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TheRaider.net Research Indy's Influences Legacy Pirates of the Caribbean
 
Pirates of the Caribbean: Trilogy
 
Pirates of the Caribbean

The Curse of the Black Pearl - 2003
Dead Man's Chest - 2006
At World's End - 2007

Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Characters/first story by: Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert
Screenplays by: Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio
Produced by: Jerry Bruckheimer

Starring:
Johnny Depp .... Jack Sparrow
Orlando Bloom .... Will Turner
Keira Knightley .... Elizabeth Swann
Geoffrey Rush .... Barbossa
Bill Nighy .... Davy Jones
Jack Davenport .... Norrington

 

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End are not really about pirates at all. Pirates existed of course, and still do, but there were never really squid-faced men or hammerhead shark-faced men. Skeletons are not sword-fighters in real life. This is the stuff of movies. And movies, particularly Hollywood movies, are what these films really are all about.

The elite, who condescendingly believe it is always their job to write a prescription against populist taste, hated Pirates of the Caribbean from the beginning. In this case, their skepticism was not totally unwarranted. There was something backwards in the great-movie-makes-fun- amusement-park-
ride equation, and when marketing potential trumps cinematic value with such obviousness, you don’t have to be part of the elite to feel you are being conned.

Pirate Captains
Geoffrey Rush vs. Johnny Depp.

Confidence among Disney’s shareholders must have grown once Jerry Bruckheimer signed on as producer, but what about us movie-lovers? Was there any reason to feel anything other than resentment toward all this?
For me, as the various talents climbed aboard, Disney seemed perhaps not so cynical after all. The Mask of Zorro may be the best adventure movie of the 1990’s. Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer could do no better than to hire Zorro’s writers. Johnny Depp’s attachment brought another sign this was sailing in the right direction, as he is probably the biggest star whose career choices never seem motivated by greater fame. The excellent choice of Geoffrey Rush as the villain hinted Depp would have a formidable foe.
However, potential can turn to poison as expectations begin to rise. There was hope in my heart and skepticism in my experience. I wanted this to be good, but I knew they didn’t make them like they used to.

A swashbuckling adventure with pirates on the high seas should have a little bit of old Hollywood. Sadly, the imagination and wit of old Hollywood seems at times a lost language. Studios are desperate to cater to the young. As a result, there is no support for anything perceived as old. To make something that can squeeze into a column of films alongside The Sea Hawk, Gunga Din, The Prisoner of Zenda or Raiders of the Lost Ark is an overwhelming task for today’s writers and directors. We would just have to wait and see.

Pirate stuff
Depp and Orlando Bloom about to steal a ship.

There was one specific unforgettable moment when I knew The Curse of the Black Pearl had the rare brilliance I had been hoping to see return from Hollywood’s past. Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom need to steal a ship from British occupied Port Royal. To get to the ship without being seen, they add weights to their ankles and stroll along the sea floor with an upside down row boat over their heads, which traps enough air for them to breathe. Once they get on the ship, they can’t make ready for sail without a crew. The British see them stealing the ship and race over in a sea-ready vessel. As the British board, Depp and Bloom swing out to the other ship and sail away. It’s a thrilling sequence, full of zany intelligence, which has become common among films written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio.

When first setting out to accomplish the task of turning a Disney ride into a Disney movie, Elliott and Rossio* must have looked for a central idea, something to hang a story on. What should Black Pearl be about? One thing known of pirates is that they all revel in the pleasures of the flesh. Lusting for Earthly pursuits unites them. What if we write a movie, Elliott and Rossio* must have asked themselves, about pirates who are missing their flesh? They can no longer feel the thrill of rum, women and gold because they are only dried bones. Cursed to skeleton form, they are vengeful and long for a return to human feeling. Thematically, that is what The Curse of the Black Pearl is about.

Davey Jones
Bill Nighty as sea-villain Davey Jones.

With the success of the first one, two sequels were immediately greenlit. Elliott and Rossio became even more ambitious. Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End would essentially become one very large movie, spinning a story with multiple twists and turns and introducing themes of love and morality, death and resurrection. The title Dead Man’s Chest does not refer to long lost Aztec gold. Embittered sea-villain Davey Jones is a dealer of souls, with a heart literally missing from his chest. He is a threat to all those who sail the high seas. The East India Trading Company wants the heart so they can gain power over Jones and Jack Sparrow wants the heart because, once upon a time, he sold his soul to become captain of the Black Pearl and now, he has a debt to pay. Caught between both sides and forced into joining the race are Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner. Jack has obtained a magic compass, which points to whatever one wants most, which he uses to try finding the heart. The needle won’t work for him though because his thoughts only revolve around himself, so he tricks Elizabeth into holding the compass with the belief that the heart of Davey Jones will reunite her with Will Turner. Elizabeth challenges Jack at one point about his selfishness saying, “One day, the moment will come when you will do the right thing.” Jack responds, “I love those moments. I like to wave at them as they pass me by.” But he does come around finally, staying on his ship in a time of great danger like a good captain should, but Elizabeth betrays him, turning selfish in order to save herself and others. In response, Jack stings her by simply calling her, “Pirate.”

Jack Sparrow
Jack Sparrow's introduction shot.

Black Pearl offered an extraordinary introduction for the character of Jack Sparrow, gracefully stepping onto dock off a sinking ship, as the ship was almost fully submerged. The Dead Man’s Chest script gave him another fantastic opening, this time in a coffin floating in a darkened sea. From within the coffin, there is a blast of gunfire, killing a black bird, which had been pecking on the locked lid from outside. Jack climbs out and uses a dead man’s bones for oars; the coffin now his boat. This theme of resurrection would return, especially in At World’s End where multiple characters are resurrected from some sort of death, including of course Jack, but also Calypso, Bootstrap Bill and Davey Jones has a moment where his human self returns from long dead. “It’s not living forever that counts,” Keith Richards says to son, Johnny Depp. “It’s how you live forever.”

Dead Man's Chest
Sparrow with the Dead Man's Chest.

Amazingly, the high quality of the writing holds up for all three films. And throughout the series there are countless ideas that are not only inventive but also stunning in their execution. Not the least of which is the idea of having a treasure chest with a lopped off beating heart inside. How fascinating it would be to have a transcript of that writers meeting. “We need something to symbolize that love is the greatest treasure of all.” “Hmm…How about a beating heart in a treasure chest?” “You mean a real heart, unattached to anyone?” “Uh…Yeah.” “Oooh! And maybe the chest is locked and none of the pirates can get inside!” “Yeah. Everyone’s trying to get the key.” “That’s good. Everyone’s racing around trying to get this key or the chest so they can get the heart.” “Got it. Call up Mr. Bruckheimer. Tell him we’re putting a beating heart in a locked treasure chest and all the pirates are racing around trying to get it.”

Barbossa and Elizabeth
Barbossa and Elizabeth.

There are of course many borrowed elements in these films. The Captain From Castille, starring Tyrone Power, for example, has a funny character with a bulging and phony eyeball, but it takes quite an imagination to figure out a way to stick a fork in the eye and hold it up like a meatball. Organ playing sea-dog, Davey Jones, shares musical abilities with Captain Nemo from Disney’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. Will Turner strikes a dagger into a sail and slides down to safety just as Douglas Fairbanks did in The Black Pirate from 1926.
The Indiana Jones films were an obvious influence. One scene between Barbossa and Elizabeth plays almost exactly like a scene in Raiders between Marian and Belloq. She is his prisoner. He tries charming her with food. She slyly covers a knife from view and then, when she springs the weapon upon her captor, his previously unseen henchmen are there, having anticipated her attempt to escape.
There was clearly a careful study of Star Wars. The personality types and motivations of the three heroes echo the original trilogy’s Luke, Han and Leia. The bold integration of non-human characters within live action cinema also seems inspired by the George Lucas series.

Will Turner
Bloom as Will Turner.

The acting is superb throughout. Geoffrey Rush plays movie-pirate to perfection. Kiera Knightly’s Elizabeth Swann has the most dramatic character arc of the trilogy. She grows from young girl to king of the pirates and the twenty-two year old actress is especially electrifying with Elizabeth’s Errol Flynn speech, leading her pirates to war in At World’s End. Orlando Bloom does fantastic work. Without the moral ambiguity and witty lines given to Jack Sparrow, there’s little Bloom can do but portray Will Turner with enormous sincerity. Some complain Bloom is boring but that seems an unfair comparing of his character to Jack Sparrow.
Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow is one of the elevating elements that skyrocket these films so high above the ordinary. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences deserves commendation for having the insight to nominate this performance. Much has been made of the Keith Richards influence but to toss Depp’s work off as simple impersonation, as some in the press have, is hardly an observant view. It is a uniquely physical performance for modern films. Jack Sparrow’s inner world is expressed with broad facial expressions and when he runs, it is with hands and arms dangling in mid-air like a boozed up puppet having just escaped his master. More Charlie Chaplin than Keith Richards, Depp offers a character always on a high wire, expected to fall at any moment. And yet, as if he amuses some deity, Sparrow always manages to survive. Despite such clowning, there is not an insincere moment to be found. It’s a truly phenomenal performance and so unlike the work of any other major actor today.

Cannibals
Sparrow running away from hungry cannibals.

Of course none of this would be as good as it is without a dedicated ringleader to set the parameters for the circus. Director Gore Verbinski is a smart audience for art, which is one of the keys to great directing. He is without much history. His lasting relevance will be measured by his post-Pirates work because people have to be sure he didn’t just get lucky. His best asset may be humility. Some directors make sure audiences know who’s behind the camera at all times. With Pirates, Verbinski deserves enormous credit for spotlighting the talents he assembled. The films are fat with an otherwordliness thanks to the relishing of so much detail. They are long in part because he is willing to encourage so much, including little comedy bits by supporting players. From a more stylistic director much of this could look indulgent, but Verbinski is able to present it as nothing more than enthusiasm for the extraordinary work in front of his lens.

As a genre, adventure films are rarely reviewed with respect. And yet, they require special skill, a sensitivity to diverse experiences and emotions. One must have a command of articulating the full spectrum of life. Dramas move our spirits. Comedies make us laugh. Horror frightens. Science-fiction provides escape from the familiar. Romantic comedies remind of love. Action films exercise aggressions. Adventure films, in order to be really good, must accomplish all of the above.

Swashbucklers!
Swashbuckers!

In present day Hollywood, where ambition rarely reaches beyond riches, any great passion for old-fashioned adventure has been frightened away. For the few filmmakers of the genre, video games have overpowered one hundred years of cinema as influence and inspiration. And so, the team of Disney, Bruckheimer, Verbinski, Elliott and Rossio, Depp and the entire cast, deserve enormous respect and admiration for having the courage to aim so high. Unlike the vast majority of disposable Hollywood product, these films will last.

As At World’s End began to wind down toward conclusion, I was moved by it and sad to see it go. Despite numerous and obvious influences from so many great movies of the past, there has been nothing quite like it. Maybe Jack Sparrow, some day, will return. One thing true about Hollywood, as much as I complain about it, is that its movies are the one place where everything lives forever. (Stephen Jared)

 

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Elliott and Rossio were not the initial writers of the first film. Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert were. And although it's not really known who is really responsible for what, they deserve to be mentioned.

 

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