Claudia Leisinger


Dir: Gore Verbinski
Stars: Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush
Out: August 9th 2003


Only the gold pendant of governor’s daughter Elizabeth (Knightley) can free Captain Barbossa (Rush) and the crew of the Black Pearl from their ghostly curse; only her true love, blacksmith Will Turner (Bloom) and crafty seadog Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) can save her…

Arrr, me hearties, a rum ol’ high season it’s been, mostly stale-as-bilge-water sequels an’ pompous epics thinkin’ they’re deeper ‘an Davy Jones’ Locker. But – shiver me timbers – what be thar loomin’ on yonder horizon?

Well it certainly isn’t the barrel of clichéd pirate-speak above, which, considering these Pirates derive from the hackneyed (yet inexplicably popular) Disneyland ride, is quite a feat. Commandeering only the title, the setting and a few passing in-jokes, the movie’s freshness should be chiefly credited to two inspired moves: firstly, grabbing writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio to do here what they did for fairy tales in Shrek, i.e. give the formula a jolly rogering, (undead pirates returning, not looting, cursed gold) while honouring the original lure of pirate lore; and, secondly, hiring Johnny Depp.

Famous for holding out against pretty-boy parts and brainless blockbusters, Depp’s been paddling towards the mainstream for a while (Sleepy Hollow, From Hell), but it’s taken something special to immerse him completely. Enter Captain Jack Sparrow.

Leaving Orlando Bloom to buckle most of the swash, Sparrow, his fantastic Keith Richards tribute - all kohl mascara, gold-capped teeth, scarves and hair trinkets - swans, carouses and slurs his way across the high seas, stealing the best lines and plundering the entire movie. Solo, Depp’s created the best roguish hero since Han Solo. He’s the film’s real treasure.

Jumping Jack’s flash may dazzle, but he’s not the only eye-catching thing on show. Bloom, Knightley and co pitch in gamely in his wake and Rush revels in the role of scurvy villain. ILM’s skeleton crew look the business, especially in the full-on fight scenes – Disney’s first PG-13 certificate – and Verbinski keeps the action rattling along. The only drawbacks are the somewhat repetitive double-crosses that weigh things down before the zippy finale, but then Depp’s usually on hand to charm you through.

Glowing with the ruddy health of a Jerry Bruckheimer budget with, for once, the smarts to match, this breaks the supposed curse of recent buccaneer box-office bombs and should sail off with a sizable bounty, fitting for flat out the most fun and original movie of the summer. Yo ho ho, indeed.

* * * * (four stars)

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