Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl - review

2003 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

I was in two minds as to whether to review this film in full or not. One, it has that unfortunate quality of being so damn popular and so damn old everyone who was ever going to see it has done so and already made their mind up as to whether it's a bit of harmless swashbuckling family fun or tepid piratey flotsam and an insult to ol' Edward Thatch. And, two, strictly speaking the cursed zombie-like crew of the Black Pearl captained by Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) aren't actually zombies or even really that dead. Still, there is a little ambiguity and I have gone to the trouble of watching it so I might as well throw my thoughts out.

I'm on the side that the film itself is actually quite good, and arguably the best of the series. Sumptuously shot by director Gore Verbinski with great stunts and effects it flows effortlessly with an interesting albeit not particularly taxing narrative and is everything you'd really want from a big budget family blockbuster. It was far better than I remembered it and I would certainly recommend it to those on the fence on whether it's worth going back to.

The story? You'll remember all this when I tell you. There's some Aztec gold and Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) of the Black Pearl as a scruffy unscrupulous villainous pirate, decided he wanted it. However on the way, his equally scruffy villainous etc, first mate Barbossa and crew decided to mutiny, leave him marooned him on a small desert island and take it for themselves. This wouldn't have been such bad plan if the gold wasn't cursed.

It's Tales of Monkey Island, high jinx on the high seas, a traditional pirate story if you like, yet with a supernatural twist and a highly eccentric screen stealing performance by Johnny Depp. It's great, honest, and I'm not going to spend any more time on the film. You've seen it anyway. What interests me is the cursed not-zombie kind-of-undead crew.

Positives? The curse made Barbossa and the crew immortal. Negatives? They're now in an undead stasis appearing as ghastly skeletons under moon light. To be honest I'm not so sure it's such a bad trade off. I mean, if they just showed a bit of imagination I'm sure they could come up with a plan that balanced looking a bit macabre and sinister after hours, against the benefits of being impervious to injury and living forever.  Anyway, it seems their loved ones weren't too taken with the whole thing so they've decided they're now on an eternal quest to return all the 882 gold coins of Cortés in Isla de Muerta's treasure and make the blood sacrifice necessary to rid themselves of it. How they knew what to do to rid themselves of the curse is never explained and the whole thing is all a bit convoluted and contrived, but it does provide a semi-coherent narrative to drive the action and mayhem and it does provide a great excuse for brilliant and provocative edgy family horror-lite shenanigans.

They're not zombies in that they're not really dead, they're more cursed to appear dead, but just at night. They're still fully in possession of their souls, their personalities, dreams and desires. They can eat, drink, sing and rape and pillage to their hearts content and there's no revenant drive to seek vengeance; they are evil little oiks, but then they were before. There's no deadness, no loss other than probably being sexually shunned by everyone other than most dedicated Goth; also there's absolutely no eating anyone. There is a bit of The Blind Dead to proceedings, in the skeletal appearance, not strictly being zombies, and all the ships, but I don't feel it's especially intentional. 

With the curse lifted (sorry spoiler) they revert back to being fully alive, mortal and vulnerable once again to being killed. They're undead state was just that, a temporary state, a minor inconvenience.

So, not a zombie film but great family entertainment with a good bit of supernatural and some interesting playing with the alive/dead barrier. Set in the Caribbean it's easy to think Z, and later in the series with On Stranger Tides, which is also a highly recommended book by Tim Powers, we do get see some traditional voodoo walking dead but they're not here just yet. Great effects, great acting, there's nothing here to really complain about, though nothing that really sets the world on fire. Nonetheless it's nigh on perfect, well crafted Disney family fun, like I said, you've already made mind up about, 8/10.


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