When I first heard that there was going to be a film based on Disney World’s classic ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, teenage me had some doubts. What kind of silly story could be told based on animatronic pirates who plunder, pillage, auction off women and sing? But under the direction of Gore Verbinski, the film turned into a huge success that is still treading water with lackluster sequels thirteen years later.
When a ruthless band of pirates invade Port Royal and kidnap the governor’s daughter, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), the young blacksmith, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), tries to save her with the help of a recently arrested pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Jack isn’t really concerned with the rescue, but wants to get his ship, The Black Pearl, back from Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and his crew. Throughout their swashbuckling adventure they get into hair raising situations, meet colorful characters, and discover a chilling curse lined with gold, greed and blood.
Compared to most films under the Disney name, Pirates of the Caribbean has more twists, mystery, violence and scarier images than we are used to seeing from them. The punishments for piracy are laid out in the beginning, showing handing, rotting corpses with a sign, “Pirates, ye be warned.” There is a soft love triangle between Elizabeth, the recently promoted Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport), and the young pining blacksmith we’re all rooting for, Will. Best of all, there is a curse over the crew of The Black Pearl (no surprise, given the title), where the moonlight reveals them as they truly are.
Johnny Depp, clad in a tricorner hat, dreadlocks and messy eyeliner, portrays Captain Jack Sparrow in an Oscar nominated performance. With his amazing entrance, sailing a sinking dinghy into Port Royal, he sets the tone for a new brand of pirate. He saunters down the pier with a half drunk grace and casually offers three times the payment to dock his sunken boat with no name attached, then pockets a whole pouch of money. While at first glance he seems to be a drunken fool and flying by the seat of his pants, he is actually quite crafty, always thinking ahead of Will, Elizabeth and Barbossa. But mostly, we just wants his beloved ship, The Black Pearl, back.
My favorite scene is the first sword fight between Jack and Will. Will finds Jack hiding in the blacksmithery and being the noble, upstanding citizen he is, plans to turn in the pirate, especially since he threatened dear Elizabeth. What begins as a simple sword fight, quickly escalates. Literally, into the ceiling rafters. When one sword is lost, swatted away or broken, there are plenty others around, some red hot and tossing sparks when clanked. When the donkey who runs the mill becomes spooked, he sets the whole workshop in motion. Then, when a wagon acts like a catapult, the sword fight takes to the rafters. It is wonderful how the danger and excitement increases every minute until Jack has to resort to more ruthless, pirate-like tactics.
Pirates of the Caribbean is probably the best film inspired by an amusement park ride ever (please, let me know if I missed another gem in this small genre). While it is a hard argument to call it the best pirate film ever, is is a great modern pirate film. It’s got the swashbuckling, the rum, kidnappings, stealing, fun, adventure on the high seas and a bit the supernatural to thicken it all. And with a total of five Oscar nominations, it earned respect from most critics. If you haven’t already seen this fun, modern, grown up bit of Disney magic, I highly suggest you do.
“Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.”