21 March 2004 | allisonmckinley
Johnny Depp puts a little swish in swashbuckle...
Despite being rife with technical blunders such as the longest full moon in history, Disney's first non-PG film is proving to be a financial boon while at the same time collecting reviews from critics that run from tepid to red hot. I am in complete agreement with Roger Ebert on one point: Somewhere in this 143 minute tour de force there lurks a very good ninety-minute film.
Other than Johnny Depp, who fashioned his character's personality (and eye makeup?) after observations of his good friend Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, the cast of 'Pirates' reads like a Who's Who of English film actors, including Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport and Mackenzie Crook.
When screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio originally pitched the movie to the Disney executives in the early '90s, Disney rejected it. It makes one wonder just who is running the Disney empire. Universal Studios have been combining action/adventure movies with theme park rides for over two decades (E.T., Jurassic Park, Jaws, and Back to the Future to name a few) only in reverse order-first the film, then the ride. This combination has worked well for Universal, and it seems almost absurd that Disney has taken so long to pick up on the obvious.
I liked three things in particular about this film. Just say Johnny Depp three times. His character Jack Sparrow redefines the term swashbuckler. Not since William Hurt's performance in Children of a Lesser God , and to a slightly lesser degree Kevin Costner's in JFK, has an actor so resoundingly stolen the show. If you do not like Johnny Depp, 'Pirates' is not for you. If you do like Mr. Depp (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood), you will enjoy 'Pirates'.
That is not to say that Orlando Bloom and Geoffrey Rush were less than fantastic. Rush made a delightful villain as Capt. Barbossa, and Orlando Bloom's performance brought charisma to a rather limiting role as Will Turner. Expect nothing but good things from this young actor in the future.
Let us examine the plot. This will be a rather short paragraph, for sword fights do not a movie make. The opening scenes show a young Elizabeth Swann on a ship at sea. A young Will Turner floats up on a raft, unconscious, wearing a gold medallion round his neck. Elizabeth hides the medallion so that no one else will know that young Will is a pirate. Years later, the pirates come to Port Royal in quest of the gold piece and kidnap the governor's daughter Elizabeth (Kiera Knightly), now all grown up. The fact that she also has the medallion they are looking for is just one of those lucky things that will happen if you're a good pirate who eats well and stays fit. Captain Jack Sparrow shows up at about the same time and he and Will commandeer a ship from the Royal Navy to chase the pirates, save Elizabeth, and add some adventure to their otherwise bleak lives. Swordfight, swordfight, swordfight, and that's about it. Let us just say that Pirates of the Caribbean has all the plot of an amusement park ride and leave it at that.
A few predictions may be in order, however. Look for an Oscar nomination for Depp's efforts. Look for nominations as well for sound, set design, makeup, and cinematography. As far as best picture? Next to Lord of the Rings (Return of the King)? Not likely.
Director Gore Verbinski, who used to play in a punk rock band and is best known for creating the Budweiser frogs, does an outstanding job keeping track of the myriad details required of a director, given his limited experience. True, 'Pirates' has countless errors in continuity, but those occur in any film of such scope. Mr. Verbinski has only four other films to his name: a short entitled The Ritual (1996), and then three very different but effectively made films, Mouse Hunt (1997), The Mexican (2001), and the very creepy thriller The Ring (2002). Again, it makes one wonder just who is at the helm of the USS Disney to put a $125 million movie in the hands of a neophyte. Well, it worked with Lord of the Rings and a very inexperienced Peter Jackson, and it worked here for Disney as well.
'Pirates of the Caribbean' is a fun movie for most of the family. It may be rather scary for children ten and under and somewhat boring for many over twenty-five. I enjoyed it immensely for exactly what it was... an amusing ride.