Thursday, August 5, 2010

Day Thirty-Four: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #219
Year: 2003
Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom

I wouldn't be surprised to find out that this movie is considered one of the more controversial selections on the list, or that my position – I love it – is going to be attacked because this isn't a film that fits the traditional mold of greatness. Don't be fooled by the haters, though; we all know they're gonna hate. The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy is a shining example of what an epic summer adventure movie can and should be, and the best film of the three is the brilliant first installment, The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Gore Verbinski is one of the most underrated directors of our time, in my opinion. Despite being at the helm for one of the scariest and best horror movies of all time, The Ring, as well as the original Pirates trilogy – the stuff that in ten years we'll be calling canon after some other schmuck eviscerates the series with God knows how many sequels to the At World's End – and yet he's never talked about when great directing is being discussed. That's a shame, because the Pirates movies have some of the best cinematography of the last decade and best use of CGI of all time. Seriously. Between that and getting one of Johnny Depp's greatest performances in not one but three movies, playing the only role he has ever appeared in more than once, Verbinski should be at least in the conversation of the most important director of the last ten years.

The first Pirates flick – and unlike most of the films on this list, The Curse of the Black Pearl is definitely a "flick" – takes the very loose concept of a Disneyland ride and builds a complex but never overwhelming mythology around it. We meet a whole slew of characters, but most notably Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow, a drunkenly staggering, somewhat effeminate pirate whose knack for getting in (and out) of trouble is unparalleled on the Seven Seas. Aside from Heath Ledger's Joker, I'm not sure a more iconic character has come out of the last decade of film. Sparrow has been betrayed by a crew who mutinied when he was in charge, and they return to ransack towns and ships as cursed men who turn into skeletons in the moonlight. They kidnap female protagonist Elizabeth Swann, played solidly by a gorgeous Keira Knightley. Her secret love Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) teams up with Sparrow to get her back, and finds out that he's more of a pirate than he thought. This all successfully progresses the plot and also gives the viewer tons of badass scenes of skeleton pirates fighting flesh-and-blood pirates on the ocean. In fact, half of what makes this movie great is just what it gives you to look at. Verbinski would milk this even further in his sequels, but the perfect balance is struck here on Curse.

I'm not saying this movie should be discussed with Casablanca (my go-to Hollywood classic?) when lists of all-time greatest movies are being made. What I'm saying is that in the tradition of Jaws and Indiana Jones and Star Wars before it, Pirates of the Caribbean is a series of viable summer blockbusters that execute what they set out to do to near perfection. When The Curse of the Black Pearl comes on TV, there's no one in America who's not going to watch at least five minutes of it before they move on. It's one of the most fun movies ever made, and you'd better believe it deserves to be on this hallowed list.

The Good: Johnny Depp gives his best performance besides Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and creates one of the most iconic characters in film history.

The Bad: Orlando Bloom will never be able to act. Legolas is the worst part of The Lord of the Rings, and yes, Will Turner is the worst part of Pirates of the Caribbean.

The Skinny: Deserves to be on the list, possibly a lot higher, definitely a little higher.


  1. I am actually shocked to learn that this film is on the top 250, as I never cared for any installments of the series even though I saw them all in theaters. I do think this film is definitely the best and perhaps can't detach my annoyance with the hoopla surrounding it (the pirate trend, Hot Topic girls wearing the shirts and talking about Johnny Depp all through high school) from the film itself.

  2. This film is certainly funny, so I won't argue with your basic point here (I don't think it's as superlative as you do, but opinions opinions). I will argue that the series gets more bloated and less clever as they go on. The third one is almost three hours long for heaven's sake! Sparrow gets lets interesting in favor of just more schtick-y in the later ones, and they jut start throwing in random pieces of crap from pirate novels instead of actually coming up with their own stories. The third especially is so ponderous and tedious with unnecessary subplots and uninteresting character arcs that it becomes a chore to watch.

    I don't like quoting reviews, but the AV club says it best: What started out as a fleet one-off swashbuckler with novel supernatural elements has become loaded and graceless, with each new entry barreling across the goal line like William "The Refrigerator" Perry. The franchise's two chief assets—the surprise of Depp's swishy pirate and Gore Verbinski's dexterity at directing slapstick action sequences—have been eclipsed by expository scenes that confuse even more deeply in their attempt to clear things up. Should the franchise warrant still another sequel, the dialogue might as well be in Esperanto.

    But anyway, the first one is a mostly great, very fun swaskbuckling actioner with Depp and Geoffrey Rush being good enough to excuse the rest of the cast. No argument about it from me.

  3. I am not as big fan of Pirates of the Carribean as my elder brother. This is probably his top 10 movie as he tends to watch it every time on tv and reapeats that this one is by far the best of the three.
    In my eyes it is a fun adventure movie with great performance from Depp and interesting and I hope I am not wrong - original and exciting storyline.
    Although Indiana Jones is a well-known classic, maybe this one will be remembered as classic aswell and it is definetly a rival for Indiana in terms of action and fun.

    The Curse of the Black Pearl 8+/10

  4. @ Cory - Yeah, it's tough to separate the movie from the fans. Hell, I didn't even see Alice in Wonderland because I was so preemptively frustrated by the whole Depp-wearing-white-makeup-in-a-Hot-Topic-Burton-movie thing.

    @ Bert - The movies definitely get worse as they go along, but hell, I have all three on DVD and I like them all a lot. By the third movie, the mythology was way too big for its britches though. I primarily watch that one for all the gorgeous scenery.

    @ Guntars - I'd love to see what we think about this movie when it's as old as Raiders of the Lost Ark. I don't see how it's not at least as good.

  5. I think POTC is pretty much the modern equivelent of Indania Jones in terms of fun,quailty adventure films. Personally this is among my top 100 films of all time. Its fun as hell,has a great storyline and the acting is pretty damn good as well.The only negative thing about POTC is the fact that Bring Me The Horizon got their name from it.

  6. I don't "get" these films. They are entertaining, but I've never wanted to watch them again. Kiera Knightley is beautiful, but I don't like Captain Jack (again, I don't "get" him. Is he effiminate, eccentric, crazy? I don't know.) Its pirate, and pirate movies have already been made. No thanks. Due to popularity, this film probably belongs on the list, but it would be no where in sight if I made my own list.

    The teenage Hot Topic girl obsession thing is weird too.

  7. I like Curse and Dead Man's Chest but At Worlds End was very tedious. Depp's performance as Sparrow was classic and I love the fact they made Keith Richards in father in the third one (since he was the inspiration behind the character).

    I definitely could do without all the marketing. Honestly, I have to give it to the creators they made three very successful movies based on an amusement park ride.

    One thing that made me scratch my head though is you believe "The Ring" to be one of the best horror movies of all time?

    Please explain that one at some point Bread.

  8. Well, here's the thing, I watched it when it first came out and have been too scared to watch it again, but it has at least a dozen images that are permanently burned into my brain. It's the only movie besides The Exorcist that I can say that about. Maybe it's got a bunch of technical flaws, I honestly can't say. I just know that, as a horror movie, it did its job.

  9. Sorry, for calling you "Bread" Brad (damn typos). I can understand that and this movie obvious effected you, where it did nothing for myself.

    Overall, I didn't feel "The Ring" did anything amazing, it was just okay.

    I was not scared and I even viewed alone in the dark at night.

    Maybe I'm just desensitized by too many horror films and shows about the supernatural on TV.