Sunday, April 20, 2014

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl


My campaign to capture the governorship of California is in full swing. It's so exciting to be out there amongst the people, delivering my powerful message that it's possible to 'Tap Into Change' and that with just a little bit of 'Hey Kids, Let's Put On A Show' attitude, we can turn this state around. Of course, I had to call Lorimar television and tell them that Hoosier Daddy would just have to wait. Public service calls. As they still were trying to find a suitable Harold Hill (their latest choice, Haley Joel Osment, had just bailed) the whole project has entered development purgatory and I'm happy not to be attached to it any longer.

Joseph, my manager, has laid out some bold campaign strokes to take my message to the people. He has me lined up for appearances on Don Imus, Howard Stern and Hannity and Colmes where he assures me, my bold progressive ideas will be treated with proper reverence. I am trying hard not to play hardball politics with my fellow celebrities who are running; I even showed up at Ah-nuld's first meet the press session. I was getting some lovely camera time when that witch, Arianna, stuck her stiletto heel through the hem of my lovely gown, ripping off the train and I had to retire to change into a fresh bias cut number while she grabbed the mike. Some people can be so pushy. By the time I had my corset in place and the gown on, everything seemed to be over so I had to give my carefully prepared speech to a group of vacationers from Omaha who had gotten off the bus at the wrong stop. They were thrilled, of course, to meet a living legend such as myself.

By the end of my eighty seven minute speech, I was feeling a little out of breath and the corset was weighing heavily on my ribs so I phoned Tommy, my new Jungian therapist and we decided to attend a matinee at the local Cineplex. I wanted something with corsets, they being much on my mind, so we opted for Disney's new film The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl with Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. I approached the film with some trepidation. Theme park amusement attractions are often not the best source material for film plots (Rollercoaster anyone?) and the Disney company has been in buccaneer mode of late, putting out cheap knock off after cheap knock off of its classic images. (As if Cinderella really needed a sequel.) The opening sequence of the film, although beautifully shot, didn't do anything to alleviate my suspicions; however, a few minutes later, Johnny Depp makes a memorable entrance and, after a few minutes of adjusting to his performance, the movie takes off with him guiding it the whole way.

The time is sometime in the early 18th century and the place is, of course, the islands of the Caribbean. (The script refers to Port Royal, which is on Jamaica, but the geography of the town with its looming cliffs is all wrong for that location). We meet Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce) of the colony and his lovely daughter, Elizabeth (Keira Knightley). Elizabeth is sought by a prig of an officer (Jack Davenport) whom her father feels is a suitable match, but she loves Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), the poor blacksmith's apprentice. Into all of their lives comes Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), ex-captain of the ship, the Black Pearl and perhaps the worst pirate in the region. He manages to save Elizabeth after a close encounter with a corset and win the grudging respect of all concerned. Elizabeth, for plot reasons, is in possession of a piece of cursed pirate gold and, when she falls into the sea with it, it calls out to the Black Pearl, currently crewed by the most villainous pirates lead by the evil Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Not only are they evil, they're also the immortal undead (that pirate curse thing). They sail into Port Royal in the dead of night, sack the town and capture Elizabeth. It's up to Captain Jack and Will to steal a ship from the priggish Commodore and head off to save her, with the British navy in hot pursuit after them. This leads to various sea battles, twists and turns of plot, and an eventual ending where everyone gets their just desserts.

The film's secret weapon and major reason for success is Johnny Depp. Mr. Depp has long been one of our more dependable young actors. No matter what the project over the last fifteen years or so, he has made bold and daring choices and given some fine screen performances. His choice for Captain Jack is to give an over the top, larger than life comic performance, based, he has admitted, on Rolling Stone Keith Richard. Roger Ebert described it as 'drunken drag queen'. I was reminded of Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (the eye make-up is similar). At first, his choices and style seem completely at odds with the conventions of the swashbuckler. As the film continues, it seems less and less jarring. Eventually, the whole cast is brought up to his level of energy and daring and the film just roars along. Some of his scenes are so silly, but at the same time so entertaining and so in keeping with a sort of post modern humor sensibility, that I almost expected to see the men of Monty Python show up in full pirate drag. It's a tour de force and deserves an Oscar nomination. (One of Hollywood's great crimes of the last decade - never nominating him for anything.)

The talented cast, under Depp's lead, play fast and loose with the conventions of the genre and their parts. The supporting players come off best with nice work from Geoffrey Rush, Jonathan Pryce and a whole lot of British character actors as pirates and soldiers. Miss Knightley, a new face to me, also has a good time with a bit of a feminist slant on her damsel in distress. The nominal hero, Mr. Bloom as plucky Will Turner is pleasing to look at, delivers his lines without stammering, and doesn't bump into the furniture. He's fine, but plays a little too conventionally when compared to the other people in the cast.

The film does have some flaws. At two hours and twenty minutes, it feels a good half an hour too long. Some of the action sequences could have been trimmed back and a few of the reversals of fortune left out without too much difficulty. Director Gore Verbinski, who proved in films such as Mouse Hunt, that he has the ability to make physical action and big set pieces move, is in his element. He has great fun with his ensemble and, like Spielberg at his best, fills the screen with incidental little details that make the film more riotous than it has any right to be. There are also numerous little homages, visual and auditory, to the animatronic feast that is the original theme park ride.

In the end, despite some awkward pacing in the third act, you're left wanting more of Captain Jack and hoping that, when there are the inevitable sequels, that Johnny Depp can be persuaded to continue his brilliant characterization.

Yo Ho singing. Legs under rowboat. Dog with jail keys. Mutt and Jeff comic redcoats. Exploding citadel. Evil monkey. Swordfights. Rope swinging. Walking the plank. Fork to eyeball. Pirates with parasols. Lady helmsman. Escape from gallows.

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