Any sailor worth his salt knows that "pirate" is a curse word you don't dare utter on the high seas. You just might summon the scavengers' fearful wrath.
Actually, "pirate" wasn't a word you wanted to mention in Hollywood, either. Calling the genre troublesome is an understatement, as directors who attempted big-budget pirate adventures were plagued with disastrous shoots, and the films received lukewarm response at the box office. Everything from Roman Polanski's Pirates to Renny Harlin's Cutthroat Island immediately sank to the depths of Davy Jones's locker.
The current streak of cinematic failures should end once Gore Verbinski's impressive Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl sails into theaters. The movie with the summer's longest title also boasts the season's best production values, first-rate computer-animated special effects and a strong ensemble cast ready to toss your low expectations overboard.
Pirates earns its booty in resuscitating a lost genre. Verbinski's cast swashbuckles through well-choreographed swordfights, a plank walking, and a mutiny led by a motley crew of cursed pirates. The story follows Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and the ghostly crew of the Black Pearl as they seek a lost piece of gold that can lift a curse that's keeping them in a permanent undead state. A hasty introduction explains how the beautiful Elizabeth (a fiery Keira Knightley) ends up with the valuable doubloon, and establishes why the rogues will eventually hunt her down.
Barbossa's skeleton crew is a sight to see. The wildly morbid special effects achievement is reminiscent of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, in a good way. And those who demand more screen time for Barbossa's scene-stealing monkey - both dead and alive - need to stay through the end credits. You'll be rewarded.
But Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow is the real wind in Pirates' sails. The chameleonic star makes a memorable entrance on a sinking ship, and never releases the audience from the palm of his hand. It's no longer surprising to see the talented Depp excel at new roles. I just didn't expect him to burst from his character-actor shell with such gusto. Here, he finds a sarcastically comedic touch rarely hinted at in his previous films. Sparrow is a strange blend of Keith Richards and Captain Crunch. He's the appropriate counterbalance to Orlando Bloom's passionate Will Turner, a more traditional champion whose call to battle is his love for Elizabeth.
Of course, if pirates don't float your boat, you may find Verbinski's efforts a little slow going. The director takes the scenic route around his material, making frequent stops in familiar pirate ports. The Pirates script loves the sound of its Ye Olde English dialect, and tends to get wordy but stays sarcastically light. Like any good story, though, it's told with patience, time, and a grand sense of embellishment typical of a pirate's tall tale.
The DVD is a two-disc set including 19 deleted and alternate scenes, a gag reels, multiple commentary tracks (though none from a Disneyland ride designer), and precisely one bazillion documentaries/featurettes. Quite a package for, ahem, a pirate movie. OR: You can opt for the Special Edition, which comprises THREE DVDs -- the third disc including eight making-of featurettes. If you're a fan, there is no substitute.
Would milady fancy a curling iron?