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Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Reviewed on 2008 January 3

I have to admit, when I heard that a movie was coming out based on a theme park ride, I rolled my eyes. Come on, a ten-minute ride? How are you going to scrape together enough of a plot to hold this thing together? But Gore Verbinski and screenplay auteurs Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio gave us a plot, and laughs, and a cool heroine, and great special effects, and and and…

OK, I’ll just get down to it. Verbinski or not, big-name cast or not, this was not at all what I expected, and I mean that in a good way. We start out with a nice moody scene of a British vessel in fog, with a little girl (Lucinda Dryzek) looking at the misty waters and absent-mindedly singing of a pirate’s life. The men on the ship are spooked enough to make her knock it off, saying she’s inviting bad luck. Her daddy, Governor Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce), is worried they’re scaring her, but his daughter, Elizabeth, is tougher than her old man. I think she’s also smarter. She even keeps her head when a young boy washes alongside them on a raft, removing the pirate medallion from his neck so the sailors won’t be afraid to help him.

We fade to the grown-up Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), a proper young lady on the outside, but inwardly hating the stupid whalebone corsets and heavy brocade gowns her dad brings her. She’s more interested in that medallion, sneaking it on under her clothes, but Daddy wants her to look proper and hopefully snag the up-and-coming Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport) as a spouse. Norrington is about to be promoted, but his ceremony (and the whole town) is overrun by pirates. This is an especially nasty crew, and they have a particular reason for sacking the town.

I thought Johnny Depp was hilarious as Captain Jack Sparrow, channeling a rum-soaked Keith Richards as a pirate and making it work. Knightley was a great Elizabeth, tough without being abrasive, and Geoffrey Rush was a perfect Barbossa. The thing rolls for 143 minutes but doesn’t feel like it. And watch the fight scenes — the visual effects are amazing.

Three chocolate morsels.

Shukti

morsel morsel morsel

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