Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

There’s only so long you can stare at a screen before something has to appear on it, so I’ll open with what comes to mind then build from there. Scale, widespread. Sets, tangible. length, overt. effects… effective. characters, mixed bag. Overall what we get from director Gore Verbinski’s first “Pirates” film is an effective adventure that struggles to justify it’s length but undeniably tries admirably to do so, in the end being a truly satisfying experience.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” was the start of a phenomenon that in all honesty ended in 2007 with the release of the third movie, “Pirates… At World’s End“. Needless to say the films have displayed an uncanny staying power as demonstrated by this year’s release of “Pirates… Dead Men Tell No Tales” but I do feel as though they just sort of blend into the rest of the blockbuster season now as opposed to being legitimate standouts.

I am baffled that it became so huge and carries on 14 years later but looking at this first film I can certainly see why some latched onto it even though I never did myself, and I actually look forward to the next one despite what I’ve heard about the series after this.

The premise is simple for a an adventure tale and that’s absolutely fine. The Black Pearl is a legendary ship with black sails and an undead crew, led by Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is the drunkard pirate who needs no introduction. I think he must be the only reason why the films are able to continue, and I can see why that is the case. From this first outing he is clearly charismatic in an off-beat accidental sort of way. The way his superhero-esque feats seem to be just a happy coincidence his flailing limbs have given themselves to, is undoubtedly endearing. Especially when backed up by an admittedly stellar score from Klaus Badelt, the movie certainly revolves around him without feeling directly focused on him, which is sort of the problem.

The aforementioned Black Pearl has come into the possession of Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) for mysterious purposes, and Will Turner (Orlando bloom) finds himself reluctantly teaming up with Jack on a mission to find his love, whilst Jack pursues his own personal desires. I understand wholeheartedly why this was needed as, despite inherent charm, I don’t believe that he can carry a film on his own or without people getting in his way. That said, Keira Knightley is dreadful and Orlando Bloom is serviceable at best. Together they are just… trite.

There is no charm to these two, and among an array of unrefined or nonsensical characters (I actually didn’t mind the occasional stooge humour) these two stick out as the biggest weak link in the chain that keeps this entertaining romp together. My biggest misgiving as that they remain for the next two movies in some capacity and I don’t sense that going down well, though I remain optimistic.

Certainly the pacing is impressive, the film takes us from one location to the next at a decent pace whilst the direction retains a flamboyant mix of humour and action. An early sword-fight in a Blacksmith’s uses a good range of choreography and creativity to make the fairly low key sequence, compared to the finale anyway, worth our time. By the end the action feels a little more superfluous and lengthy but by no means did I find my attention to be completely lost. This was helped by effects that remain convincing despite their age, which was probably the biggest surprise for me.

The fact is Pirates provides competent enough storytelling with an original premise and the lure of adventure that just seemed to strike a chord with people. I like it, that’s for sure, I liked it last time I watched it too and I wouldn’t be averse to liking it again despite it being slightly long in the tooth. If you haven’t experienced the escapism provided by this one, it is worth a look.

7/10