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Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), a young pirate left abandoned on an island by his First Mate Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), escapes and heads for the Caribbean's English stronghold, Port Royal, to continue his pirating. But Barossa, in the ship stolen from Jack, the infamous, Black Pearl, attacks the port to ransack it with his mutinous crew, and in the process, kidnaps the Governor's (Jonathan Pryce) beautiful daughter, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). Elizabeth's childhood friend, the young blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), joins forces with Jack to commandeer the fastest ship in the British fleet, the H.M.S. Interceptor, in a gallant attempt to rescue her and recapture the Black Pearl. Unbeknownst to Will, a cursed treasure has doomed Barbossa and his crew to live forever as the undead, the moonlight eerily transforming them into living skeletons. The curse can be broken only if the plundered treasure is restored in total and a blood debt repaid.

Review by Louise Keller:
It's just a lot of fun. Buckle up for a swashbuckling adventure on the high seas, with pirates, treasure, a curse and a damsel in distress. Of course, making a film that tilts its pirate hat in tribute to the famous Disneyland ride is in itself a pretty good idea. And the film itself is like a ride. Take the writers from Shrek, the visual effect team from ILM, add a top cast and a big budget - the result is pure escapist entertainment. Admittedly, the running time of 143 minutes is far too long, and there's an overload of repetitive swordplay.

But that aside, the best part about Pirates of the Caribbean is the fact that it never takes itself seriously. How much you enjoy the trip may depend on your take of Johnny Depp's characterisation of Captain Jack Sparrow with his slight slur and almost effeminate body language as his hands do the talking. Depp is highly adventurous in his creation of this bizarre, theatrical pirate with heavy kohl eyeliner, long hair ornamented by trinkets and four gold teeth of different carats. (By very little stretch of the imagination, Depp could well be ready to party or jam with the nearest rockband.) It's a risky characterisation and if you don't buy it, the whole film may seemingly slide to the bottom of the ocean. Geoffrey Rush makes a splendid Captain Barbossa - a villain we love to hate - with facial scars and a cute little monkey on his shoulder. He is a creepy figure indeed, and his ghostly transformation into a skeleton is quite chilling. Yet we feel sorry for him, as he yearns to regain his sensory powers. Depp and Rush work well together, and playful sparks are a big part of the scenes between Sparrow and Barbossa.

But there are sparks of another kind between Keira Knightley's Elizabeth and Orlando Bloom's Will. Impressive in Bend it Like Beckham, 18 year old Knightley (reminiscent of Natalie Portman), is lovely in the role, showing spirit and screen presence. Bloom is an ideal leading man, bringing a convincing complexity and sincerity to what could have been a pretty 'straight' role.

The digital magic that transforms men to skeletal proportions is breathtaking and I like the way some remnants of clothing or distinguishing features always remain - be it a wonky eye, an earring, a hat or a coat. Length aside, the filmmakers have judged the tone well with a rollicking score, a lively mix of action and fun all stirred together in a magical pot. After all, this is a pirate movie. The moon is full, the mist is heavy and there's a curse to counter.

Special Features reviewed by Craig Miller:
Another big time movie receives another big time DVD release, with this 2 disc set of Pirates of the Caribbean certain to be one of the best DVDs of the year. The quality of the extras included, and the effort in getting the feel of them just right, is absolutely top shelf.

Instead of getting everyone involved to do a couple of over-the-top commentaries, this DVD's producers have opted for a much more sensible approach, giving us the choice between two full length and two partial commentaries, each one completely different. Depp and Verbinski settle in for their feature length effort as comfortably as if they were sitting around an open fire discussing the day's events. They bring a real sense of humanity to discussing the shoot, their fellow actors' talents and their positive attributes, without becoming too sentimental (something much too prevalent in a lot of DVD material).

The three remaining commentaries each differ in their approach, with Bruckheimer discussing how the film came about, developing the story, pitching actors and rewrites, actors Davenport and Knightly delivering a wildly amusing effort and the four writers discussing the "process". All interesting, and all recommended.

Much of the swash and buckle from the film continues on the 40 plus minute making of, which fares better than much of the standard DVD making of offerings, and the production diaries and Fly on the Set featurettes contain a mountain of behind-the-scenes footage from different days of the shoot, really giving a genuine feel to what it was like to be there.

A collection of 19 deleted and alternate scenes (without commentary) include some wonderful material, mostly action and laughs, and the nearly 20 minutes of material includes some must-see scenes that could only have been cut for time, as the content is excellent.

Lots more, including a wickedly enjoyable interactive feature on pirates, an amusing blooper reel, additional featurettes and enhanced computer features, all of which is sure to delight the scallywag and rapscallion in everyone.

Published March 25, 2004

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CAST: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook

DIRECTOR: Gore Verbinski

SCRIPT: Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio

RUNNING TIME: 139 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Buena Vista Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: March 17, 2004

PRESENTATION: 2.35:1 widescreen 16:9 enhanced, DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc one: Two audio commentaries – 1. Johhny Depp and Gore Verbinski, 2. Screenwriters: Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie & Jay Wolpert, Two partial commentaries – 1. Jerry Bruckheimer, 2. Keira Knightly & Jack Davenport, Enhanced computer features. Disc Two: An Epic at Sea – The making of Pirates of the Caribbean, Four featurettes: Diary of a Ship, Diary of a Pirate, Producer’s Photo Diary & Fly on the Set, Blooper Reel, Below Deck – An interactive history of pirates, deleted scenes, Moonlight Serenade scene progression, Pirates in the Parks featurettes, Image gallery, Weblinks.

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