It has been a long time since there's been a major pirate motion picture. There was Renny Harlan's Cutthroat Island back in 1995, followed a year later by Muppet Treasure Island. It's no wonder filmmakers and studios decided to back off from the genre and give people time to forget. It's been a full decade and then some since the last semi-decent movie in the genre, Hook, hit the big screen. But even that was not entirely a pirate movie. Adventure on the high seas has run the gamut lately from The Perfect Storm to the Sinbad TV series. If you really wanted some good, old-fashioned swashbuckling, you had to hit the video rack and rent a Flynn or Fairbanks flick.
Peg-legs, parrots, hidden treasure, plank-walking and plunging necklines... Now, that's what a pirate movie is about! It's all here, plus a good dash of ghostly horror, in the epic new adventure DVD release from Disney, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The $125 million supernatural swashbuckler is indeed loosely based upon the Disneyland ride we all know and love, but it's more of an homage than an adaptation. Director Gore Verbinski, with the help of his talented crew, got the look and feel of the ride just right... I could practically smell the fake fog and the phony gunpowder.
Set in the 17th century, Pirates of the Caribbean is the story of a roguish, handsome, dashing -- and yes, often bumbling -- pirate, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Sparrow reluctantly teams up with a comely young woman (Keira Knightley) and a comely young man (Orlando Bloom) to put the kibosh on the diabolical plans of the creepy undead pirate Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who has stolen Sparrow's beloved vessel, The Black Pearl, and sails it across the Caribbean sea, manned by his motley and also undead crew.
Verbinski has proven himself again and again as a smart and versatile director -- from his debut feature Mouse Hunt, to The Mexican, to last year's big horror hit, The Ring -- he knows how to please a crowd. He's brought together all of the elements we associate with piracy and rather than bombarding us with the stereotypes, he cleverly weaves them into the plot. The plot doesn't disappoint, either: it's a worthy quest adventure for all the right reasons, and there's just enough romance, comedy, and thrills along the way to keep you interested until the very end.
Depp, as is his modus operandi, has completely lost himself in the person of... Keith Richards. Yep, Depp himself has said in interviews that he modeled Jack Sparrow on the unsteady, grandiose rock star. It was a risk, but one worth taking as it worked out beautifully. From the kohl-lined eyes, to the flamboyant togs, to the accented and muttering speech, to the sweeping and fey mannerisms... it's all there, and yet it's not a parody. Captain Jack Sparrow is a fully realized and unique character, brought to life by one of the best actors working today. Depp's co-stars aren't too shabby, either. Another standout is Rush as the monkey-toting, floppy-hat wearing, rotten-toothed walking dead, Captain Barbossa. Rush is another actor who can morph himself into just about any role -- he was just as believable as the meek, depressed writer in The Banger Sisters as he was as the masochistic, depraved writer in Quills. The younger co-stars, Bloom and Knightley, do a more than respectable job in drawing us into their respective plights and making us care about what happens to them.
There is a veritable treasure chest of additional release material on this double-disc set. On the first disc, we have the movie (in letterbox... the only way to see Pirates of the Caribbean in all it's expansive glory), plus a choice of three optional audio commentaries. Verbinski and Depp are on track one track one; Knightly and Davenport are on track two; and track three features the screenwriters (Stuart Beattie, Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and Jay Wolpert). Track one is of the most general interest, track two is amusing, and track three is surprisingly informative (but, it is hard to tell which writer is speaking). Each person has something unique to add, so it's easy to see why there are so many tracks available.
The other supplements are on disc two, and there are a lot of them -- 10 hours, it says on the back of the DVD. I'm a huge fan of the movie (I'll be putting it high up on my Best of 2003 Top Ten), but even I'm not up for that much extra info. First, there's a nearly 40 minute-long documentary, An Epic At Sea: The Making of Pirates of the Caribbean. There's the standard making-of mini-docs including effects, footage from the premiere (I was there! I can verify that yes, it was longest press line, ever), plus clips from the interviews done at the press junket. The featurette is segmented into eight individual pieces (or would that be pieces of eight in this case?), and there is, thankfully, a "Play All" option. Then there is a "Fly on the Wall" featurette, which basically shows unedited footage of different things going on on the set ("Town Attack," "Tortuga," "Blacksmith Shop," "The Cave" and "Jack's Hanging"). There is also 25 minutes of diaries ("Producer's Photo Diary," "Diary of a Pirate," and "Diary of a Ship"). These are interesting and different DVD features, but you really have to be a die-hard fan to watch them all back to back. If that's not enough for you, you can also watch 19 deleted and extended scenes, plus there is a better than average blooper reel.
Disc two also features "Below Decks: An Interactive History of Pirates," which, for me, was a pleasant surprise -- call me lazy, but usually I can't be bothered with anything interactive. In this case, the interaction was easy enough to figure out, and worth the few extra clicker clicks. There's also a Scene Progression featurette, which shows how a shot in the movie goes from concept to completion. "Pirates in the Park" is an excerpt from the television series, "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color," and is from the episode, "Disneyland: From The Pirates of the Caribbean to The World of Tomorrow," which aired on January 21, 1968. Walt Disney himself gives a tour of the ride, which is very nostalgic, for those of us who've been on it. Lastly, there is a comprehensive image gallery, featuring about 200 pics ("Inspiration," "Concept Art," "Storyboards," "Costumes," "Production" and "Publicity.") There are also several DVD-ROM features for PC (not Mac) owners. I understand the "Moonlight Becomes Ye Effects Studio" is pretty cool -- you can subject a jpg or gif of yourself or a friend, and make it look like one of the undead pirates in the movie.
Official movie website