Movies That Everyone Should See: “Pirates of the Caribbean”

Psst! Avast there! It be too late to alter course, mateys. And there be plundering pirates lurkin’ in ev’ry cove, waitin’ to board. Sit closer together and keep your ruddy hands in board. That be the best way to repel boarders. And mark well me words, mateys: Dead men tell no tales! Ye come seekin’ adventure with salty old pirates, eh? Sure you’ve come to the proper place. But keep a weather eye open, mates, and hold on tight. With both hands, if you please. Thar be squalls ahead, and Davy Jones waiting for them what don’t obey.

– Talking Skull and Crossbones, Pirates of the Caribbean theme park ride, Disneyland

On March 18, 1967, three months after his death, the very last amusement park attraction that Walt Disney himself participated in designing opened at Disneyland.

Pirates of the Caribbean.

The ride is a log flume trip through pirate themed sets and scenes. Visitors ride the water chutes amongst animatronic displays and full-sized recreations which include such sights as a firefly filled bayou, Dead Man’s Grotto (where skeletons sit atop piles of gold), a pirate ship doing battle with a Spanish galleon, and a Caribbean town being looted by Pirates. Along the way, they’re treated to cannon fire, flames, gunshots, glittering treasure, pirate jargon, and of course, “Yo-Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)”.

When word was released that Disney intended to make a feature movie based on the ride, the movie going public of the world collectively went, “Huh?”

In the conceptualization stages, Disney was unsure whether to create a theatrical release, or a direct-to-video movie. But when the decision was made to “go big”, Dick Cook (then the Chairman of Disney Studios) convinced noted action movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer to take on the project. With credits on his resume for “Top Gun”, “Days of Thunder”, “Bad Boys”, “The Rock”, “Con Air”, “Armageddon”, “Gone in Sixty Seconds”, and “Black Hawk Down”, BIG was what they were going to get.

Before production even began, Bruckheimer requested the script be reworked because he didn’t want to make a “straight up pirate movie”, and thus the supernatural element became incorporated. Gore Verbinski was brought on to direct, coming off the success of “The Ring”. He was interested in resurrecting a genre that had lain fallow since the Golden Age of Cinema… he knew that that would require a lavish, sprawling production. Reportedly Michael Eisner (then Disney CEO) balked at the budget in pre-production (which was approaching $150 million), and ordered the production halted. Verbinski surreptitiously insisted that the design work continue, however, and was able to use the output to implore Eisner to allow the project to continue. Bruckenheimer cited the fact that contemporary big budget action films were all making that level of investment, and that the film couldn’t be expected to succeed on the cheap. Eisner was swayed by the two of them, and the movie continued to move forward.

Locations were scouted from the Bahamas to South America, looking for unpopulated areas. St Vincent’s was used for the actual port shots of Port Royal. Elaborate sets were constructed, including the fort at Port Royal (at a defunct marine park in Rancho Palos Verdes, California), the Governor’s mansion and the cave that houses the Aztec gold. Three ships were needed for the film. “The Lady Washington”, which is a period reproduction boat, was used for “The Interceptor”, but the “Dauntless” and “The Black Pearl” were built specifically for the film. Three versions of the Pearl were created. Two were seaworthy, but built as partial ships atop of steel barges (with the remainder of the vessels completed by CGI) in order to facilitate shooting. The other was built on a soundstage for shooting the night shots and scenes with heavy fog.

The movie was lining up to be epic in scale.

But the biggest news of the production was the casting of Johnny Depp.

At the time, Johnny Depp was noted for being exceptionally selective with his roles. For example, at that point, he had never done a sequel. His collaborations with Tim Burton at the time consisted only of “Edward Scissorhands”, “Ed Wood” and “Sleepy Hollow”. He had already authored his Hunter S Thompson in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and worked side by side with Al Pacino in “Donnie Brasco”. In the two years immediately preceding “Pirates”, he was coming off of “From Hell”, “Blow” and “Chocolat”, a fine snapshot of the eclectic mix of high quality projects he was known for choosing. In terms of the classic question as to whether a performer was a “Movie Star” or “An Actor”, at that point in his career, I don’t think anyone would have answered “Movie Star”. Depp was the consummate, selective, talented actor.

The fact that he would do a big budget pirate movie based on a theme park ride almost didn’t add up… except in the sense that if he was going to be varied and unpredictable in the choosing his roles, tent pole action movies would be in the mix.

Little did we know that he would turn in an Academy Award nominated performance and author an unforgettable character.

Captain Jack Sparrow.

From the first moment we meet him, we know Jack Sparrow will be a legend. A regal score accompanies a close up of the pirate’s face, his leather tricorne sitting atop his coiffe of beaded dreadlocks. He has a focused look on his face, staring off into the distance, standing in the crow’s nest, holding on to the mast. The image we have forming in our heads is completely dispelled when he jumps down, however, revealing that he’s actually in a tiny boat, which is rapidly filling with water.

It’s sinking.

It’s a hysterical introduction to a character with charm in abundance. Simultaneously blessed and cursed with an over abundance of luck, Captain Jack Sparrow is continuously getting into and out of improbable situations. He’s put in jail, he gets out of jail, he gets marooned on a desert island, he gets rescued from a desert island. They hang him, but he’s rescued. His ships sink, get stolen, and leave without him. His crews mutiny. His compass does not point north. He’s occasionally unintelligible, and constantly accompanies his speech with odd, haltingly constrained, flourishing hand gestures and peculiar body language.

Depp has said that the thought crossed his mind that pirates were the rock stars of their era, so he decided to draw inspiration for his performance by studying his friend Keith Richards. It worked. Sparrow is an indelible, inimitable movie character. Exceptionally entertaining, and the heart and soul of “Pirates of the Caribbean”.

A requisite for great action movies is a great villain, though, and “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” has one in Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa. Rush sneers and scowls, and speaks with an appropriate “pirate” accent. His Barbossa is snide and sarcastic… he’s funny as well as being menacing. He gives the movie exactly what it needs in the villain role. A villain that’s fun to watch.

Barbossa leads Sparrow’s former crew… on Sparrow’s former ship, The Black Pearl. He led a mutiny against Sparrow and left him marooned for dead on a deserted island… just before the crew plundered a treasure chest of cursed Aztec gold. Now he and his men – the crew of The Black Pearl – walk the earth as undead. Shambling skeletons who show their true form under the light of the moon. Their mission is to return every piece of gold they took, along with blood of the people who took them, in order to reverse the curse they bear. In order to do that, they come up against Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly), who has the last medallion, and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), the son of the crew member who took it.

And thus the stage is set for an epic tale of chase and confrontation, with numerous excuses to set up conflict and combat. Captain Jack Sparrow wishes to regain his ship, The Black Pearl. Barbossa and his crew have it, and they’re trying to restore the gold and remove the curse. To do that, they abduct Elizabeth Swann, who tries to get free. Also wishing to free her is Bootstrap Bill Turner’s son, Will, who will later become a target of the pirate’s quest as well. They’re all pursued by the British Royal Navy, who want to free Elizabeth and capture or kill any pirates they can.   

With all of these cross interests at play, there is no shortage of opportunity to inject action sequences, and “Pirates” does NOT disappoint. There’s swashbuckling sword fights, ships unloading cannons at each other at close range, swinging from the mainsail, and barrages of musket shots. Characters walk the plank, are marooned, and fight atop piles of treasure. It offers everything a fan of pirate movies could possibly hope to see, capped off with a supernatural twist that is skillfully integrated into the narrative. It’s all orchestrated expertly, with the action perfectly paced throughout the film’s runtime, and the humor beats constant and clever throughout.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” was an enormous success upon its release. It shocked the industry… pirate movies had a history of flopping in years previous, and there wasn’t much history for movies based on theme park rides. It went on to gross $654,264,015 worldwide, however, which was good enough to make it the fourth highest grossing film of 2003 (behind “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”, “Finding Nemo” and “The Matrix Reloaded”). It has spawned 3 sequels (to date) and a revamping of the theme park ride that inspired it.

“Pirates” is a wild romp of a movie. Entertaining and exciting. It has humor and action to spare. Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow is a character for the ages, without a doubt. It’s the epitome of a summer blockbuster – it has impressive special effects, sets, costumes – the money definitely made it up on the screen, here. But it all comes together to provide a thrill ride for the audience that leaves them wanting to see it again.

It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See“.

41 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “Pirates of the Caribbean”

  1. While Bloom and Knightley were dangerously close to being crap as they had no visible chemistry, Rush, special effects and music were great. And Depp is so good he makes the movie worth seeing just for him. It’s also true for 2nd and 3rd part, but not even him could rescue 4th one.

    • Depp is unbelievable here, I think this movie launched him into an entirely different stratosphere of stardom.

      You’re right though, Bloom and Knightly are both pretty forgettable. This movie belongs to Depp and Rush, those other two are just set dressing. 🙂

  2. An interesting choice for MESS, but I agree. It does exactly what it sets out to do. It reminds of Shrek in the way that it is a solid first film with some real genuine qualities which has been overshadowed by its larger, over-bloated sequels.

    • Yeah, I cant support the sequels much, at all, really. The second one was decent enough, I suppose…

      Meanwhile, got to keep that MTESS mix eclectic, buddy! 😀 Keep the people on their toes!

  3. This flick is insane and a bit all over the place, but it’s still a whole lot of fun and Depp gives one of the most iconic performances of all-time, as everybody’s favorite rum-drinking pirate, Jack Sparrow. Whoever thought that doing a loose impersonation of Keith Richards would ever garner so much love and attention. Good review Fogs.

    • It’s pretty wild, yeah… but like you say, its crazy fun.

      Hey, people love the REAL Keith Richards, so whats not to love about one of our favorite actors playing Keith Richards as a Pirate? Its ingenious! LOL 😀

      Thanks as always Dan the Man!

  4. Great review, Depp is cool and Sparrow was a great character, shame they couldnt follow it up as good as this one, but Sparrow is always worth watching.

  5. Yay!! I’m so glad to see this on your MTESS list!! This is absolutely my favorite movie ever! Depp is phenomenal, and I agree…one of the best movie entrances of all time. He can act with just his eyes and body movements alone. And what I love most about this movie is how funny it is! On top of being a great action flick!
    I thought it was very poorly advertised, because when I saw the trailers I thought it looked really stupid and never even planned on seeing it. But luckily, my mom went to see it with some friends and came home and said…you NEED to see this movie! We ended up watching at least 4 more times in theaters.
    It’s one of those movies that you can watch again and again without getting sick of it, and you catch something new every time you watch it!
    I only wish that they had stopped at one movie. I actually did really like the second (obviously not anywhere near as good as the first), but then the third one was just awful. And we’ll just pretend the fourth never happened.
    Definitely a movie that everyone should see! At least 5 times!

    • Tops of the tops? 😀 Cool!

      You know, you’re not the only one who wasn’t sold on it. I didn’t see it opening weekend, which is an oddity for me, even back before I was blogging. If I was going to hit a movie in the theatres, it would usually have been as soon as it came out.

      But this was one of those flicks where the buzz built up and it hung around. So I’m glad I went to check it out, cause its pretty awesome.

      The sequels, certainly, are lesser works. No doubt. But we cant hold that against the originals or we’d have no movies left in the world! 😀 Glad you liked this one, Nicole!

  6. The crew of the Black Pearl are skeletal ghosts. As in dead already. Why would anyone fight them. They can’t be killed. The only way the sword fighting ends is everyone else dies! But all logic aside, those moments when it changes from pirates to skeletons to pirates again are what makes this movie! Johnny Depp is a “drunken drag queen” and Geoff Rush is the great gnasher of teeth, but all to the good. Seven Seas worth of fun! One thing I’d like to add, this film more than any other put HDTV on the map. It sold more sets and DVD’s than any title at the time and solidified High Definition Tv for inhome forever!

    • Yeah, that’s true, this was a big sell at the time. As I was mentioning to Al, above, this was one of the first Blu Rays I got. Definitely a set seller. LOL

      This movie is Seven Seas worth of fun, I dont know about the rest of some of that, but “Pirates” is a blast, to me.

  7. Totally agreed, I’ve enjoyed all four movies, though I only own the first one, which I believe is still the best of the bunch. I’m also quite fond of the two comic relief pirates.

    • That’s true, I like those guys too. The eyeball gag got a little tired after awhile, but they’re still funny. I like the one who gets sick of hearing “Parley” all the time, then at the end of the movie, it’s the first word out of his mouth when he gets caught. 😀 That was a well built up gag.

  8. This’ll probably sound like “cool story, bro” from Fark, but to show just how cool Deep is with this, a story I’ve heard floatin around town here is that one year for Halloween Depp showed up at his mother’s house here in Lexington and greeted kids at the door dressed as Capt. Jack. Don’t know for sure if it’s true, but would be super awesome if so.

    • That would be cool. LOL. I know he loves the character, that’s pretty widely noted, so there’s some possibilities for that to be true. Need an investigative reporter to get to the bottom of it! 😀

  9. It’s the only one of the series that I honestly like. Good fun before the Selachimorpha was upsurged in a ballistic arc in the following films.

    Plus I loved the nods to the ride. The dog with the key was my favorite part.

    • LOL. You could just SAY jumping the Shark. You dont have to be all FANCY about it and everything…

      I’ve never been to Disney. Either of them. Glad they hook their fans up though. Hopefully del Toro gives us a good Haunted Mansion movie eventually, too.

  10. Awesome review once again Fog. I love these movies and have seen them all many times. I owned them on DVD and then recently bought them all on Blu-Ray. It was like watching a new movie with the detail of everything. Definitely good choice for a must see movie.

    • Cool, man, glad you approve. 😀

      I like em all, but #1 is the only one I really LOVE. I like 2 and 4 well enough though…

      Blu is the way to go, no doubt. They look great. Forget who was mentioning it earlier, but this was a big Blu ray mover back in the day. It really helped sell the format.

      • This and the fact that Sony owned the technology and a large portion of the movie industry, studios, production facilities, etc. Disney also backed Sony, so you had the 2 big boys vs the smaller studios backing HD. In this case, the better technology won, in the fact the Blu-Ray is more durable, holds more information and has faster access times. Unlike the Sony versus the world back in the 70s with Beta vs VHS. There the poorer choice won the industry.

  11. I loved this movie! Now…do I like the other POTC movies….hummm, not so much. I don’t know why this one stands out more than the others. I was lucky enough to see the Black Pearl up close. Didn’t get to go on the thing, but that was alright with me. I wasn’t the lucky hundreds that got to meet Depp as Capt. Jack, while he was in Hawai’i filming. It still bothers me. LOL

    • Awww 😦 Cool that you got to see the Pearl though! Thats awesome! Did yo get to take pictures and whatnot? 😀

      Meanwhile, the ones after this weren’t as original, that’s a). Then they all got pretty bloated, that’s b). So… I think thats why this one stands out. Definitely

  12. This was my favorite ride at Disney Land as a kid and I think I grinned from ear to ear when I watched the first movie. Depp was amazing. I didn’t really get into the toher two movies that much. But the first one is a amzing. Not to show myself off as a complete geek, but we were playing a historical DnD game shortly after that movie came out. It was a pirate game. We had three Jack Sparrows at the table on starting night…including myself…a girl pirate…he was just that cool. 🙂

    • LOL. I like(d) D&D too. Been a lonnnnnng time since I played, but its great.

      So what did you all do? Fight over who got to be Jack Sparrow? Or did you all get to be him. Jack Sparrow the 3rd, Jack Sparrow the 4th. 😀

      Good times, whichever way, I’m sure…

      • Lol…well, the game lasted all of one night. It was crazy. One guy shot himself in the head, I think my Jack Sparrow drowned, and who knows what else. We did all play our own Jack…quite silly!

  13. So glad you chose this one for your famous MTESS list. Another “bull’s eye” review. Depp was perfectly cast with lots of support roles around him. It’s a classic to be viewed over and over again. Thanks for the reminder of how special this movie is!!

  14. Agree Agree Agree!! This is a def must see. The best of the series. And Depp’s entrance as Capt Jack Sparrow was uncanny. Not sure what they could do to make this series keep from getting worse…save stop making movies, but when the first one came out I was immediately a fan. You should see the 7’x10′ banner I have of POTC hanging in my living room! haha

    • LOL. That’s crazy huge, man. But very cool. This is a great movie to celebrate, in spite of the sequels being… lesser. 😦

      I dont know what they could do to make the movies better either. I know they definitely need to trim them down. They all uniformly run too long. If they had a shorter run time they could be more focused and trim some of the fat. That’d help. and it’s almost impossible now to scale back the supernatural element I suppose, but that might help too.

      Can we see Sparrow actually BEING a pirate and like plundering a town or something? LOL!

  15. Jack Sparrow: Me I’m dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly it’s the honest ones you have to watch out for, you never can predict if they’re going to do something incredibly stupid.

    Captain Jack Sparrow. Forever iconic–legendary–and unique.

    Enough said. 😀

    And as much as some folks complain about Elizabeth and Will–boy, did we miss them in POTC 4!! Jack needed them to play off of…they were an awesome team.

    Solid choice, matey.

    • Thanks man! Yeah, I thought Will and Elizabeth were fine in #1, but in the sequels they quickly outlived their usefullness for me… so actually I say good riddance!

      Aside from that though, you’re right, Sparrow IS iconic. His dialogue is awesome, his mannersims are hysterical. Depp really really knocked it out of the park on that one. 😀

  16. I know I’m late to the conversation here but I just wanted to say that I thought your post here was really nicely put together. You did an excellent job compiling background information and writing about it in an entertaining style. All of the side notes were well developed but you ultimately come back to the most important issue and that is the movie.

    The introduction of Jack Sparrow as a character was so perfect, I laugh just thinking about it. You described it in a vivid detail without going over the top. The payoff in a sentence separated from the preceding description hits exactly the right note of irony. Bravo on that set of paragraphs.

    As much as Johnny Depp is responsible for the artistic and financial success of this film, Geoffrey Rush is responsible for making the story workable and entertaining. Much like the “pirate skeleton” fantasy element raises the bar for the film, Barbarosa raises the bar for the story. Your acknowledgement of his perfect villain persona makes your comments much more complete. Too often everyone else in the film gets overlooked because Depp was so wonderful.

    Will and Elizabeth worked exactly right for this film, but everything in the sequels feels stretched and unnecessary. Jack’s sword-fight with Will in the blacksmith shop sets up our expectations for the rest of the swashbuckling in the movie. Along with Flynn and Rathbone or Inagio and the Man in Black; this is the way a confrontation should play out among equally matched opponents. You get some give and take, some repartee and a clever resolution.

    I’m going to share your post here on my facebook page. I don’t know if it will get you any traffic but if people read it they will know I am not wasting my time with my own reading. Again, good job.

    • Thanks Richard! Dont worry about “Being late”… as I’m sure you know by now, I see the comments that get posted to older threads, and love getting feedback on the posts, no matter when they went up!

      I appreciate the props here. I really like this movie (but am not as big a fan of the sequels… seem to be in line with you on that, too). You’re right that Rush’s Barbossa doesnt get all the credit he’s due, although apparently the studio knows a good thing when they see one, as he’s been in all of the movies. 😀

      That swordfight in the beginning IS a great scene. Total tone setter, really does create that swashbuckling sense of adventure… the sword work, the choreography around the room, up on the beams and the see-saw… just a great, great scene. I agree!

      Thanks for the share!! Traffic or no traffic, thats a really great gesture, and I always am really really grateful whenever anyone hooks FMR up, here. 😀 Thanks man!!

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