Friday, 22 April 2016

Gore Verbinski's "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" – Aaarh

There aren’t many Hollywood blockbusters on the IMDB 250 list so it’s strange to be exposed to the full force of a Jerry Bruckheimer production.  Nothing is as it seems – the screen constantly cuts between continents, between A-list stars and stunt doubles, and between reality and CGI.  The sets are big, the stars are big and the music is big.  You could say that, regardless of the content of the script, a blockbuster is a genre of its own with its own genre rules.


On the plus side there’s nothing like the spectacle and swagger of a big budget blockbuster.  But no one would mistake Pirates for a work of art.  The characters aren’t allowed to be human.  Keira Knightley's character, Elizabeth Swann, for example, is never permitted to be even slightly mean and the DVD commentaries reveal that any scene that showed her in less than an utterly empathetic light was cut from the final edit.  And then there is the terror of big money Hollywood studios to show anything other than a liberal, love-conquers-all worldview, for fear of scaring away the unwashed public.  Despite Jerry Bruckheimer’s loathsome conservative views, the law breaking pirates are glamorized and the heroine is allowed to get together with her love match – a poor blacksmith – rather than her father’s choice of a high ranking military man.  And these veneer-thin liberal sensitivities are laughably insincere, like the occasion when Knightley’s corset is torn off in time honoured bodice-ripping style, but it’s all okay and girl-powery because it was so tight she couldn’t breathe in it, and removing it was really a rejection of the oppression of women… honest.

Review continues below...

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Pearl would be an absolutely terrible film if it wasn’t for the barnstorming performance of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow.  His performance is so well known that there hardly seems any point in describing it.  As it is, Depp lifts the film into two hours of pure entertainment.

Geoffrey Rush as the pirate leader, Barbossa, plays a more conventional pirate than Depp and he gets a few aarh-laden laughs.  The poor devil has pages of terrible dialogue to get through and has to carry a monkey on his shoulder the whole time.  Overall there aren’t as many laughs as you might hope or expect but when they do come they are occasionally funny:

Mr Gibbs: Then, on the fourth day, he roped himself a couple of sea turtles, lashed 'em together and made a raft.
Will Turner: He roped a couple of sea turtles.
Mr Gibbs: Aye. Sea turtles.
Will Turner: What did he use for rope?
Jack Sparrow: [from beside them] Human hair.
Jack Sparrow: From my back.

From a narrative point of view, Pearl is downright weird because the whole thing is really the final act of a more conventional three-act pirate story.  The parts where the pirates discover and steal treasure, mutiny against their captain and get lumbered with a curse from old Aztec gold is all told via expository dialogue.  We’re only shown the ending where they nullify the curse and come to terms with the captain they abandoned on a desert island.  This means that there is enough time to show off the actors, particularly Depp, Knightley and Rush, although there are rather more CGI skeleton pirate scenes than I personally would have preferred.

Personal Score: 7/10

This is part of a series of film reviews where I give my comments on IMDB Top 250 films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.

For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.

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