and a few subtle innuendos. I wouldn't recommend it for small kids.

Click here for complete details at IMDB.com.

Review copyright 2003 by Toby Baldwin.

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