Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl ★★

Review In A Nutshell:

The Pirates of the Caribbean, a film that turned into a franchise, and introducing Johnny Depp at his most flamboyant role. One cannot help but admire the impact and influence the franchise has had on its audience, becoming the commercial powerhouse that opened avenues for Disney, not only cinematically, but also in their theme park and merchandise. Back then, I never understood the appeal, but I never felt coldly distant towards it either. I distinctly remember finding pleasure in the film’s chaos, where ship battles and sword fights build thrilling and eye-opening tension. Revisiting the film now, over a decade since its release, its effect on me has dampened further, an experience that only brings pleasure in its visual detail and climactic showdown.

The film sets up a plot that is digestible and simple to follow; sleazy pirate Jack Sparrow and heroic blacksmith Will Turner are on a journey together to retrieve the cursed ship, the Black Pearl, by stopping its commander, Barbossa. Barbossa also has a woman held hostage as she holds the key in breaking their curse, an objective that mainly concerns Will as Jack himself is more concerned with the ship’s ownership. If the film decided to follow with this basic storyline, then my feelings for this film would most likely have been positive, a simple popcorn flick that allows escapism for its viewers; but the film decides to let itself be complicated, by piling on far too much personal details on its characters that forces the film to take multiple turns that extends the film’s running time far too much. This film runs for about 2 hours and 20 minutes, a trek that doesn’t deliver enough goods to justify.

I understand that this film is attempting to provide texture in their characters in order to prevent them from being too superficially driven, but its dramatic elements never reaches to a point of being compelling; it never draws me into their deeply seeded issues and instead left me distant only to appreciate the gorgeous scenery. The film’s introductory segment feels over bloated, with the film’s driving complication coming in around 30 minutes into the film; it also does not help that the film’s dialogue lack any sense of weight for its characters, serving only to provide exposition and the occasional comedic line. Oh, and the film’s comedy doesn’t always hit the mark, with subtle and unexpected reactions bringing out a chuckle or two, while the rest of it comes off as too forced and unnecessary.

The performances on the other hand have at least put me on the middle of the fence, with some of the elements working strongly, while the others were just cringe-worthy and unworthy. I am going to start with the ones that were great; Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Swann) and Geoffrey Rush (Barbossa) were outstanding in their roles; Knightley delivering a restrained and composed personality that made her come off as accessible and pleasant, which is always necessary in a chaotic film like this, and she was able to bring strength and determination in her character, rather than fall into the trappings of her gender; Rush on the other hand was more flamboyant, but does so without pushing himself far over the edge, allowing a cartoonish quality to be present in his personality without having to sacrifice his necessary sense of menace. The performances that didn’t make a favourable impression were Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow and Orlando Bloom as Will Turner. Bloom played a similar role to Knightley, a character that maintains a sense of grounding in his personality, a figure that slips into the traditional heroic role, one that reminds me of Cary Elwes’ Westley in The Princess Bride. Bloom’s performance kept the character too tightly wound by his stereotypes, unwilling to bring something unique, even in minor doses. Depp on the other hand brings far too much, he pushes his character to the limit by attempting too forcefully in becoming the centre of attention. Depp rarely gave his audience an opportunity to empathise with him in a genuine way; finding weight in the character only by the spoken perceptive of others.

The film’s most redeeming quality is found in its visuals, as it wonderfully captures the grimy culture of pirates, where food, shelter and hygiene are a luxury and are only obtained through desperation. Characters are always covered in dirt or drenched in water; a quality that manages to leave viewers distant towards its conditions but drawn into its sense of wonder and adventure; even in the face of danger, it never becomes overwhelmingly grim. I also find the costumes to be impressive as they are unashamedly dirty, but also doing so while maintaining a memorable quality to them; I can never find myself to forget Sparrow’s intricate attire, right down to the clips that hold his braided beard. The film’s photography attempts the best it can to emphasise the costume and set design as through those elements can the audience find themselves immersed in the film’s period. It would have been better if its cinematography was able to push itself further by creating a darkness its lighting; a method that would slightly consume its characters, a shading that would provide further personality to its subjects; but since its primary intention is to achieve a welcoming and commercial atmosphere, limitations had to be set.

The film’s musical score by Klaus Badelt is iconic but its power seems to only transcend during moments of movement and adrenaline, particularly its climax where a sense of intensity and grandeur is needed to sell the scene. The dramatic and quieter moments lacked impact in its score, unable to elevate these elements to a level that would have me at least emotionally manipulated.

Pirates of the Caribbean is a beloved franchise that has already set its mark on 21st century cinema, one that brought glory back in Disney’s live action features; but issues in its storytelling and performances prevent it from being a captivating experience, left only with some aspects to avoid reaching a level of catastrophe. It all may seem more underwhelming given the fact that this is a large budget film that aims to provide basic entertainment, but sadly it only fills its bottle barely half full.

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