Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

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

Really good when there are people splashing around in the water! It's the blue skies, and the way vertical space in Port Royal is mapped such that we come to expect to scale it up, down, and around on a whim. We follow turrets toward the ground as though they're pulling us quickly forward, to elevated paths and rooftops and off the next drop with the rocks and then the ocean, always the ocean, which is the finish line, the base, and the sky all at once. A concrete architectural unity is undone by the feeling that it is all so ad hoc, every piece its own discrete stage for encounter, drawing its own limitations and affordances and then returning to its ready and waiting state the moment figures depart from it. This is the first time that the film's being based on an amusement park ride doesn't read to me as damaging or whatever, but as a way to start thinking about the ambitions of its hyper-kinetic artifice. Where something like Temple of Doom mimics (and visibly stages) the logic of the amusement ride, this has more in common with Miyazaki's Castle of Cagliostro and the three dimensional 'space of possibility' of video games, but still with that tacky set texture you can feel the plastic and artificial dirt of. The caves they swim through come with barnacles, seaweed, and dead bodies, but you can still smell the chlorine in the images. Unfortunately the film loses me as it attempts to expand outwardly which also serves the purpose of the drama and not the action, mistaking the horizon for something out there and not above and below. Locations get dulled through the return trips that constitute its weirdly bloated telling, which kills momentum but also serves a kind of mythic bedtime story circularity that's apt here.

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