(movie review written July '03)
"...But why is the rum gone?"
"Pirates of the Caribbean" is simply a movie that doesn't know when to quit. It's fun, it's entertaining, it's technically marvelous...but it also passes a point where it could have easily ended and just keeps going. The film was certainly a risky venture for parent company Disney, who had never released a film under the Disney banner with a PG-13 rating. Far more dangerous than that was the idea of a pirate movie - especially given the fact that "Cutthoat Island", the 1992 picture starring Geena Davis, is considered one of the biggest money-losers in cinema history.
"Pirates", however, has a lot to like, including the story (written by Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio of "Shrek" fame). The film stars Keira Knightley as Elisabeth, the daughter of a British governor (Jonathan Pryce). She came in contact with a near-drowned boy named Will (Orlando Bloom) years ago, and took his necklace, thinking he was a pirate. Flash to present day, as drunken captain/pirate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) comes ashore, only to get himself mixed up with the local guards and both Elisabeth and Will. Elisabeth is getting married to some stuffy guy she doesn't care for, but really likes Will. Will, despite being a good and rather courageous swordfighter, can't bring himself to tell her that, gee, he kinda likes her, too.
Oh, and then there are the pirates, lead by Capt. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). They happen to be cursed, leading them to scour the landscape looking for the last piece of the cursed gold they stole, which happens to be Elisabeth's necklace. She's taken, Will follows, Jack gets dragged along when he confesses that he knows how to catch the pirate's ship, the Black Pearl. Problem? The pirates are cursed and happen to be skeletons/already dead. Fighting with them...well, not real easy.
All of this matters little, simply because Johnny Depp is a force of nature. The movie begins to fall flat when Depp leaves the screen and he steals every scene he's in. His Sparrow is a fascinating creation, clearly inspired by his "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" performance. An odd, often extremely hilarious portrayal, Depp peppers his performance with goofy grins and strange hand gestures that suggest an insect trying to sense if there's danger present. Depp's timing here really is wonderful; he has an off-beat way of hitting some of these lines that are laugh-out-loud funny. There's also some marvelous reaction shots scattered throughout the picture. Knightley makes for a tough, attractive heroine who makes up her own mind and saves her own self. Bloom is good in the film's most straightforward role.
Technically, this is a stellar feature, as well. Whoever did the CGI did a terrific job! Despite some dark moments, the CGI is extremely detailed and seamless. The film's cinematography is moody, dark and often dazzling; this is not a bright, perky Disney-ish looking feature. The fights start to become a bit repetitive towards the end, but they're well-choreographed, especially an early duel between Depp and Bloom that seemed somewhat inspired by Hong Kong cinema.
Er, but there's the running time. "Pirates of the Caribbean" is a 134-minute film that feels like a 145-minute film that could have been a 120-minute film. It's entertaining, don't get me wrong - however, most in the audience will likely figure out exactly how it's going to end by the second half. When the picture hits the last quarter, the fights start to become a bit much and the film goes back and forth between sides one too many times. There's also some repetitive jokes, including a cursed pirate who loses part of his face again and again and again.
Despite its flaws, "Pirates" proved to be a lot of fun. It has a good sense of humor, well-done action and strong performances. It's certainly one of the most entertaining films I've seen this Summer. And, to no one's surprise - a sequel is already in the works.
VIDEO: "Pirates of the Caribbean" is presented by Disney in 2.35:1, THX-Certified anamorphic widescreen on this release. Given that disc one has a Dolby Digital 5.1 track (one in English and one in French), a DTS 5.1 track, 3 commentaries (although commentaries presented in mono) and 143 minutes of movie, I was not expecting the very best from the video quality. Unfortunately, while the transfer certainly doesn't sink to mediocre levels, there are some noticable flaws scattered about. Mild edge enhancement is the most noticable problem, appearing in several scenes. Compression artifacts are also visible, but only slightly, on occasion. The print, however, was in pristine condition, with no marks, specks or other debris.
Sharpness and detail are generally very good throughout the film, with the picture appearing pleasantly well-defined and crisp even in some of the film's many dark or dimly-lit scenes. Colors looked quite good throughout the show, with the film's occasional brighter colors looking well-saturated and vivid. Overall, a very nice transfer, although one with a few rough edges.
SOUND: "Pirates" is presented by Disney in both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 (English and French DD 5.1). While not one of the most remarkably aggressive soundtracks in recent months, this is still a fine effort that highlights Klaus Badelt's score wonderfully, with the score often filling the listening space. Some of the action scenes put the surrounds to fine use, with effective use of the rears for sound effects and ambience. The action scenes also focus on bass, as the cannon fire in a few scenes is accompanied by very nice low-end bass. Dialogue remained crisp and clean throughout the show. I compared the Dolby Digital soundtrack to the DTS option in a handful of the film's major action sequences and found the two tracks to be rather similar, with the DTS offering slightly tighter bass and improved clarity.
Commentary One: This is a commentary from director Gore Verbinski and actor Johnny Depp. As he is in interviews, Depp is a surprisingly normal and straightforward presence here, providing a decent discussion matched with the director's. This is a great commentary when the two are telling stories from the set and sharing more about the development of the film and the development of Depp's character. However, there are several stretches throughout the track when the two fall back to discussing how great everyone was to work with or what is currently going on in the story.
Commentary Two: This is a selected-scene commentary with actress Kiera Knightley (whose name is mis-spelled on one of the menus) and actor Jack Davenport, who have recorded their comments over 17 scenes. There is also the option of commentary for 11 scenes from producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The commentary from Knightley and Davenport is utterly hilarious (especially Knightley, who's very fast and witty), as the two joke - in very dry, British terms - about what's going on on-screen and sound as if they're having a great deal of fun. This certainly isn't one of the most informative tracks I've heard lately, but it is the funniest. Bruckheimer provides his usual informative discussion, going through issues like casting, the production process, shaping the screenplay, working with the studio, the film's director and obstacles on-set. Despite the fact that some feel negatively toward's the producer's popcorn pictures, he does provide good commentaries, going through important information in an organized and interesting manner. These two scene-specific commentaries are only available via the menu. Otherwise, the audio tracks can be switched on-the-fly.
Commentary Three: This is a commentary from writers Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert. The writer's commentary is generally interesting, as they discuss their thoughts on the final film, the development of the characters and finally, the differences between the screenplay drafts and the final picture.
DVD-ROM: Insert the first disc into a DVD-ROM player and the option is available to watch the movie while reading the script and also, view 229 storyboards while comparing them to the final film.
An Epic At Sea (37:55): This documentary leads off the second DVD. The feature starts off somewhat promotionally, but quickly starts into providing some more important information. The first part of the documentary focuses on the film's problems with water shooting, finding locations and essentially, taking over most of St. Vincent. The documentary also covers the film's attempts to try and be historically accurate in terms of look and props, casting, weapons, the film's ships, make-up and costumes, stunts/action, visual FX and finally, the film's massive premiere. The documentary is a quick-moving blend of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the director, cast and some members of the crew. Sections can be viewed separately, or there is a "play all" option.
Fly on the Set: These are 5 short featurettes that simply hold a camera up to the events on-set during the making of five of the film's main scenes. They run a few minutes a piece and provide an interesting look at the cast and crew at work.
Diaries: Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who has discussed his love of photography before, shows off some of his impressive photography that was taken on the set of "Pirates" in a 4 minute featurette. One of the pirates also kept a "video journal" of his experiences as a pirate (9:40), which is available here. Additionally, there is a "ship diary", where the crew of a real ship used in the film discuss the preparations involved in getting the ship ready and to the set.
Blooper Reel (3:19): A very funny mixture of flubbed lines (Verbinski's direction for one scene: "Same thing only better, please." and missed stunts.
Deleted Scenes: No less than 19 deleted scenes are offered, although they don't include any additional commentary. Overall, these scenes (a total of 19:14 of footage) seem mostly to be extensions.
Moonlight Serenade Progression: This 6-1/2 minute featurette shows the progression to the final scene for the first moment when the pirates of the Black Pearl reveal their true selves. The audience is shown all of the steps it takes to reach the final look of the effects for the scene.
Also: An image gallery and an old featurette on the ride.
DVD-ROM: The second disc has more DVD-ROM features, including an effect that turns one of your pictures into a "pirate" similar to the ones in the movie; an additional featurette and image gallery about the theme park ride and weblinks.
Final Thoughts: "Pirates of the Caribbean" is a little too long, but it's an awfully fun ride, with an extremely good performance from Johnny Depp. Disney's 2-DVD set is a great package, with good audio/video quality and lots of supplements. Highly recommended.
The Film *** 1/2