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2002, dir. Gore Verbinski
143 min. Rated PG-13.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Kiera Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush.

Review by Noel Wood
One always treads lightly when coming upon moves about Pirates. While I absolutely love Pirates with all my being, they tend to wind up in some of the most abhorrent films ever to be made. Oh, sure, there are elements of Pirate chicanery in a lot of great films, such as TREASURE ISLAND, MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND (duh), THE GOONIES, and THE PRINCESS BRIDE, but for the most part, pirate movies blow. Here's a look at some of the big offenders:

THE PIRATE MOVIE (1982, Ken Annakin): Christopher "Blue Lagoon" Atkins stars in this update/parody of Gilbert and Sullivans' Pirates of Penzance, which unfolds itself very nicely into a shitty comedy as well as a shitty musical. This was shortly before the Kevin Kline starring PIRATES OF PENZANCE was released, which I never saw and therefore am not qualified to pass judgement on.

YELLOWBEARD (1983, Mel Damski): In this bizarre Cheech-and-Chong-meets-Monty Python comedy, a captured pirate is used to lead the authorities to his treasure. The movie turns up the swashbuckling factor, but falls flat on its ass. I had forgoten about this movie until recently, and I was better off that way.

HOOK (1991, Steven Spielberg): Generally considered Spielberg's worst movie, HOOK is based on the idea that Peter Pan eventually grows up, has kids, and then has to rescue them from Captain Hook. If you think that concept sucks, wait till you actually see it.

PYRATES (1991, Noah Stern):: Okay, so this movie really has nothing to do with Pirates, but it still sucks. You see, someone thought it would be a good idea to make a movie where Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick started fires every time they had sex, and built a whole movie based on it. Then they titled it with a bad "Pyro-Pirate" pun, so it qualifies to get dissed here.

CUTTHROAT ISLAND (1995, Renny Harlin): This flaming piece of poodoo is the biggest flop in the history of cinema, costing nearly 100 million to make and only raking in 11 million at the box office, in the process bankrupting its parent studio, Carolco. It proves Renny Harlin is a gigantic useless hack and deserves to be burned at the stake. It was released in the same year as WATERWORLD (aka FISHTAR), another huge bomb that is sort of about Pirates too. Sort of.

Add the likes of the cheesy Captain Kidd movies and all that Errol Flynn hoo-ha from yesteryear, and you should see what I mean. It's hard to expect a lot when you go to see a pirate movie. So, after being bombarded with trailers for it over the last four of five months, I went in to PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL with low expectations. Maybe that's why I wound up enjoying it so much. Or maybe, just maybe, I liked it so much because it really did everything right.

PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (which is one of the longest film titles I can think of since THE ENGLISHMAN WHO WHO WENT UP A HILL AND CAME DOWN A MOUNTAIN was in theaters, so please forgive me when I abbreviate it) is loosely based on a Disneyland theme park ride. Normally, it's the other way around: theme park rides are based on existing movies. But in the course of a year and a half, Disney has decided to flip that coin around and has made PIRATES into a movie, along with THE COUNTRY BEARS and the upcoming HAUNTED MANSION. So that's two strikes against it. But still, PIRATES managed to be a good movie. Who knew?


Surely, the casting has something to do with that. Johnny Depp, who I admire as one of the greatest actors of his generation, stars as Captain Jack Sparrow. Depp plays the part of Sparrow like Keith Richards if he were moonlighting as a drag queen. The performance is absolutely over the top, and yet Depp delivers it with such sincerity that it works. It's as if he takes the role so seriously that he's going to do anything it takes to convince you that this Sparrow character is real. I'd not be suprised if he were a dark horse candidate in the Oscar race next year for best actor, even though comedic performances rarely snag nominations. Along with Depp is one of the finest overactors in Hollywood today, Geoffrey Rush. Rush plays Barbossa, Sparrow's former first mate, and manages to pull off the whole "shiver me timbers" bit so well without ever having to resort to "shiver me timbers". Orlando Bloom is also featured as the young Will Turner, sort of a pirate-in-training if you will, and transitions well into the role from his performance in the LORD OF THE RINGS films as Legolas. Rounding out the main cast is Keira Knightley, who plays her character Elizabeth Swann with enough spunk that she's not just remembered as the damsel in distress. There's also a few scene-stealers from the Genius that is Jonathan Pryce in here to watch out for.

There's a pretty busy backstory going on here, but the real meat of it all begins with the fact that Sparrow was once the captain of the legendary Black Pearl. A mutiny by Barbossa and his men led to Sparrow being marooned on a deserted island, but the new crew wound up becoming victims of a curse when they encountered a particular treasure. In order to lift the curse, all of the treasure needs to be recovered and doused with the blood of the heir to Bootleg Bill Turner. One piece of the treasure wound up in the hands of Elizabeth, who leads Barbossa's crew into believing that she is in fact the heir. When she is kidnapped, Sparrow and Will set sail to rescue her.


It's the perfect setup for a swashbuckling adventure, and it gets moving pretty much right away with some swordplay and chases and boat-thieving. There's some pretty well-placed twists and turns, and sometimes it's hard to tell who you're rooting for. Depp himself seems to singlehandedly save this movie in a lot of scenes, but there's a lot more to it than that. His performance only tops of some great characterization by the screenwriters and director. When we first meet Sparrow, we watch as his (presumably stolen) vessel sinks into the dock while he strolls off, and then bribes a dockworker into allowing him to stay anonymously, only to snag his purse afterward. Little details like this help develop the character, which is the focal point of the movie, and in turn makes this an enjoyable adventure. In one of my favorite scenes, Sparrow puts an exclamation point on a swordfight with Will by pulling out a pistol. When Will cries foul, Sparrow has only one word as a retort: "Pirate."

The spirit of Pirate stories is captured to a tee, and it pulls it off without having to resort to a lot of cliches. There's nary a peg leg, hook hand, or eye patch to be seen, nor do we hear a lot of "avast ye mateys" and the like. When we do get a bit of hackneyed pirate imagery, it's generally played up as an homage or even as a parody. Rather than going through all that to capture the spirit of pirate life, the film gets it down by clever writing, beautiful scenery, and terrific performances. The movie is scary where it tries to be, funny when it needs to be, and exciting the whole way through. There's also a colorful supporting cast, including peripheral characters who are written and played well enough to keep you interested in them.


My one gripe about this movie is that it falls victim to one of Hollywood's biggest trends (something I mentioned in my T3 review, and yes, despite what Chad and some other readers have said, I thought T3 rocked, so there) in the fact that it seems to be overlong. There's a lot of subplot that could have been shaved off to make the movie a bit more compact, but still, it wasn't like I was checking my watch hoping it would end. It's not like there was a whole other movie trying to get out (see: THE HULK) or anything like that, but there was certainly potential to scare off some less patient and younger viewers (if the PG-13 rating doesn't scare their parents off first).

I'd certainly have to say that PIRATES is sure to be the sleeper hit of the season, and I think it'll wind up suprising a lot of people. While most of the big Summer films will likely be forgotten in a few years, I see this one joining the ranks of such classic modern adventures as THE PRINCESS BRIDE and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK over time. Pretty universally, most of those I've talked to have enjoyed it, and save for that fat fuck Roger Ebert, who spent his time pontificating on whether or not it's a lost cause to fight the undead rather than enjoying the movie, the critical reviews have been positive (Actually, Ebert gave it three stars, but wound up bitching about it more than he did praising it in his review). But if you want my recommendation for the most fun I've had in a movie theater this year, I'll tell you to go see PIRATES.


Yo ho ho, a pirate's life for me. I think I'll go and drink some Captain Morgan and tell some of my favorite pirate jokes. Maybe I'll start with that one about the pirate with the steering wheel stuck in his crotch. What did he have to say about it?

"Yarrr, It's drivin' me nuts!"


All Material Copyright 1998-2006 Movie Criticism for the Retarded.

For questions, comments, or the occasional stalking letter, send mail to Noel Wood. Please give proper credit when using any materials found within this site.

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