Who would have guessed that one of the greatest adventure films of the last few decades would be based on a ride in an amusement park? Of course, The Curse of the Black Pearl’s success is thanks primarily to the brilliantly daft script from Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio. The story, dealing with mutiny, pirate curses, double crosses, triple crosses, romance, and endless adventure, is a winding one, with far more twists and complexities in store than the majority of modern day blockbusters. It’s amazing that the characters aren’t lost in the fray.
Although he has since fallen into self-parody, Johnny Depp’s first turn as Captain Jack Sparrow is still remarkable. He balances the fine line between wit and drunkenness, always slurring his words and affecting an unrecognizable accent, swaggering and tipping about. It helps that he gets to play off Geoffrey Rush, who is outstanding as the barbarous Hector Barbossa, leader of the Black Pearl’s cursed crew. The true intelligence of the film lies in its characters and their motivations. Everyone is working towards something at all times, and Gore Verbinski’s lively direction (think The Princess Bride with a small slice of darkness) ensures the two-and-a-half hours rush by. Jack Sparrow wants his ship back, and watching him play the fool while orchestrating double crosses is endlessly fun. Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), the traditional swashbuckling hero, is forced to team-up with Sparrow to save Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), the love of his life. In a stroke of brilliance, when the tables are turned, Elizabeth becomes driven to save Will.
The characters and their motivations alone make for a wonderful film, not to mention the whimsical, inventive action, wit-filled dialogue, and grand sense of adventure captured by Verbinski. It’s clear he has an eye for images and visual spectacle (be on the look out for an army of zombie pirates walking along the bottom of the ocean to a beefy ominous music cue), but here he proves he has a knack for tone and atmosphere as well. A perpetual fog floats over the whole film, covering pitched cannon battles and lively sword fights alike. It’s the “little” things like story, characters, action, humor, practical sets and effects, that many modern blockbusters lack. The Curse of the Black Pearl has all of these “little” things in spades – it’s one colorful, daft, hell of a fun time.