Monday, August 11, 2003

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Went to see Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl Saturday. About all I can say is that it's better than Cutthroat Island, though not by much, and Johnny Depp is almost as pretty as Geena Davis was...and it's Depp, like Davis, that makes the film worthwhile.

Don't know what moved Depp to play his Jack Sparrow (Captain Jack Sparrow, I can hear him say) as some kind of mincing mix of Tim Curry, Errol Flynn and RuPaul, but I can guess: other than Sparrow, the most colorful character is Geoffrey Rush's scowling Captain Barbossa and the script is a by-the-numbers pirate adventure, badly needing some spice- which Depp provides by the barrelful. He seems to be having a large time, wisely kidding the material, and as a result the viewer has a large time along with him. His performance is the best reason to see this film. Rush gives a fine, nuanced performance too, and Orlando (Legolas) Bloom is OK in a role which, despite the fact that his character is pivotal to the goings-on, isn't asked to do very much acting-wise. The special FX are fine, especially the scenes with the ghostly, decomposing buccaneers by they swordfight with living opponents, I couldn't help but flash back on the recent Ray Harryhausen documentary I saw on TCM and how difficult it was for the Master to pull off the Jason vs. the skeletons scenes. We've come a long way, I suppose. There's a lot of nice scenery, not all of it being chewed by Depp and Rush, and the period detail appears to be very nicely done. One or two of the action scenes work as well as they're supposed to. Director Gore Verbinski, with whose The Ring I was unimpressed, does a fine job, free of the noisy and annoying MTV-ish tricks he brought to his previous effort.


The movie is too damn long by at least 20 minutes because modern scriptwriters, especially when they write action-adventure films, can't resist the urge to pad the story with false endings and unnecessary plot twists. There is at least one too many swordfights as well, among all the other requisite pirate movie trappings, such as battles at sea, and people being washed up on tropical islands. I realize that the prevailing thought is that hey- this is a "Summer action movie", based on a Disney World ride, so we have to make it as much like a roller coaster as we can...with lots of ups and downs and ins and outs and "make you jump" scenes as possible. Fine. But I don't like roller coasters. More negatives: the young actress Kiera Knightley has absolutely zero charisma playing the female lead. None. Her character is given plenty of opportunity to do all sorts of things, and she does them all in the same, low-key way. Even her drunk scene with Depp. A little more spark on her part would have gone a long way towards making this movie a lot more entertaining. There's a lot of exposition, because the story itself is needlessly cluttered, and you have to pay attention (especially at the end) or you'll be confused.

All things considered, though, I thought Pirates was OK. In a lot of ways, I was reminded of late 50s and early 60s Disney films like their version of Treasure Island and The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. Guess it was the priggish, uptight would-be suitor and captain of the guard, and Knightley's character's clueless father (Jonathan (Brazil) Pryce, always welcome in any film), along with all the redcoats. If this had been made in 1963, it would have been split in two parts and shown on Sunday night on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. So what the heck...go see Pirates, for Depp if nothing else, and park your brain at the door.