The idea seemed outrageous. Around the turn of the century, Disney & Co. decided to translate one of its most iconic theme park rides into a film. About pirates. Seriously.
It’s not like pirates were all the rage at the time. A good pirate movie hadn’t been made since, well… Ever? Look, I never was one to get lost in the swashbuckling days of yesteryear with Errol Flynn. In my lifetime, I couldn’t remember a single good pirate movie.
Sure, pirates popped up in other films (The Princess Bride, Hook, etc.) but pirate movies weren’t popular. Think of the awful The Pirate Movie (1982), loosely based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera The Pirates of Penzance. Or how about the horrible Geena Davis vehicle Cutthroat Island (1995) that bankrupted Carolco Pictures?
The point I’m making here is that Disney’s decision to create a movie based on its Pirates of the Caribbean ride was one of those decisions that could either be called mad genius or visionary. When Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl debuted in 2003, no one expected it would launch a box office powerhouse and a franchise that would be pumping out sequels for the next decade.
Yet, here we are. Having completed its first trilogy, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is now sailing into uncharted waters. No more ghost pirates. No Davy Jones. Will and Elizabeth, our young lovers from the original trilogy, are gone. All of which leaves Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) deservedly at the wheel.
Can Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides recreate the magic that launched the franchise with The Curse of the Black Pearl?
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Depp returns to his iconic role of Captain Jack Sparrow in this action-packed adventure that finds him crossing swords with the enigmatic Angelica (Penélope Cruz), a ravishing pirate with whom he shares a dubious past.
Forced aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge — the ship of the legendary pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) — Jack finds himself on a journey to find the fabled Fountain of Youth. Along the way Jack must use all his wiles to deal with Blackbeard and his crew of zombies, as well as the beautiful, enchanting mermaids whose masterful cunning can lure even the most seasoned sailor to his doom.
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, On Stranger Tides is the first film of the franchise shot in Disney Digital 3D™.
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The Defending Champion
The Disney blockbuster The Curse of the Black Pearl caters to the summer moviegoer by offering action, romance, evil monsters, swordfights, intrigue, and suspense.
Keira Knightley portrays Elizabeth Swann, the daughter of a local magistrate who (as a young girl) befriends a boy named Will (Orlando Bloom) who is rescued from a shipwreck. The ship, story is told, was plundered by the Black Pearl, a phantom ship filled with phantom pirates.
All grown up and about to be married, Elizabeth finds her town under attack. She falls into the water, and is rescued by a nefarious pirate rogue named Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). But not before the medallion she is wearing has sent out its magical signal through the sea to the infamous Black Pearl.
That very night, the crew of the Black Pearl comes looking for its gold and the person to whom it belongs. They need it to break the curse they have lived under for ages. Will enlists the aide of Jack Sparrow to steal a ship and rescue Elizabeth. Naturally a chase ensues.
To suggest that The Curse of the Black Pearl is just another pirate movie would be like saying that Star Wars was just another flying saucer movie. What director Gore Verbinski and his crew have done is recreate the genre to become something more than a two-dimensional stereotype. With a good, solid story and exciting, fun characters, the only curse here is that it ends too soon.
The film engages the audience on a number of levels, with action, comedy, romance, and some extraordinary special effects. The cast is excellent, from the witty rakishness of Depp’s Jack Sparrow to the beautiful but resolute Elizabeth deftly portrayed by Knightley. Bloom is wonderful as the young swordsmith who denies his love for Elizabeth while trying so hard to earn her affection. Geoffery Rush, who plays the villainous pirate Captain Barbossa, is excellent in this often-comical roll without every resorting to silliness or slapstick.
While the film is patently romantic at times, it never seems cliché. The worst thing that can be said for the film is that it has one of those Disney endings where everything works out as expected. Even if Disney had decided to never make another Pirates of the Caribbean movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl would still be a classic film remembered for years.
With On Stranger Tides, the franchise gets a much-needed boost with a fresh story. The Black Pearl (the focus of the past three films) is gone. Jack Sparrow (Depp) is a captain without a ship or crew. Geoffrey Rush returns as Captain Barbossa, now working in service to the king of England.
Because the Black Pearl is missing — lost at sea after running afowl of Blackbeard — we’re missing a big chunk of the supporting cast from the first three films. Our two favorite subjects of comedy relief, Pintel and Ragetti, are gone. As are Cotton and Marty. Only Gibbs (Kevin McNally) remains.
The rakish charm of Jack Sparrow continues to fuel the franchise. His ability to stumble out of any situation with a grace that makes every move look purposeful is part of what makes Jack fun to have around. He’s like Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau, walking a fine line between mad fool and genius.
The quest for the film is more simple than the last couple of films, which — to be honest — had so many double-crossings that I had trouble following them. In On Stranger Tides, Jack finds himself helping Angelica to find the Fountain of Youth, though he never seems that interested in the waters for himself.
One new element to the Fountain of Youth mythos is the addition of mermaids. It is said that a mermaid’s tear must be added to one of the cups before drinking to ensure that the magic works. Astrid Bergès-Frisbey plays the ill-fated mermaid that the crew captures. Sam Claflin is a missionary who befriends — and ultimately falls in love with — the mermaid.
Hanz Zimmer returns to score this installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The original score for The Curse of the Black Pearl was done by Alan Silvestri, who left the film before completing the project. Klaus Badelt was brought in to finish the work — consulting heavily with Zimmer. Zimmer’s signature music has become an anthem for the action and adventure in these films. And he does not disappoint here.
Taking the helm for On Stranger Tides is Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha), who has some pretty big shoes to fill. His camera seems intent on capturing the same epic grandeur as the original, but doesn’t quite achieve it. Swordfights are in shadow. Ships on the high seas are seen mostly at night. And the mermaids are enigmatic creatures under darkened waters.
The Curse of the Black Pearl was the best of the original trilogy, introducing us to great characters and giving us a fun ghost story to boot. Even eight years later, it works. This is a wonderful film that stands on its own.
As much as I enjoyed On Stranger Tides, it doesn’t live up to the original. Magic is hard to recreate. The wonder of a truly original film begins to wear and tarnish with every sequel. On its own, it’s a good film, but the winner of this Smackdown still goes to The Curse of the Black Pearl.
Watch the Trailer to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides