The curse of making pirate movies are often no better than being resulting into box-office poison. Remember how Roman Polanski's swashbuckling epic PIRATES (1986) went tumbling down, or of course, who can forget one of the most notorious big-budget (at a cost of hefty $70 million) flop of all-time, CUTTHROAT ISLAND (1995), that also saw Carolco Pictures sinked into bankruptcy?
Eight years later, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinksi are out to prove that this obviously cursed genre has actually a great potential underneath somehow. One of the most highly-publicized, mega-budget Disney gamble ever (at an estimated $125 million to make), PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL is not only the most expensive pirate movies ever produced, it's also stand in the history of being among the longest title ever seen.
The story goes like this: In a flashback sequence, we see the young Elizabeth (Lucinda Dryek), the precious daughter of Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce), is cruising the ship, commandeered by the British army, lead by Captain Norrington. There, she heard a legendary story of the pirate ship called Black Pearl has plundered merchant vessels and terrorized high seas for the last 10 years. But 8 years ago, her mutinous crew, led by second-in-command Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), dumped its notorious captain, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), on a deserted island and sails off with a chest of Aztec gold medallion that come with a deadly curse: Whoever removes but a single coin is eternally doomed of being immortal. The now-Captain Barbossa and his crew have been long suffered without able to consume food and drinks, all because when the moonlight reveals, they are nothing more than a creepy, crumbling skeletons. On that particular day itself, the young Elizabeth stumbles across an unconscious boy (Dylan Smith) floating adrift at the high sea and the rest of the crew has witnesses broken and sunken ship as well. The crew make their effort to save the boy and goes on to investigate the broken ship. Governor Swann has instructed his daughter to look after the boy and she has find out the boy's name is Will Turner and also has lay her hand on the boy's necklace that comes with a gold medallion, made in a shape of a skull.
Flash forward later, Elizabeth is grown into adulthood (now played by Keira Knightley) and has lived, filled with doubt about the medallion she is still holding after all these years. Not only that, she has two devoted suitors trying to win her heart over: the now-promoted Commodore Norrington, whom she is never loved him before but falling instead to her secret crush, humble-looking blacksmith Will Turner (now played by Orlando Bloom). On the day of Norrington's grand promotion, the sudden arrival of the long-drifted Captain Jack Sparrow make an appearance of attempting to steal a ship but being pursued by the British army. At the same time, he also get to save Elizabeth, who is accidentally fallen over from the high castle and down into the sea because of the tight corset she is lacking of proper breath. Of course, the chase is quickly ensues, which includes an exciting swordfighting duel between Sparrow and Turner, but Sparrow is ultimately defeated in the end. Thrown into the prison and will be sentenced for hanging to death, Sparrow is only waiting for the greatest opportunity to escape.
At that night, the decaying pirates storm the Caribbean island colony and wreck havoc against the people there, while manage to kidnap Elizabeth away. Apparently Captain Barbossa and his crew are so desperately wanted Elizabeth badly is because she has the last coin hanging in her neck that will see them able to return all 882 gold coins to the chest for the sake to break the curse. Commodore Norrington and especially, the more anxious Will Turner are determined whatever they can to bring back Elizabeth in peace. However, Turner is more suggestively to bring along the only person who can lead him back to the Black Pearl's home port: Jack Sparrow. And because of Norrington's ultimate disapproval to let Jack out of prison and he does his search instead along with his crew and his ship, Turner has no choice but to help Sparrow escaped. The unlikely duo: Turner and Sparrow has hard time trying to get along at first but it doesn't take long before they have to help out each other to locate Black Pearl and Elizabeth.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth, whom she simply claimed herself her full name as Elizabeth Turner, Barbossa sees his opportunity and the rest of his crew of finally able to break the curse because he needs the blood of Turner to be dripped over all 882 gold coins in the chest to accomplish everything.
That's when the problem arise: Elizabeth isn't Turner, but to their much surprise, Will Turner is actually supposed the person they really need -- and he is also the only son of the infamous Bootstrap Bill Turner.
The premise is nevertheless breathtaking, and yet potentially fascinating, especially the way how the story is crosses with classic pirate genre and a dash of horror that includes walking skeletons.
But this hokey-jokey script by SHREK scribes Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio whom we see them manage to squeeze in just about every convention of the genre, without being able to polish much about the story. And that is where their problem lies - - they are unable to push their obviously limited element beyond horizon and the story is amazingly overlong (clocking at a whopping 133 minutes!).
The first hour of the film is exciting but by the time the second hour kicks off, there are no more reason than seeing the same old stuff recycled over and over again until the screenwriters are straying far enough to cram in many ending one after another that could have ended half an hour shorter.
While the pace is rather choppy, with just too many ideas splashing all over the place that some of them could have been done in a straightforward manner without being going into round-a-clock detour, this bloated epic doesn't exactly sinking into the bottom of ocean just yet. Blessed with a script that filled of often hilarious and downright sarcastic dialogues, the film also sees the light of its day with an attractive cast that constantly winning everything over.
Johnny Depp, in particular, is the limelight that from the moment of his appearance in this film, he is definitely the guy who is born to play a pirate. Dressed with heavy mascara and a wonderful Cockney accent, Depp's over-the-top performance is often hilarious and the way he slurred his words and his ultimate gesture like a man who spend the rest of his lifetime drinking way too much rum (yup, in this movie, he is proven so) sees him in such winning, flamboyant approach. Geoffrey Rush, on the other hand, is similarly superb, with his idealistically wicked and hissing performance gets downright nasty. The rest of the cast, including the dashing Orlando Bloom and the amazingly gorgeous Keira Knightley are entirely photogenic but can't ultimately matching themselves between Depp and Rush.
The action is fast and exciting, big and bold enough to keep things moving, while the transformation of the decaying pirates of Captain Barbossa and his crew from ordinary-looking human form into a crumbling skeleton is first-rate, special effects wonder. Director Gore Verbinski, who can't do much to bring the pirate genre more-than-meet-the-eyes, still able to maintain the meaning of how such rollercoasting fun a swashbuckling epic could have been (Oh, by the way, this film is based on a Disney's popular theme park ride), while pushing the envelope of high camp without being resulting into sheer silliness. Mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer is smart and savvy enough to deliver them in such cleverly-packaged, high-tech but nostalgic copy of a glossy version from the real deal.
Audiences will have no doubt relieved that this film is packed with enough fun as long as one never expected much in the novelty. For the rest of the purists, this one isn't ranked close enough to such immortal pirate classics, including CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935) and THE BLACK SWAN (1942)