Wednesday 17 January 2018

Movie Review: Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (2003)

A pirate adventure yarn, Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl is overstuffed and overlong.

In a prologue, young Elizabeth Swann is on a cross-ocean journey to Port Royal when the ship she is on helps rescue young William Turner from a skirmish involving the legendary pirate ship Black Pearl. With William unconscious, Elizabeth takes a rare medallion from around his neck. Years later, Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) is being wooed by Commodore James Norrington (Jack Davenport), but her true love may be the grown-up Turner (Orlando Bloom). Meanwhile, Pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), a free-spirited maverick, washes up without a crew or a ship, looking to seize a new vessel.

Suddenly Port Royal comes under attack from the Black Pearl, commanded by Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and intent on recovering the lost medallion in order to break a curse of undeath. In the ensuing battle, Sparrow duels with Turner, who is now an expert blacksmith and sword maker. Elizabeth is captured by Barbossa, and when Sparrow learns of Turner's identity and lineage, the two men team up to try and mount a dangerous rescue operation.

Noisy, silly and interminable at 142 minutes, The Black Pearl showcases a laid back Johnny Depp modernizing the pirate persona with a large dose of chill irony. Jack Sparrow's detached mannerisms offer a bare minimum of interest as the rest of the movie slowly sinks under the weight of excess. Directed by Gore Verbinski, Black Pearl was inspired by Disney's theme park ride, and the lack of any cohesive plot elements beyond the most mundane ideas is achingly evident. This is a film all about visuals and attitude, the plot a muddled and distant afterthought.

Black Pearl descends into endless CGI-generated sword fights and other mindless escapades involving hordes of animated skeletons and faceless extras, with the characters bouncing between ship and shore action in pursuit of the next boring set-piece. Elizabeth, Jack and Turner take turns being held captive and then rescued all to serve the next tiresome confrontation between computer-generated figurines. An ancient curse, a medallion treasure and the undead in the moonlight may captivate the eight to twelve year old set, but even they will tire of sitting through two hours and twenty minutes of repetitive flimsiness.

Sparrow is an intriguing character and Depp deserves credit for inventing a new pirate prototype, but too often Sparrow is a sidelined observer in his own movie. He intervenes with a smart move every half hour or so, but overall plenty of blurry mayhem passes him by. Verbinski at least ensures that Black Pearl is often atmospheric and good to look at. But this is clever packaging without content, a cynical asset monetization exercise devoid of soul.

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