(In theaters, July 2003) Anyone looking for a good swashbuckling adventure shouldn’t look any further: This is this summer’s The Mask Of Zorro. Deftly combining romance, adventure, comedy, horror and action, Pirates Of The Caribbean has something for everyone and comes closest to “the total movie experience for everyone” so dearly desired by entire families. As a combination of all these things, it inevitably runs too long (especially in its third quarter, just as things should start to accelerate) and doesn’t exactly shines with economy at 141 minutes. But what’s on screen is well-worth our attention, starting with Johnny Depp’s delightfully oddball interpretation of Jack Sparrow. It’s a textbook example of how a good actor can take an ordinary role and transform it into something mesmerizing. Even though it’s a supporting role, it ends up being the focus of the movie, even despite Orlando Bloom’s serviceable portrait of a romantic protagonist, Geoffrey Rush’s compelling villain and Keira Knightley’s luminous performance as the lovely blonde lass. The novelty effect of seeing a big-screen pirate adventure after so many years may account for part of Pirates Of The Caribbean‘s appeal, but there’s more to it than that: It’s a really good film, with a rather good script, top-notch technical credits and a solid core of actors. Is it summer-2003’s definitive movie? I wouldn’t be displeased if it was.
(Second viewing, On DVD, July 2006) I revisited this summer spectacular right on time before the release of the sequel, and I’m glad I did: The original film is accessible to just about everyone, but it’s also a solid piece of blockbuster screen-writing. Turn on the screen-writers’ audio commentary track and you’ll find that the film is a lot tighter than you may expect, and that the layers of details eventually add up to a better experience. The film itself, of course, remains a treat and a half even with a few year’s worth of hindsight and familiarity. Johnny Depp makes the film work through his odd take on Captain Jake Sparrow, a role that could have been played straight without a shred of distinction… or interest. Coming out of nowhere in 2003, Pirates Of The Caribbean remains one of the better summer blockbusters of the past few years… and it’s just about ready to be eclipsed by its sequel.