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(2003) (Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: A blacksmith and a pirate form an unlikely alliance to rescue a governor's daughter and retrieve the pirate's ship from his former, mutinous and now cursed crew that has the young woman.
Elizabeth Swann (KEIRA KNIGHTLEY) is a young woman who's been enamored with pirates ever since she found a gold medallion adorned with a pirate emblem on a young boy who was rescued at sea. Now many years later, Will Turner (ORLANDO BLOOM) works as a blacksmith and delivers a new ceremonial sword to her father, Governor Weatherby Swann (JONATHAN PRYCE), so that he can give it to Commodore Norrington (JACK DAVENPORT) for his recent promotion.

Norrington publicly has his sights set on Elizabeth, while Will keeps his love for her secret. Their fondness for her is interrupted, however, by the arrival of Captain Jack Sparrow (JOHNNY DEPP). An opportunistic and unorthodox pirate, Jack wants to commandeer a ship so that he can get his revenge on his former first mate, Barbossa (GEOFFREY RUSH).

He led a mutiny against Jack and took command of his ship, the Black Pearl, but then ran across an eternal curse that left him and the rest of the crew in the state of being undead. Whenever struck by moonlight, they turn into living skeletons and have been searching long and hard for the one last gold medallion that will lift the curse.

They soon kidnap Elizabeth and set sail again, causing Will and Jack to form an unlikely alliance. Upon assembling a ragtag crew including the likes of Joshamee Gibbs (KEVIN R. McNALLY), Jack and Will head off to rescue Elizabeth and return control of the Black Pearl to Jack.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
Like their bank robber, con artist and grifter counterparts, cinematic pirates have long enjoyed a romanticized portrayal that belies their real-life exploits. However, and perhaps due to Internet piracy far exceeding what's left of the high seas variety, such fictional characters haven't exactly or recently made much noise the world of entertainment.

That is, except for the Disney Corporation that released the animated "Treasure Planet" last year and keeps its popular "Pirates of the Caribbean" attraction open at its Disneyland and Disney World parks. Following the cinematic adaptation of another animatronic attraction, Country Bear Jamboree, into "The Country Bears" movie, the studio is now releasing a live action version of its pirate ride, "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl." Thankfully, this older-skewed adaptation is far more successfully than its barely bearable predecessor.

That said, I have to admit that I did not have high expectations about this film before seeing it. After all, the thought of debacles such as "Cutthroat Island" and the overblown (if still enjoyable) production design of "Hook" had me worried that this effort might follow suit

As directed by Gore Verbinski ("The Ring," "The Mexican") from a screenplay by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio ("Treasure Planet," "Shrek"), however, the effort is a fun, funny and rousing swashbuckler flick that should appeal to older kids and adults alike. With a solidly constructed and told (if somewhat familiar) tale, terrific effects and production work, and spot-on performances, the film is engaging from start to finish and effortlessly combines the old style story with modern filmmaking techniques.

In a wise move, the cast and crew have chosen not to take themselves or the film too seriously. That doesn't mean the result is pure camp (although it occasionally borders on that). Instead, it's a smart and effective use of humor that complements and tempers all of the high seas action. The picture is filled with various humorous moments, asides, lines of dialogue, and performances that make it more accessible, engaging and entertaining.

It's the performance by Johnny Depp ("From Hell," "Blow"), though, that really makes the film so enjoyable to behold. He's always had an uncanny knack of bringing something extra to his various roles (in both good and bad films) and he continues the trend here. His take on the scoundrel pirate character is near perfect, both from a physical and emotional perspective and his various facial reactions and expressions are worth the price of admission (or later rental or purchase) alone.

He's just as apt with the requisite fight scenes (presumably with the help of a stunt double) that Verbinski and the stunt/fight crew have choreographed quite well. More often than not, such scenes in such films like these are usually overblown and/or over-edited. It also doesn't help if we don't like or care about the characters and/or the story. Neither is a problem here and the result is a collection of action and fight sequences that are fun to watch.

Beyond the action choreography, the production design is first-rate as are the special effects. The most spectacular of them are the Harryhausen type skeletal figures that board ships, do battle and traverse the sea floor. The cool element - both visually and thematically - is that the pirates turn partially or completely skeletal in the moonlight. That results in some creepy and fun visuals, particularly when the pirates move in and out of those lunar beams.

Beyond Depp, Geoffrey Rush ("Finding Nemo," "The Banger Sisters") seems to be having a blast playing the nefarious and mutinous first mate, Orlando Bloom (the "Lord of the Rings" films) is solid as the straight man to Depp's flamboyant character, and Keira Knightley ("Bend it Like Beckham," "Star Wars: Episode 1- The Phantom Menace") is fetchingly radiant as the headstrong governor's daughter. "Beckham" may have gotten her noticed, but this film could put her on the path to Hollywood stardom.

The likes of Jack Davenport ("The Talented Mr. Ripley," "Fierce Creatures"), Kevin R. McNally ("Johnny English," "Entrapment") and Jonathan Pryce ("What a Girl Wants," "The Affair of the Necklace") are okay in their supporting roles, but Zoe Saldana ("Drumline," "Crossroads") appears to have had much of her material left on the cutting room floor (leaving her occasionally prominent appearances on Jack and Will's ship seeming out of place, somewhat distracting and probably unnecessary).

Speaking of that presumably discarded footage, the nearly two hour and twenty minute film could have used a little trimming here and there, as it does go on a bit too long and loses some momentum from time to time.

Those are minor complaints, however, for what's arguably the most rousing action film of the summer and perhaps the entire year. Although I can't predict whether this pirate tale will sink like its animated "Sinbad" counterpart with viewers, this is an entertaining and enjoyable effort that's worth checking out. "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 7, 2003 / Posted July 9, 2003

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