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Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), the swashbuckling fantasy action/adventure epic introducing Captain Jack Sparrow!

May 18, 2017

MY CALL:  This action-adventure film is very ambitious and very successful because it relies on great characters as much as a great fantastic tale. It’s also the best of the franchise.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Pirates of the CaribbeanPeople who love this likely prefer grand-scale worlds as found in the Harry Potter films (2001-2011), The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) and The Hobbit trilogies (2012-2014), Jurassic Park (1993) and The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003).  I’d also strongly recommend the STARZ series Black Sails (2014-2017; 4 seasons).

With Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales coming out (2017), I felt the need to revisit the Pirates anthology.  The Curse of the Black Pearl kicks the series off with an outstanding adventure film that I continue to adore.

Director Gore Verbinski (A Cure for Wellness, The Ring, The Mexican, The Weather Man) is a man of depth and range.  The varied nature of the action will please viewers of all ages.  Ranging from daffy character-catapulting gags to fancy footworked swordplay, the stunts are abundant, diverse and, most notably, uncommonly interesting. The seafaring battle is especially engaging, being equal parts tense, funny and exciting, and all contributing to making this an outstanding somewhat family-friendly (at PG-13 with numerous off-screen kills) adventure movie. I love seeing the cannonballs tear through the ships with splinters raining across the screen. Watching the action scenes was simply energizing!  But bringing rewatchability and synthesis to the screen are the characters!

As Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Transcendence, Into the Woods) has manifested a character that no Renaissance Festival or Comic Con has gone without for almost 15 years now. This Keith Richards-mannerismed pirate has a drunken-boxing swagger and a nigh-slurred savoir-faire making him unforgettably charismatic…yet nervously twitchy.  His somewhat bewildered and oft-shocked expressions draw nothing but grins.  From his very inception on screen we know he is not to be trusted, he has a sharp retort for everything, and this man knows how to make an entrance!

The cruel swashbuckling yin to Sparrow’s yang, Geoffrey Rush (Gods of Egypt, The Warrior’s Way, The King’s Speech) is a master of villainy and imbues Captain Barbossa with equal parts cheeky piracy and gross goon.  He’s so convincingly menacing, it’s hard to imagine he was ever Jack Sparrow’s first mate.  Rush owns every moment he’s on screen as readily as Depp, and the two steal the show in their race to end a curse from their stolen Aztec gold.  During Barbossa’s efforts to gather all the gold coins and Jack’s efforts to steal his ship back from Barbossa, a blacksmith’s apprentice’s love is taken captive and all sorts of motives and chases cross paths.

But really, all the characters are memorable.  The bumbling duo of pirate deck swabs (Once Upon a Time’s Lee Arenberg and Dark Ascension’s Mackenzie Crook) who smack of Abbot and Costello with the menace Home Alone’s Marv and Harry; the tactful use of Barbossa’s feisty monkey; the recurring foolish guards of the Royal Navy (who recur through at least part 3); we all love Governor Weatherby (Jonathan Pryce; Game of Thrones, Taboo); and even Will Turner’s (Orlando Bloom; The Hobbit trilogyThe Three Musketeers, Troy) blacksmith master had his moment to shine.  As our fair female lead, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley; Domino, Love Actually) is drawn with all the classic damsel tropes…which she appropriately crumbles in the wake of her very defiance of them.  At only 17 years old, Knightley gives a solid performance for her iron-willed Elizabeth.

While overall gorgeous and a joy to watch, the CGI (particularly the undead pirates) didn’t hold properly up.  I mean, it still looks very good and quite entertaining—but while absolutely stunning at the time of its release the quality drop (by today’s standards) is inescapably evident.  But this is more than compensated by iconic scenes whose impact transcend the somewhat dated CGI.  The underwater scenes are numerous and crisp, the swab’s wooden eye managed to almost feel like its own character, the undead march along the ocean floor was unforgettable, and seeing our two dueling skeletal captains dancing in and out of the death-knelling moonlight lives up to the trailer moment.

This film is simply fun for everyone and if someone tells you it’s not, they’re probably just a constipated grump. Don’t listen to constipated grumps! Moreover, I find the film is just as enjoyable today!

10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2017 6:39 am

    I remember seeing this for the first time on release and just reveling in the adventure.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      May 18, 2017 6:53 am

      I loved it in 2003 and love it today. Meeting Jack Sparrow has a similar impact, although an altogether different experience of course, to meeting Neo. Both are keystones to their fantastic worlds.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      May 18, 2017 6:55 am

      And his facial expressions…just too much. lol. He offers the inhuman range of a cartoon character.


  1. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006), somewhat confounding, somewhat outstanding, and loaded with sword fights and Kraken tentacles. | Movies, Films & Flix
  2. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007), revealing everything you ever wanted to know about Davy Jones and the Flying Dutchman. | Movies, Films & Flix
  3. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), the regrettable Kingdom of the Crystal Skull of the Pirates anthology. | Movies, Films & Flix
  4. John’s Horror Corner: Cold Skin (2017), elegantly mixing Dagon (2001) with The Descent (2005) in this gorgeous film! | Movies, Films & Flix
  5. Captain Ron (1992), a warm and quirky family adventure starring Kurt Russell’s next iteration of Jack Burton. | Movies, Films & Flix

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