Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) artwork

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

24th December 2003

An epic adventure of love, piracy, Aztec gold and a hideous ancient curse which a rampaging band of pirates are desperate to break.
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, Michael Berry Jr., Isaac C. Singleton Jr.
Action/Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy
2 Hours 17 Minutes
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A young Elizabeth Swann is sailing on a British ship towards the Caribbean and Port Royale. She is travelling with her father, and new governor of Port Royale, Weatherby Swann and the port commander Norrington. Piracy is rife in the region and when the ship encounters a burning ship piracy is instantly suspected. Elizabeth notices a young boy in the water and after being rescued she discovers that he is wearing a strange gold medallion around his neck. Fearing that her new friend maybe be a pirate she hides the medallion from her father and takes it for herself. It's not until many years later that Elizabeth remembers she has the medallion and she decides to wear it during a ceremony.

Captain Jack Sparrow is the captain of Black Pearl, one of the most feared pirate ships in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, during a mutiny a number of years back his ship was seized by the now Captain Barbossa and he was cast away on an uninhabited island with only his hat, compass and gun with a single shot for company. But thanks to the flourishing illegal rum trade he was able to barter his way off the island. With his latest ship suffering from a few "structural" problems he's in the market for a new, and unguarded, vessel. Jack heads for Port Royale but arrives on the day that Norrington is being promoted to Commodore with all the pomp and celebration to go with it.

Cue the excessively clad Elizabeth fainting in the midday sun and falling into the ocean and Jack Sparrow coming to her rescue. But her saviour is soon uncovered as a pirate and the Commodore demands that he be hung. However, by falling into the water the mysterious cursed medallion has alerted its owners to its presence and that evening the Black Pearl and her crew of pirates pays Port Royale a violent visit. Finding the medallion, and thinking Elizabeth is someone else, the pirates kidnap her and head back out to sea. But the crew of the Black Pearl are not going to have an easy life as Commodore Norrington, Captain Jack Sparrow and William Turner, the same childhood friend and admirer she helped rescue many years before, pursue the Black Pearl.

With the disc containing both DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks, plus a number of audio commentaries I was a little suspicious that the picture was going to suffer. After all there is only so much room and compression available to fit everything onto the disc. Fortunately I needn't have worried as the welcoming room shaking roar of the THX fanfare put any of my concerns to one side and once the film got underway I soon realised that this was going to be both a audio and visual treat to put many other films on DVD to shame.

The resulting picture is wonderfully bright and colourful with some rich and detailed textures and colour tones. The level of detail is quite remarkable and I'm sure that if you turn the central heating up a notch or two then you could almost be in the Caribbean. The overall picture quality is excellent with an above average bit-rate throughout and no problems with either artifacting or outlining. Even the many night time and CGI heavy scenes are handled with ease and there are no noticeable problems with pixelisation. And as to be expected with a recent theatrical release, the print is pristine and free from signs of any dust scratches or other picture imperfections.

One of the most impressive things about Pirates of the Caribbean is the sound, especially the musical score. The film is presented with a set of extremely dynamic Dolby Digital (448Kbps) and DTS (768Kbps) soundtracks. Both offer some fine stereo steerage in the front channels and some clear and precise dialogue in the centre channel. Even the often neglected LFE channel is well represented and the rear channels are used to good effect with plenty of ambient effects. However, in true Bruckheimer fashion, it is the mighty orchestral score which dominates the majority of the soundstage throughout the film. Mind you, as good as it is, I've now lost count of the number of recent films whose orchestral scores sound alike. It's also no strange coincidence that Mr. Bruckheimer is behind the majority of the big blockbusters of late. Overall both soundtracks are very dynamic and offer plenty of entertainment, although I would opt for the slightly better dynamics of the DTS soundtrack which manages to really bring out the orchestral score.

The menu system is cleverly animated and scored on both discs whilst the extras are quite interesting and varied and offer something for the entire family. Like dinosaurs, pirates offer something strangely interesting and exotic to children of all ages. And in the usual Disney style the second disc is crammed full of interesting interactive features about the life of a pirate. However, I'm not actually quite sure whether those same young children, and some of their parents, will be wanting to watch this film. After all, those superbly scary CGI pirates may induce some pant filling moments for those easily scared.

For the rest of us there's a bumper set of extras indeed. First off, if you have a DVD-ROM equipped computer then you have access to a number of interesting features spanning both discs. First off, the main disc contains both the script and storyboard sequences for the film. These can be viewed whilst watching the film in the smaller window next to the storyboard or script. It's also quite easy to jump to any section of the film so you can skip the mushy bits and plot points and head straight for the action sequences. Whilst it is certainly a nice touch, and adds even more value to the already impressively packed disc, its appeal is a little limited. However, it is the second disc where all the interesting DVD-ROM features reside.

The second disc contains various features on the Disney ride which inspired the film. There are a number of video features, although you'll need to make sure you have Quicktime installed on your PC to access them. If you don't then you are looking at around a 7Mb download from Apples website. The Dead Men Tell No Tales and Disneyland Pirates Virtual Reality Viewer look at the history of the ride and, using Quicktime VR, even takes you on 360 degree tour of the ride. It's all impressive stuff and when you add this with the Pirates of the Caribbean Attraction - Image Gallery which contains many of the original sketches and concept drawings you know you've got a bumper set of extras. The final feature is the Moonlight Becomes Ye Effects Studio where you can make an existing portrait photograph look like one of the cursed pirates in the moonlight. A bit of a novelty item, but something that is sure to interest the kids.

The three audio commentaries on the main disc are also rather interesting and worth a listen to, but it is the commentary from Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport's which is the most fun. Their commentary is only on a limited number of scenes, although it does manage to cover the majority of the film, and it's absolutely hilarious. Jack Davenport had me in stitches throughout as the pair bicker and make fun of each other. It's very interesting and is probably the best commentary on the disc. Definitely worth a listen.

Compare this with the rather boring and plodding, albeit occasionally interesting, full length commentary from director Gore Verbinski and Jonhnny Depp who spend the entire commentary saying how wonderful the cast and crew are. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer also provides a limited commentary of which he spends most of his time praising the stars and director. The final commentary is the full length screenwriters commentary from Stuart Beattie, Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio and Jay Wolpert. It's a fascinating commentary and it offers some interesting nuggets of information on the research and early drafts of the film.

The second disc also contains a number of documentaries, deleted scenes and outtakes. The main "making of" documentary is the best of the bunch and it goes behind the scenes looking at the actors, locations (ah, the wonders of plywood and paint) and the various costumes designs along with the superb visual effects. Most members of the cast and crew are interviewed and running at just under 40 minutes it's certainly one of the better behind-the-scenes documentaries out there. Next up is the Fly on the Set documentary which shows how the Town Attack, Tortuga, Blacksmith Shop, the Cave and Jack's hanging scenes were set-up. Again, a rather interesting documentary. The Pirates in the Parks - Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour is an old 1960's Disney featurette looking at the original ride from its design to opening in Disneyland. The interesting Moonlight Serenade Scene Progression featurette shows how the CGI effects were used to transform Barbossa and his pirates to their true appearance in the moonlight.

There are also three production diaries which give an inside view of what it was like to work on the film. The Producer's Photo Diary is rather short but spends some time with Jerry Bruckheimer, Diary of a Pirate is a video diary kept by one of the cast members whilst Diary of a Ship looks at the ships used in the film including the real crew of the Lady Washington as it sailed from Los Angeles to the Caribbean. Following on with the pirate theme there's an interactive feature where a naval historian explains about the true life of a pirate and just how tough a lifestyle it really was.

Rapping things off are 19 deleted scenes which have essentially been trimmed for timing and pace purposes. It's just a pity they weren't restored to the DVD release as there's not one bad scene in there. Perhaps in the future an extended director's edition may be on the cards. Finally there's a nice blooper reel with some good outtakes of the cast fluffing their lines and just generally messing around. And if that's not enough for you there's a huge image gallery containing concept art, storyboards and production material. Quite how they managed to fit all of this onto this is disc is beyond me. To say this two disc set is bargain is a bit of an understatement!

Johnny Depp really does make this film the success that it is. His wonderful Ozzy Osbourne meets Keith Richard's drunken style (although he claims it not based on them) is a joy to behold and just goes to show that too much Jamaican rum really is bad for you! There's also a great number of British actors and actresses on show and the film even manages not to take too many liberties with British history or make any anti-English feelings. And for a Hollywood film it's quite a remarkable result. Have they finally learnt their lesson?

It's not everyday that a DVD of his high standard comes along and when you add the corking film into the equation you quickly discover that you can't really go wrong. With its great sound, great picture and superb set of extras this really has to be one of the films, and DVDs of 2003. As a result, Pirates of the Caribbean should form part of your collection. Highly recommended.

  • Commentary by Director Gore Verbinski and Star Johnny Depp, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Keira Knightly, Jack Davenport and screenwriters Stuart Beattie, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio and Jay Wolbert
  • An Epic at Sea documentary
  • Fly on the Set documentary
  • Diaries
  • Below Deck
  • Blooper Reel
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Moonlight Serenade Scene Progression
  • Image Gallery
  • Pirates in the Parks
  • Enhanced Computer Features
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