(2003, Adventure/Fantasy, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy
Skelepirates! Or do you prefer zombuccaneers?
In a nutshell:
Contains Johnny Depp, two young and skeletally thin lovers, and a lot of undead pirates.
The introductory scenes introduce us to younger versions of our star-crossed lovers, as the crew of the ship upon which Elizabeth travels hauls Will’s soggy, unconscious body from the water. Young Elizabeth sees a golden pirate medallion around Will’s neck and steals it so that the ship’s pirate-hating captain won’t hang the boy.
Further introductory scenes reintroduce us to their young adult versions. Stick-thin Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) still treasures the pirate medallion she stole and pines for stick-thin swordsmith Will (a post-elf Orlando Bloom), even as her father Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce) encourages her to marry the humorless Commodore Norrington, otherwise known as the pirate-hating captain of the opening scenes. Now, with all the boring introductions out of the way, we finally get to meet Jack.
Semi-renowned pirate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) sails into port on a half-sunk boat that immediately finishes sinking upon arrival. His attempt to jack a new ship out of the harbor goes awry when Elizabeth’s corset causes her to faint and fall into the water. Jack dives in after her, cutting off the corset so that she can breathe. He is, of course, arrested and imprisoned for piracy.
However, when Elizabeth fell into the sea, the pirate medallion she was wearing set off a magical shockwave. This draws the attention of a ghostly pirate vessel, which appears in the harbor that night to open fire on the city while the crew runs rampant through the streets. They find Elizabeth and take her and the medallion on board their ship, The Black Pearl. Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) agrees to stop attacking the town in exchange for the medallion, but refuses to let her off the ship before they sail away. See, she gave her last name as Turner when she introduced herself, leading the pirates to believe that she is the daughter of the pirate to whom the medallion originally belonged, a Mr. Bootstrap Bill Turner.
This gets us into a bit of backstory in which Barbossa and his crew once sailed to a curséd island, on which they found a curséd chest filled with treasure of the curséd variety. They stole this treasure and caroused it away, discovering soon afterwards that they themselves had become curséd. Though they look normal at most times of the day and night, in moonlight their true skeletal forms appear. This undead condition makes them immune to all the things pirates love best—eating, drinking, fornicating, etc.—and they will do anything to be human again. In order to be rid of the curse, they have to wet each coin with a bit of their own blood and put it back in its chest of origin. They only lack one coin and one bit of blood. The coin is the one possessed by Elizabeth, and since they tied weights to Bootstrap Bill’s legs to confine his undead carcass to the bottom of the ocean, the blood they need belongs to his child.
Meanwhile, Will comes to with the realization that pirates have kidnapped his beloved. Unable to convince Norrington and Governor Swann to cooperate with his desperate rescue plan, Will springs Jack from prison to help him find her. They steal one of Norrington’s ships and sail to Tortuga for a crew. Then they set sail for the island that is, uh, curséd...
How does Jack know about the curse, you ask? Well, he was the one who originally discovered the location of the treasure-bearing isle, and was on his way to plunder said treasure when his traitorous first mate led a mutiny, leaving Jack marooned on a deserted island and sailing away with his ship. Of course the first mate and ship to whom I refer are Barbossa and The Black Pearl, respectively.
Jack and Will row into the treasure-filled caverns to spy on the pirates. Jack tells Will to stay put, but Will doesn’t trust Jack, knocking him out with an oar as soon as his back is turned. While Will sneaks further in, Barbossa takes a bit of Elizabeth’s blood and throws it in with the last curséd coin, but the curse is not lifted. He angrily throws Elizabeth down the pile of treasure to the water. Will sets her free and they escape together, taking all the pirates’ oars with them.
Barbossa discovers Jack, who proposes a bargain. In exchange for the return of his ship, he will tell Barbossa the name of Bootstrap Bill’s real child. Barbossa refuses, preferring to pursue and capture Will and Elizabeth aboard the fleeing ship. Will reveals his parentage to the pirates (yep, he's Bootstrap's son), bargaining the lives of Elizabeth and his crew in exchange for his. Barbossa agrees, marooning Jack and Elizabeth on a deserted island while imprisoning the rest of the crew in the brig. The pirates sail back to the island to break their curse.
The island of Jack and Elizabeth’s exile turns out to have a disused rum runner’s stash. Elizabeth gets Jack to drink himself into a stupor so that she can set the rest of the island’s liquor stores on fire. The smoke draws the attention of her would-be fiancé Norrington. In exchange for her hand in marriage, Norrington agrees to pursue the Black Pearl to the island and rescue Will. Jack goes into the cavern again to try and bargain for his ship. In exchange, he will deliver Norrington’s ship into Barbossa’s hands. Barbossa agrees and sends his crew to take over Norrington’s ship.
As soon as most of the pirates are gone, Will, Jack and Elizabeth (who sneaked in a little late) do battle with Barbossa and the remaining pirates. Eventually Barbossa tries to shoot Elizabeth, but is instead shot by Jack. This shot turns out to be retroactively fatal, as Will throws in the last coin with his blood just a few seconds later. With the curse broken, the undead pirates become alive again, losing their unkillable advantage. Norrington takes them all prisoner. Elizabeth, Will and Jack emerge from the cavern to find that Jack’s newly freed crew has absconded with the ship. Norrington takes them prisoner as well.
In the end, Elizabeth becomes affianced to Norrington, Will is pardoned, and Jack is sentenced to hang. Will rescues Jack from the noose at the last second, with a little help from a distracting and perfectly timed faint from Elizabeth. Jack and Will are quickly and easily recaptured, but Elizabeth intervenes. Norrington releases Elizabeth from her betrothal while Jack falls into the harbor. He swims out to meet the Black Pearl, which has come to pick him up.
I’m not sure which I find more implausible: Orlando Bloom as a blacksmith, or Keira Knightley in a corset. I mean, sure, most fashionable ladies wore them back then, but Keira hasn’t got a fat cell worth squeezing in her entire body, unless she’s hiding them all in her bone marrow. In a similar objection, even I’ve got more muscles than Orlando Bloom, and I was six feet tall and 120 pounds until I was twenty-five years old. Does this movie really expect me to believe that rail-thin Will has lifted hammers, anvils, and other huge blocks of iron all day every day for his entire adult life? And what does it say about me that I have more of a problem with the stick insect lovers than all the confusing undead pirate shenanigans?
Thankfully, none of this matters when we get to Jack. Arguably the most truly original pirate in the history of pirate movies, Jack Sparrow has the ragged nautical attire and scruffy facial hair demanded by his profession, but tempers his standard piratical jargon with a dreamy philosophical lisp while wearing Cure fan-levels of eyeliner and swinging his hips like a drunken prostitute. If the above description sounds like a homosexual goth pirate, well, no, he’s not that either. Jack is masculine, in an oily, filthy sort of way. He is also cheerful, eloquent, slippery and utterly untrustworthy. If you ran into him in a dark alley he wouldn’t hit you over the head and make off with your wallet. He’d invade your personal space by putting his face mere inches away from yours while he talked you round in circles until you gave him your wallet and walked away feeling like you got the better end of the deal. Fascinating, endearing, and infinitely likeable—really, the makers of this movie ought to be getting down on their knees every night and thanking the Gods of Cinema that Johnny Depp decided to be in their movie, because without him, Curse of the Black Pearl is almost as stupid and even a little sillier than the universally reviled Cutthroat Island.
Mike, Kevin and Bill have plenty to work with in this, their first foray into Disney territory. When Jack appears for the first time, Mike says, “Ms. Katherine Hepburn as Mary, Queen of Scots,” while Bill notes “His walk is John Wayne plus Carol Channing, divided by Daffy Duck.” When the Black Pearl first appears, Kevin sings his own version of the Love Boat theme, “Death, exciting and new / Come aboard, we’re dismembering you...” My favorite bit is Mike’s gay dance instructor routine during Jack and Will’s prancy little swordfight in the smithy. The commentary is a bit uneven, but that doesn’t mean that any of it is boring—the best sections are gut-bustingly hilarious while the worst sections are merely funny. It’s not among the best Rifftrax they’ve ever done, but it’s more than close enough.
(2003, Adventure/Fantasy, color)