PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL - DVD review

...if the plot seems to make more than a few passing references to Burt Lancaster's The Crimson Pirate, I would take that as a compliment to good taste.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

Almost a year after releasing their successful, 2003 action/adventure "Pirates of the Caribbean" in a two-disc DVD set loaded with extras, Walt Disney Pictures and Buena Vista Home Entertainment are offering a special, three-disc gift set, which now includes a so-called "Lost Disc." Just where they found this "Lost Disc" is anybody's guess. Maybe the studio discovered it buried on some Caribbean island along with a chestful of other pirate booty. Or perhaps it was deposited under producer Jerry Bruckheimer's pillow one night by the Sandman or the Tooth Fairy. In any case, the third disc is only available in the three-disc set, which may appeal to first-time buyers of the movie but will probably frustrate those folks who already own the original set.

For both of you reading this review who don't know much about "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," I have excerpted below some of my thoughts about the film from my earlier review. The rest of you more-knowledgeable movie buffs may safely skip down to the "Extras" section, "Disc Three."

The Movie:
Thank heaven for Johnny Depp. He turns what could have been merely a good action-adventure film into something of significance, an even better action-adventure comedy.

Depp's character is supposedly a little mad. The actor said his inspiration came from observing rock star Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, but surely it's more than that. The Disney people apparently were not initially pleased with his performance, but fortunately they didn't mess with it too much. This would also be the first Walt Disney Pictures production ever to get a rating higher than PG. One assumes the PG-13 was applied for frightening images and violence.

Thanks to Depp's goofy portrayal of woebegone, gold-toothed Captain Jack Sparrow; an equally adroit performance by Geoffrey Rush as the nefarious Captain Barbossa; deft pacing by director Gore Verbinski; clever writing by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio ("Aladdin," "Shrek," "The Mask of Zorro"); spectacular sets and scenery courtesy of producer Jerry Bruckheimer ("Armageddon," "Black Hawk Down," "Pearl Harbor"); nifty stunts; and a colorful supporting cast, "Pirates" comes off as a better entertainment than I expected.

Just don't figure on much that's new in the way of plot; its narrative, after all, is based on an amusement park ride. In any case, I doubt that anyone who enjoys the film will care much about its minor plot deficiencies, the characters and their derring-do amply making up for it. What's more, you get to hear the occasional "Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me," a bonus not to be overlooked. And if the plot seems to make more than a few passing references to Burt Lancaster's "The Crimson Pirate," I would take that as a compliment to good taste.

The story opens at sea with a British naval ship finding the survivor of an apparent pirate encounter floating in the water. He's a lad, Will Turner, who is soon befriended by a passenger on board, Elizabeth Swann, the daughter of the governor of Port Royal, Jamaica, just after the headiest days of buccaneering in the Caribbean.

Flash forward eight years or so, and we meet the principal players in our drama: Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), now a beautiful young woman; Will (Orlando Bloom of Legolas fame), now a handsome young blacksmith's apprentice (and naturally, Will and Elizabeth have eyes for one another despite their background); Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport), an English prig who fancies marrying Elizabeth himself; Governor Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce), Elizabeth's rather dense father; and the pirate Sparrow (Depp), who sails into port aboard a skiff because he's lost his boat, rescues Elizabeth from drowning, and for his trouble is condemned to hang at dawn as a pirate. That's gratitude.

Barbossa (Rush) enters shortly thereafter as the master of the "Black Pearl," a doomed ghost ship "crewed by the damned and captioned by a man so evil that Hell itself spat him back out." Needless to say, Barbossa sets everything in motion by attacking Port Royal and kidnapping Elizabeth, forcing Will and Sparrow (whose boat the Black Pearl was originally) into an alliance to rescue her. After this lengthy, hour-long setup, the rest of the story recounts the exploits of everyone concerned to get Elizabeth and the boat back. What they don't count on, however, is that Barbossa and his crew are cursed, the living dead, the "undead" (shades of F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu"), and that pirate treasure is involved.

Gore Verbinski may seem an oddball choice to direct a pirate epic. His last movie, "The Ring," was hardly fun and games. But he did do "Mouse Hunt" in 1997, and he was the creator of advertising's Budweiser frogs, so he did have some previous experience in lightweight escapism, which is what "Pirates" excels at. More important, he knows how to thrill an audience with as much that's unseen as seen, making "Pirates" exciting without showing any serious carnage. Sure, there are battles in abundance and people die, but it's done largely in the old-fashioned way of forties and fifties-style adventure movies. Surely, there is no better landscape for adventure than the human imagination. Besides, the director's always got the art, costume, set design, and special effects people to rely on, too.

The fights are lively and mostly comic, the characters are irascible but charming, and Depp's Sparrow is a joy in every scene: "You seem somewhat familiar," he says to Will when they first meet. "Have I threatened you before?" Moreover, the scenery and photography are beautiful and the sets are elaborate and inventive, especially the ones involving the ghost ship and its unearthly inhabitants.

If I had any reservations at all about the film, it's that at 143 minutes, the movie seemed to go on forever. My patience was wanning and my nerves wearying at the ninety-minute mark, and I still had almost an hour to go. Nevertheless, despite a script that could have been trimmed and a few sections that lag, I enjoyed the movie to the end and would gladly go back and watch it again. Villains, heroes, scalawags, and ghosts, skeletons, daring rescues, audacious escapes, and treasure aplenty make "Pirates" an energetic and engaging film, and that's as much as one could hope for.

Video:
The picture quality strikes me as being a typical Buena Vista live-action product. It's very good but not definitively good, not "Lord of the Rings" live-action good or "Finding Nemo" animated good. The screen size is big enough, measuring an approximate 2.13:1 anamorphic ratio across my standard-screen HD television; and it is mastered to THX specifications. But the actual resolution is sometimes a tad soft, and in darker scenes there is a touch of murky grittiness evident. Nevertheless, colors come off well--deep, rich, bright, and faithful; and digital artifacts like moiré effects and edge enhancements are few and far between. Most people will be too preoccupied with their enjoyment of the movie itself to notice much about the video, however, and that's probably the way it should be.

Audio:
If I had even minor reservations about the picture quality, I had practically none about the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound (DTS 5.1 is also available). It is very dynamic, with excellent transient response, and a fairly wide frequency range. Perhaps deepest bass is slightly wanting at times and perhaps the surrounds could have been used to better advantage, but, again, the shortcomings are so small they are more than made up for by the audio's merits.

Extras:
"Pirates of the Caribbean" did outstanding box office, so at least a two or three-disc set seemed inevitable, if only for prestige value. Who'd have thought we'd get both a two and a three-disc set?

Disc One:
The first two discs of this new package duplicate the contents of the original two-disc set. Disc one contains the widescreen presentation of the movie, the Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks, sixteen scene selections, a THX Optimizer set of audiovisual tests, English and French spoken languages, French subtitles, and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Additionally, the first disc includes three audio commentaries, the first with director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp; the second with stars Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport and an interview with producer Jerry Bruckheimer; and the third with writers Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, and Jay Wolpert.

Disc Two:
This is where the first of Buena Vista's documentaries and featurettes are found, and the disc is well stocked for a long voyage in front of the TV set. First, we find a thirty-seven minute documentary, "An Epic at Sea: The Making of Pirates of the Caribbean," a look at the actors, locations, production designs, ships, costumes, stunts, the visual effects, and the film's première. It's divided into nine chapters that can be played individually or all at once. Of the lot, I found "Ships" most fascinating, an examination of the three major sailing ships used in the film, their mock-ups, and their miniatures. Second, we have "Fly on the Set," five sections totalling some twenty minutes of behind-the-scenes footage shot during the film's production, chronicling "The Town Attack," "Tortuga," "The Blacksmith Shop," "The Cave," and "Jack's Hanging." Next, we have three personal diaries, including producer Jerry Bruckheimer's photo diary, the "Diary of a Pirate" (actor Lee Arenberg, the pirate "Pintel" in the movie), and the "Diary of a Ship," the "Lady Washington," the actual ship that became the H.M.S. Interceptor in the movie.

After the diaries, we have "Below Deck: An Interactive History of Pirates," the bonus item I enjoyed best, a rather amusing and informational, first-person tour of a pirate ship, pirate history, and various real-life pirates. Following that are a generous nineteen deleted scenes, all with excellent picture quality, and a three-minute blooper reel. Finally, there are image galleries of concept art, storyboards, costumes, production, and publicity; a "Moonlight Serenade" section showing us the progress of a shot from concept to completion; various DVD-ROM features for your computer; and "Pirates in the Parks," a seventeen-minute segment of "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" TV show from January, 1968, that takes us on a tour of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" attraction at the Disneyland theme park.

Disc Three:
The third disc, the so-called "Lost Disc," contains a further assortment of short documentaries and featurettes, adding up to over an hour of additional material. It starts with "Becoming Captain Jack," a seven-minute segment in which Johnny Depp tells us about his lifelong desire to play a pirate, with director Verbinski chiming in from time to time. "Becoming Barbossa" is a five-minute piece in which Geoffrey Rush and Verbinski explain to us how they created the evil pirate character. "Thar She Blows" is a six-minute bit on the building and eventual sinking of the ship, "Interceptor." Next is a chapter called "The Monkey's Name Is Jack," about four minutes on Levi and Tara, the little primates who took turns playing Barbossa's pirate monkey. "Sneak Attack Animatic" provides a little over four minutes on the animation the filmmakers used in designing the attack sequence before shooting it. "Pirates Around the World" is a four-minute comparison of ten of the fourteen dubbed versions of the movie shown in various foreign lands. "Spirit of the Ride" gives us more of Johnny Depp, plus Gore Verbinski and others of the filmmakers reminiscing for about seven minutes on their earliest memories of the Disneyland fun ride that inspired the movie. "Dead Men Tell No Tales" is a thirteen-minute feature that informs us of the history of the Disneyland attraction, a program heretofore available only for the PC. Finally, there are three more "Fly on the Set" snippets, totaling a little over fifteen minutes, where we go behind-the-scenes with the filmmakers as they create "The Dock," "The Tavern," and "The Plank" scenes.

Oddly, while BV have chosen not to offer the "Lost Disc" by itself, it is nevertheless packaged separately, sort of. It comes in its own cardboard-and-plastic container, removed from the regular two-disc set, yet the separate containers are shrink-wrapped together. This makes for a rather awkward arrangement, and it means once opened keeping the third, bonus disc apart from the other two. I can only suppose it was cheaper for BV to market the set this way, rather than create or buy a boatload of new, three-disc cases.

Parting Thoughts:
At present, as I've said, the third "Lost Disc" of extras is only available in the complete three-disc gift set. Whether Buena Vista will offer the "Lost Disc" separately at some point in the future, studio officials have not announced. As it is not my position to tell readers what to buy or not to buy, I cannot advise on the matter. If it were left to me personally, we would have fewer extras on all discs from all studios because I know I haven't the time to watch any of these things more than once, and their cost to me is not worth it. However, the Buena Vista folks are pricing this three-disc set about the same as their original two-disc set, so for the first-time buyer the choice seems obvious. It's the person who already owns the two-disc set who has to decide if a third disc of bonus features is worth the price of a whole new package.

One last thing: Despite its Disney origins, "Pirates" is a far cry from "Treasure Island." The fact is, "Pirates" is long, violent, and, as I said before, rated PG-13. Parents might want to preview it first before allowing younger children to watch it. But for older kids, like me, the film can be a boatload of fun.

As Capt. Barbossa says, "You best start believing in ghost stories.... You're in one."

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
9
Extras
10
Film Value
8