Monday, December 01, 2003

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Review by Sombrero Grande

Way back in January of this year, I, Sombrero Grande, offered up a review of the teaser trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl on the Masked Movie Snobs web site. Let’s take a nostalgic look back, shall we?

When I first heard that Disney was making movies based on several of its timeless theme park attractions, I expected nothing but the worst. After all, this is the same company that’s scaling back everything on its original animated films while raping its previous masterpieces with countless direct-to-suck sequels. Fortunately the Country Bears movie came and went so quickly that it’s soon to be totally forgotten. Still on the horizon, however, are The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. I don’t feel I need to tell you how beloved these classic attractions are; they just don’t make rides like those anymore. So when I saw that the teaser trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean was online I immediately downloaded it, fully expecting to be disgusted and saddened.

Wow. Not so at all. This is easily the greatest trailer I have seen in a LONG time. The music is exciting. The setup is intriguing. “Welcome to the Caribbean.” Welcome indeed. I feel like I’m stepping into a boat, not having any idea what’s ahead, and being totally caught off guard by what’s around that first turn. There are lots of trailers that start out looking like one type of movie only to later reveal something totally different; few of them work; VERY few work this well. I can’t wait for this movie now. This trailer did the impossible; it’s given me hope that Disney can actually do something cool with this idea. That skeleton foot gives me goosebumps.

Well, I’m very glad to report that Disney HAS done something cool with this idea. I found Pirates of the Caribbean to be surprisingly good. It’s an action-packed summer movie that delivers interesting characters well performed in a competently written and directed story. Bravo! Sure, there’re a few moments and lines of dialogue that caused my eyes to roll (like the “corset” line from the full trailer), but SURPRISINGLY few for a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, and none so bad that they stopped my enjoyment of the film.

This movie is enormously fun and entertaining. I love that Disney’s managed to make pirates cool again (so many previous attempts at pirate movies have not managed to gather much of an audience--Cutthroat Island, anyone?--causing the appearance that “pirate” movies are a genre even deader than Westerns). For a company who lately fancies pieces of crap thought of as “sure things” (102 Dalmatians), it’s really a daring move putting a big-budget pirate movie out there now. Of course, Disney had the known “Pirates of the Caribbean” brand (though before writing this sentence I had never before really considered it a “brand”) so at least the Disneyland-philes were a sure bet to see it.

So how closely does this movie relate to the ride it draws its inspiration from? There’s the main plot line about pirates cursed by treasure who become skeletons (based on the early portion of the ride where a skeleton pilots the wreckage of a ship, another sits atop a pile of gold, another drinks from a never-ending bottle, etc.) and some clever nods to specific portions of the ride (the drunken pirate napping with pigs, the jail scene, the skeleton drinking, the “Yo Ho” song, little bits of dialogue, etc.) but for the most part, this is it’s own story outright that merely takes place within the “Pirates of the Caribbean” universe (thus the laboriously tacked-on “Curse of the Black Pearl” addition to the title to help differentiate it a bit from the ride). All in all, the movie has enough ride references to earnestly pay homage to its inspiration, but not so much that it becomes corny or interferes with the story (the latter being evident in Disney's next ride-to-film translation, The Haunted Mansion).

Even the casting of the minor characters and motley crews of pirates seem to pay homage to the distinct style of Disney Imagineer Marc Davis’ designs for the charicaturish Audio-Animatronic characters in the ride. Speaking of casting, Johnny Depp is GREAT as Captain Jack Sparrow, a more interesting character than I was expecting and who has one of the best character introductions I can recall in a recent movie. My very favorite Depp performance is in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, but this comes very close.

A few quick words of praise for the score composer: I didn’t even notice the music in the film until it was replayed over the ending credits, which is a BIG compliment and sign of a job executed magnificently. Conversely, a small nit-pick is that the CGI skeletons pretty much looked like CGI, though the transitions of the real actors into skeletons in the moonbeams was FLAWLESS.

You know, I could end this review with some hokey pirate or theme park sayings like, “Avast, mateys! Sea this or walk the plank,” or “This ride’s a real E-ticket,” but I won’t. Instead I’ll simply urge anyone looking for a truly fun and entertaining film to be on the lookout for Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Unlike Disney's other films based on rides, this one has the "sea legs" to stand on its own.


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