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Walt Disney Home Video presents
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Commander Norrington: You are without a doubt the worst pirate I have ever heard of.
Jack Sparrow: But you have heard of me.

- Jack Davenport, Johny Depp

Review By: Kevin Clemons  
Published: November 30, 2003

Stars: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Keira Kinghtley
Other Stars: Jonathan Pryce, Jack Davenport
Director: Gore Verbinsky

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for action/adventure violence
Run Time: 02h:22m:27s
Release Date: December 02, 2003
UPC: 786936224306
Genre: adventure

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Pirates of the Caribbean is a return to the days of action adventure serials starring the likes of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks. It is a rollicking, funny, and all together magnificent display of roller-coaster entertainment, packaged into a two and a half hour special effects extravaganza, likely to thrill anyone who sits down to view it.

The film is an amalgamation of elements taken from Disney's theme park ride on which the film is loosely based, stylish direction by Gore Verbinski, and also several Jerry Bruckheimer-produced action sequences that are spectacular. And while these elements add up to something unique and special, the film is anchored by a trio of terrific performances, and one that is simply out of this world.

As the film opens we see a young girl aboard a grand ship out to sea. When the vessel happens upon a ruined pirate ship, the young girl discovers a piece of Aztec gold, given to her by a young man. That young girl is Elizabeth Swan (Knightley) and the young man is Will Turner (Bloom), who will grow up to live in the same seaport during the eighteenth century. While Elizabeth has followed a life of royalty, Will has become a blacksmith who is very well trained with the innumerous swords he produces. Elizabeth is set to marry Commander Norrington (Davenport), while Will pines for her from afar.

This all changes with the appearance of Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp), who, after saving Elizabeth's life, is arrested for piracy and sentenced to death. When the town comes under the attack of the Black Pearl, a pirate ship led by Barbossa (Rush), it becomes clear that they are after Elizabeth and her piece of Aztec gold. With the help of Captain Jack, Will sets off on a quest to save the love of his life. The only catch is that the pirates they are after are "undead," and it may be Will who is the key to their mortality.

Coming into the summer of 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean was regarded as a mall contender in the midst of big budget sequels and a large collection of more heavily hyped films. When the dust cleared, it stood as one of the brightest spots in terms of both box office and critical success, and it is easy to see why. The film takes rich and atmospheric direction from Gore Verbinski as well as an adventurous script by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, and effortlessly combines the two together into the epitome of what every action adventure film should be. With a gaggle of extraordinary special effects, Pirates represents one of the few recent cinematic experiences where the high quality of the effects does not distract from the film. The shots are so wonderfully composed by Verbinski and cinematographer Dharius Khondji that scenes of the members of the cursed Black Pearl scaling the ropes of another ship in skeletal form look almost like a work of art. Add to this scenes of the pirates turning into skeletons and back as they dash in and out of the moonlight and you have truly award-worthy work.

If there is a flaw, it is that the running time is a tad overlong, and some of the action sequences are too broad when they should be more constrained. Verbinski lets the epic scope of the film get away from him from time to time, as he seems to be in love with wide shots of the ships at sea and overuses quick cuts between key sequences in an effort to keep everything going at once. Yet, when I try to think of a particular scene or element that could have been cut in an effort to shorten the film, I am at a loss. There is something special in nearly every moment.

For as many positive aspects of Pirates of the Caribbean as there are, they can not add up to the sheer pleasure of the performance by Johnny Depp. Simply put, Depp's performance moves like a force of nature across the screen; it is one that will go down in the history of cinema, rich in humor and emotion while also being very kinetic. The performances by Bloom, Rush, and Knightley are not on the same level as Depp, but they each do terrific work and seem to be having a lot of fun with the adventure. Depp's use of his eyes and hands are as much a part of the character as the dialogue that comes from his slurred manner of speaking. It is a performance that brings Depp to the mainstream audience who for so long eschewed his more eclectic choices that led him to become one of the best actors working today.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Pirates of the Caribbean is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that is hampered by the inclusion of Dolby Digital and DTS tracks as well as three commentaries that take away the room needed to make the transfer truly eye-pleasing.

The transfer boasts incredible sharpness and detail throughout as the scenes set in the open sea are crisp and absolutely beautiful to look at. The print used is pristine with no dirt or grain evident, while colors are bold and vibrant, especially the numerous deep reds throughout the film. Where the transfer falls from the ranks of the very best is largely due to excessive edge enhancement as well as grain in several of the nighttime sequences. This is a very nice transfer, but it could have and should have been absolutely superb.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS sound mixes, Pirates of the Caribbean boasts quite simply the best sound mix I have heard in some time. From the opening moments, the mix instantly becomes an integral part of the film with its haunting re-creation of the score and ambient sounds from the surround speakers. Dialogue is rich and clean as it comes from the center channel, while the .1 LFE track accompanies each and every cannon blast and greatly contribute to the ambience of the film.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Hidalgo, Freaky Friday,
19 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
8 Featurette(s)
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Gore Verbinski and actor Johnny Depp
Kiera Knightley, Jack Davenport and producer Jerry Bruckheimer

Writers Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, and Jay Wolpert
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: 2 disc slip case
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Outtakes
Extras Review: The number of extra features included for this two-disc set is enough to please even those most obsessed with the film.

Disc One:

There are not one, not two, but three commentary tracks included on the first disc and each is most certainly worth a listen. The first comes from director Gore Verbinski and actor Johnny Depp, and it is the best by far of the trio. Depp contributes a lot to the track as he discusses the film as well as his improvisation and general regard for the script and Verbinski's direction. This is a very funny track from the start, though it becomes rather repetitive towards the end of the film.

The second track features screenwriters Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Jay Wolpert, and Stuart Beattie and it runs a close second to the first commentary. The most fascinating thing is the way in which the quartet of screenwriters breaks down the way in which the film went from amusement ride to page and finally to screen. The group also goes on to discuss the changes that were made along the way, as well as how the final product compares to the written word. This is a nice track, perhaps not as informative as I would have liked but it is fun nonetheless.

Finally, we have a track featuring Kiera Knightley, Jack Davenport, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The track is broken up into individual scenes where Knightley and Davenport offer their insights and Bruckheimer provides scene-specific comments for the rest of the film. The grouping of Davenport and Knightley produces a lot of humor as they tend to joke more about themselves than actually discuss their thoughts on the film as a whole. This is fine, as after the other two tracks, some humor is a nice fit. Bruckheimer offers a much deeper look into the making of the film from pre-production forward. He discusses casting, locations, and the general appeal of the film after the release. It is a nice track and it made me wish that it could have been a full-length track as opposed to a scene-specific one.

Rounding out Disc One are a pair of DVD-ROM extras that include a screenplay viewer as well as a storyboard comparison for 229 scenes from the film.

Disc Two:

Leading off the second platter is An Epic at Sea, a 30-minute look at the making of the film from nearly every imaginable aspect. The documentary is far from being promotional as it covers the transformation of modern day ships to appear as though they belonged in the eighteenth century. It also covers location scouting, costumes, and make-up, as well as the numerous hours of training to make the sword fights seem believable. A short amount of time is spent on the CGI magic done by ILM, a section I had hoped would be longer.

Diary of a Ship focuses on the journey of the Interceptor as it travels from Los Angeles to the Caribbean on a sixty-day journey. From troubles with mother nature to the rigors of the crew and everyone involved, this is a fascinating documentary that is sure to surprise everyone.

Diary of a Pirate is a short featurette shot by an extra on the set and it chronicles the daily rigors of an actor who is transformed into a scary and menacing pirate of the high seas. The piece deals with costumes, make up, and the standard portion of the day where waiting in the heat of the Caribbean takes it toll. This piece also features moments with the cast and crew and is a fun way to spend ten minutes. A photo diary narrated by Jerry Bruckheimer is also offered and it provides a deep look into some behind-the-scenes moments that are a lot of fun.

Fly on the Set showcases five scenes as they were being filmed and how they came to life on the screen. These are fairly standard behind-the-scenes pieces, but they are still fun. A Blooper Reel is an entertaining way to spend a few minutes, as seeing Depp flub lines, and Bloom and Knightley having a very good time is a lot of fun.

Below Deck is an interactive look at the history of pirates with a multitude pf pages dealing with their legends and lifestyles. This is an informative feature that offers some truly fascinating video and text features. Moonlight Serenade is simply an effects feature that shows the work done to bring the skeletal pirates to life. This is simply a before-and-after feature, but it is entertaining for the most part. A twenty-minute piece, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, is a portion of archival television programming that dealt with the opening of the ride. It is fun to see this preview of the attraction included on the DVD and it is perhaps the extra feature that should be treasured the most.

Finally, a collection of nineteen deleted scenes are provided for viewing. Each offers high quality visuals, though some are lacking in completed special effects. Most of what is offered are extended versions of scenes and add no real meaning to the overall plot of the film.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

Pirates of the Caribbean is a treasure of a film and I only hope that it is viewed as a work of cinematic confidence rather than just a big budget Hollywood blockbuster. It is a great film with a performance by Johnny Depp that is simply from another planet. The disc is terrific also, with an amazing audio/video displays as well as a trove of interesting and exciting special features. Very recommended.


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