“Pirates of the Caribbean” opens in the same week as “Bad Boys II,” Jerry Bruckheimer’s other mega-budget special effects action extravaganza. Neither are greatly impressive, although this is the better of the two, if that means much.
The full length title: “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” opens with much hope and promise. The story is intriguing and it captures our attention from the very beginning but only in the beginning, when we see a British Naval ship navigate the waters through dense fog. The ship, under the commanded of Governor Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce), soon floats by a unconscious boy hanging for his life on a crate after bailing from a wrecked vessel. He is taken aboard and placed in the care of the governor’s daughter, Elizabeth Swann. She and the boy (whose name we later learn is Will Turner) are still children, and will grow up to be played by Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom. You can smell the attraction, but Elizabeth’s royalty puts her out of reach of Will who grows up to be a lowly blacksmith.
Elizabeth is destined to marry Commander. Norrington (Jack Davenport), an uninteresting character and not a favorite of the audience, but necessary to create a love conflict. But don’t worry, our old friend Will is still around as Port Royal’s finest blacksmith. Hmm, I wonder who will win the girl in the end?
You may have noticed, now 200+ words into my review, that I have yet to mention Johnny Depp, and that is because I am not reviewing a standard 90-minute movie. At 143 minutes, this film takes its time getting into the action. Even the long title suggests that the movie includes the sequel along with the main feature, and it certainly covers enough ground.
We eventually meet Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), a nomadic pirate in search of his ship, the Black Pearl, now sailing under the control of Capt. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and his ruthless crew. Once Barbossa had seized the Black Pearl, the crew left Sparrow on a deserted island while they made off with his ship. Barbossa and his men eventually stumbled upon an ancient curse that turned them into immortal creatures. By day they appear normal--as far as pirate standards are concerned, but once the sun sets, the moonlight reveals their true identity as walking skeleton cadavers.
When Sparrow escapes his island-prison, he wanders into Port Royal, and is soon followed by the Black Pearl, the very ship he is after. This is because the crew is looking for the person who owns the blood that will end the curse. They believe that person is Elizabeth, so alas, the adventure will soon begin involving many key players.
As I’ve mentioned, the cursed pirates have the distinctive advantage over everyone else of being immortal and unable to sustain flesh wounds. They can’t die. You’d think pirates would want nothing more than to be able to roam the seas as immortal rulers of the world. But enough philosophy.
Battles will soon commence between the British Royal Navy and the cursed pirates. But it’s hard to enjoy the sword fights when you know Team A cannot lose. What’s the point of the British Navy even trying? What’s the point of Barbossa’s men fighting each other over a dispute? In one scene, a petty argument results in a lengthy sword fight between two immortal pirates who can’t be harmed.
If that isn’t enough, there’s the mighty flaw of the film: Although immortal, gunshots and cannon balls do have somewhat of an effect on the pirates depending on, well, their mood I guess. In one scene, to make sure the curse hasn’t been broken yet, Barbossa fires a pistol round point-blank at one of his henchmen. He doesn’t flinch. Yet in another scene, Elizabeth bitch-slaps a pirate and he fumbles so far back that he actually falls off the side of the ship. This takes place during the final duel, a duel that seems to last forever when it should have lasted as long as the Great war from the horrible movie, “Battlefield Earth” (For those of you fortunate enough to have missed that flop, the war between the humans and Psychlos in “Battlefield Earth” lasted only 93 seconds).
Both “Pirates of the Caribbean” and Bruckheimer’s “Bad Boys II” run at a combined length of over 5 hours. A more productive moviegoing experience would be spending much less time watching something more meaningful like “Seabiscuit,” a film that doesn’t need CGI to touch us.
I was reminded of an experience I endured as a child while on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney Word, the attraction from my home state of Florida that this film is based on. Midway though the attraction, the ride malfunctioned and our boat was stuck right in the middle of two pirate ships currently engaged in battle. The ride may have stopped, but the battle raged on. Cannon balls pounded as smoke and fire engulfed the landscape while I helplessly sat with my family in our non-moving boat. It felt like an eternity before the boats started moving again, and so do some of the fight scenes in the movie. That’s not a good thing.
I come close to recommending “Pirates of the Caribbean” simply because Depp’s portrayal of Sparrow is one of the most memorable characters of the year. The rest of the cast is sharp too, and the dialogue exchanges are often funny even if simplistic. But my attention was never completely captured. There is no suspense in the film, and it’s certainly not as thrilling as Gore Verbinski’s previous fright-fest, “The Ring.” We never fear for the safety of the characters, maybe because Sparrow is held captive so many times by the British and the pirates that it’s only a matter of time before he escapes and trots off to the next scene. Oh there is charm, but not enough to justify the length of the movie.