There are some movies that are more than just a movie, they are a phenomenon. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl was just that. During the summer of 2003, we were all treated to a film that celebrated the freedom of the open seas, the wit and wisdom of pirates and the fun of filmmaking on a grand scale. It’s no stretch to say that the remaining films in the series are still living off the good will from this amazing movie.
With the fourth installment set to hit theatres, I started watching the old films again in preparation. I’ll be honest, Curse of the Black Pearl is my favorite film of all time. This is coming from someone who loves Casablanca, The Wizard Of Oz and other classic films. None of them, in my mind, contain the fun and escapism of Pirates.
Most people will attribute that to Johnny Depp, for his Academy Award nominated portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow. There’s no doubt that plays a huge role, but it’s not the whole story, not by a long shot. The set design, props, cinematography and amazing scope of the film are even more reasons, but the true brilliance rests in the story and the actors.
The script by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio establishes a brilliant premise: the pirates have to return the treasure. Think about it. It’s such a simple idea, inverting the classic pirate story, but it works beautifully. Instantly, you have Barbossa and his crew as villains, even though they are returning the treasure. Meanwhile, notice that Elizabeth steals the gold coin from Will in the first scene of the film, and Will is the first one to kill someone. The two main characters act like pirates!
The straw that stirs the drink is obviously Depp as Jack Sparrow, but Elliott and Rossio recognize in this film that Jack is a complement, not a leading man. Will and Elizabeth are the story here, and it’s Jack who provides the spice to the main course. Sure, he’s more of a main character than most sidekicks, but Jack manages to steal the show because of Depp’s performance.
Also, Gore Verbinski deserves a huge amount of credit for infusing the film with two separate but distinct messages. There is the main story of the film, about the plot of the pirates and how Will must become one to ultimately foil their plans. But more than that, things are revealed when Jack and Elizabeth are on the deserted island. When Jack tells Elizabeth that a ship is “freedom,” he is talking to us as much as to her. Verbinski and the writers are telling us that freedom is scarce, whether it be freedom from oppression, from the work a day world or from whatever might be holding us back.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl offers us that freedom by taking the viewer out of the real world and inhabiting the Golden Age of Piracy for a couple of hours. It was a surprise hit that created a new franchise for Disney, but if you watch the first movie, you recognize that this was not the intent. Everyone involved set out to make the most fun and compelling film possible, and they succeeded in spades.