Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) ** 1/2
Directed by Gore Verbinski. Written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, from a story by Mr. Elliott and Mr. Rossio, Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert and on Walt Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" Photography, Dariusz Wolski. Editing, Craig Wood, Stephen Rivkin , Arthur Schmidt. Production designer, Brian Morris. Music, Klaus Badelt. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Cast: Johnny Depp (Jack Sparrow), Geoffrey Rush (Barbossa), Orlando Bloom (Will Turner), Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Swann), Jack Davenport (Norrington), Jonathan Pryce (Governor Weatherby Swann) et al. A Walt Disney Pictures release. 135 minutes. PG-13.
Although I have never been to Disneyland I would gladly do so if offered a round-trip, accommodations, meals, fees (all first class, for four people) plus pocket money. Until this happens I will remain unqualified to judge items such as the Disney theme-park ride on which the movie "Pirates" is based.
Being able to discuss only the film "per se" I can only say that for some adults it can be a "fun movie," regardless of its many weaknesses and exaggerated length. For youngsters too, perhaps, but the amount of violence, fanciful though it is, would not make me take along pre-teens.
"Pirates" requires total suspension of disbelief, which is OK in this case. It also requires total suspension of logic. Even by the rules of fantasy, its continuity is grade F. The steady incoherences and arbitrariness, no matter what the viewer's age, are enormous - and there is a severe lack of cause-to-effect.
I can put myself in the mood to accept comic-book acrobatics and, in fact, find them entertaining or comical. I might even make the effort to appreciate the transformations of human pirates into dueling skeletons. One reason for this leniency is that the special effects are willy-nilly a tribute to the great Ray Harryhausen, notably his living skeleton in "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad," (1958) and his horde of fighting skeletons in "Jason and the Argonauts" (1963) that come with a splendid score by Bernard Herrmann ( Orson Welles's "Citizen Kane" and "The Magificent Ambersons," 8 Hitchcock films, and much, much else with other directors.)
It is pointless to go into the movie's description. But when it comes to evaluation the best you can say is that the product is partly based on the principles of "There is no honor among thieves," and "Keep it moving."
Some aspects of the picture are valid. Such as the pretty nose of the decorative love-interest Keira Knightley (as Miss Swann) who, however, was far more interesting in the recent "Bend it Like Beckham" the chameleonic Geoffrey Rush as pirate captain Geoffrey Rush as the nemesis of co-pirate Johnny Depp; the comic-surreal dialogues between two English soldiers that remind me of the Abbott and Costello "Who's on First?" routine; Orlando Bloom as the valiant Will Turner, Miss Swann's swain; and above all, Johnny Depp who steals not only people but also the full movie.
He is captain Jack Sparrow, a bird name that goes with Swann and pirates' parrots. His second-in-command used to be Geoffrey Rush whose name, Barbossa, is a condensation of Barbarossa (Red Beard,) the nickname of the famous German King and Roman Emperor Frederick I (1123-1190.) It also recalls "Operation Barbarossa" which was the code name of Germany's invasion on the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. I stress those points because there are some small, private pleasures strewn across the film. Unfortunately, the plot is such a mess, vague, confusing and muddy, that it obstructs much of the movie.
Still Johnny Depp is THE graceless--on purpose--saving grace. A weirdo to end all nutty characters, he alternates between a loser and a winner, is clad in bizarre garb and painted up by Loreal-ish or Elizabeth Arden-ish cosmetics gone crazy. He performs athletic wonders a la Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (of the silent screen) or like Errol Flynn , the major swashbuckler of the sound movies, a "good pirate" in "Captain Blood" (1935) and in "The Seahawk" (1940), a land-rebel as Robin Hood (1938,) etc.
It is clear to movie aficionados that Captain Sparrow is simultaneously an imitation and a parody of his illustrious ancestors, in revisionist ways, post-modern ways mind you, ways which include contradictions, gay mannerisms, bad teeth, braids, awful hair with silly decorations and a ton of amusing characteristics.
Does Depp rescue the movie? Yes. Not that the picture's incoherences, vagaries, vaguenesses, anti-verisimilitudes can be erased. Even so, he is like a lifesaver without which the film would sink into deep fathoms. As it is, the Depp's get-up, mien, actions and everything else are heaven-sent in this lengthy ramble. Several sections where Depp does not appear might allow you to catch tiny naps between scenes since so much of the movie can be missed.