Pirates Of The Caribbean

Pirates Of The Caribbean

***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Look behind yoooou!

Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is nothing like as menacing as Hook, but he's a joke, nevertheless. He minces about in full makeup, with beads through his dreads, speaking in an Essex accent, taking danger in his stride. He's either the worst pirate who ever lived, or a wily warrior only pretending to be a fool.

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It seems like in-house advertising for Walt Disney Pictures to make a blockbuster movie, based on one of their theme park attractions. No expense has been spared, which means the effects are special and the battle scenes gory. The script is written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, who were responsible for Shrek, and yet there is not a single memorable line. Director Gore Verbinski cut his teeth on Mousehunt, which may explain why the movie is pantomime.

Everyone likes a good pirate and as pirates go Jack Sparrow is an odd cove. He undermines his heroic credentials by playing the giddy arse. He can't take himself seriously and yet his situation is dire. His ship, The Black Pearl, has been stolen by his dastardly first mate Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and he's in chains after saving the Governor of Port Royal's daughter (Keira Knightley) from drowning.

That is the beginning of a rollicking adventure that involves a blacksmith's assistant (Orlando Bloom), a strait-laced lieutenant (Jack Davenport) and a chest of Aztec gold. Barbossa and his crew have been cursed to live forever as the undead until the last of the stolen gold has been returned, together with the blood of the last thief. The blacksmith's assistant's dad was that very person, but he walked the plank after refusing to join Barbossa's mutiny, which is why his offspring is so important to the skeletal pirates. His blood, and his alone, can relieve them of the curse, but he knows none of this. Not yet.

The supernatural element takes the film into Silly City, when, at first, you think it's going to be in the class of The Mask Of Zorro. When moonlight falls upon Barbossa and his hearties, they become like characters from Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. The special effects magicians are given free reign and they do a terrific job, showing how skeletons walk and talk and drink rum, but it doesn't do much for the story.

If you compare Antonio Banderas in Zorro with Depp in Pirates, you see the problem. Banderas allowed his character to mock its Flynnish pretensions, while Depp takes over Sparrow until he appears to overact on purpose to enhance the comedy. Rush hits the exact note between pastiche and panto. Bloom plays the juve lead straight and, with all such roles, seems a little dull as a result. Knightley is a revelation. She's young, beautiful and all those things that Governor's daughters should be, but when it comes to the action, she's right in there, fearless, like a tomboy in corsets.

As a spectacle, money has been spent and you can see it. The pace never lets up and the locations in St Vincent and the Grenadines are breathtaking. For a film of this nature, especially from the creative imagination of the Shrekkies, it is surprisingly charmless. If Depp hadn't been so look-at-me-o, it might have touched the heart. Instead, you wonder how a camp pirate made it to the top job.

Reviewed on: 08 Aug 2003
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Epic romp with supernatural pirates and Johnny Depp mincing about with an Essex accent
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Jennie Kermode ***1/2

Director: Gore Verbinski

Writer: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio

Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook, Damian O'Hare, Giles New, Angus Barnett, David Bailie

Year: 2003

Runtime: 143 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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