Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Review
Before sitting down to revisit Gore Verbinski’s 2003 summer hit on Blu-ray Disc I decided to look at our very own Kevin O’Reilly’s theatrical review and after thoroughly enjoying the film once again I find it hard to add much more to what he already wrote. It’s somewhat hard to believe a theme park ride was adapted into a billion dollar franchise, one that ended its run earlier this year and started with The Curse of the Black Pearl, which offers almost everything you could possibly want from a summer blockbuster. The story may not be original, but it’s certainly well developed with strong characterisation in both central characters and amongst the various crews featured throughout, while the casting is nigh on perfect. Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom tend to come in for a lot of criticism, and while they’re not quite as loaded with screen magnetism as their peers here they are well cast and play their parts well, all the while looking young and attractive. Johnny Depp deserves all the praise lavished upon him over the years in his role as Captain Jack Sparrow, a true rock star buccaneer every mannerism and word uttered is a pure joy to take in. He is also well countered by Geoffrey Rush as the ruthless Captain Barbossa, another character with numerous subtleties that are brought to life by an actor with a great presence to him. Together these two help add weight to the adventurous tale which is littered with comedy and thrilling action set-pieces, directed with a great eye for spectacle and polished with some of the best special effects of their time (which also stand up superbly today).
The only complaints I could levy relate to the slightly bloated middle, which on repeat viewings tends to prompt a few glances at the running time counter on your player while the editing of the action sequences in general appears to become more lax as the film approaches its climax, but on the whole the first in what has now become a trilogy is a very fine adventure movie for the modern day audience.
Coded for all regions (A, B and C) the UK Blu-ray Disc release of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl takes the same approach as the US offering, placing the film on a dual-layer 50GB disc and the numerous extras on a second, single-layer 25GB disc. The actual packaging is very slick, with the usual clear blue case (this time with a flap to hold the second disc) housed inside a cardboard slip case boasting the exact same artwork.
Popping in the first disc you are prompted by a language select screen (English, Dutch and Italian) before a quick loading icon appears. This I found a little amusing, I don’t know why, it just reminded me of playing a videogame rather than watching a film. But anyway, after that you get a warning screen, a Walt Disney logo, the Buena Vista Blu-ray Disc Promo reel and a trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. All can be skipped using the chapter forward button on your remote, and all of the video sequences are presented in 1080P with DD5.1 Surround audio.
Once you get to the menu a talking skull will aid your navigation, though it’s all very simple and certainly well presented. However, I’d prefer the Warner approach of dropping you straight into the film and skipping menus, trailers etc…but it seems their take on high definition is theirs and theirs alone.
Picture and Sound
No doubt you’ve seen the claims of perfection elsewhere for this 1080P, MPEG4 AVC encoded transfer, and I’m happy to say there is no reason for me to claim any different. The transfer here is as near to perfect as I’ve seen on either high-def format, with detail and colour reproduction always quite exceptional while black levels are well managed throughout as are gradients and film grain. The only blip on an otherwise beautiful image is the intermittent but quite obvious application of edge-enhancement, something that may or may not have been present in the final master used in cinemas but is never-the-less occasionally distracting.
In terms of audio the UK release offers English PCM 5.1 (Uncompressed, 48kHz, 4.6Mbps) and Dolby Digital 5.1 (640kbps) soundtracks, though I could only enjoy the latter in its full glory and to say it’s a strong, well defined mix with constant use of the full soundstage would be accurate. A true summer blockbuster experience features a bombastic sound mix and these audio options on Blu-ray Disc do not disappoint. German and Italian viewers are also catered for, in this case with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (Lossless) and Dolby Digital 5.1 (640kbps) options. The former I was only able to access in its legacy “core” mix, a 1.5Mbps DTS track so I’m basing the “Master Audio” claims on the back cover information.
Subtitles are included in English, German and Italian.
On the first disc you will find two Blu-ray Disc exclusive features, though sadly no audio commentaries. There are a total of three included on the US Blu-ray Disc release, but none here, so I can only assume they were dropped to make way for the additional lossless audio mixes found on the disc.
Exclusive to Blu-ray Disc is Scoundrels of the Sea, an interactive extra which when selected starts the film and, as you watch, various pop-up trivia is displayed. Every now and then an Aztec Gold Coin will display with the trivia, which you can choose to “Bank”. These coins represent 33 vignettes which, after the film ends or when you decide its time to watch the extras, you can edit them into your own custom documentary. Presented in 1080P using the MPEG4 AVC codec these vignettes offer various historical facts and fiction on pirates and pirate lore, and for the most part are quite interesting and visually interesting thanks to clips from the film, other pirate films, photos and various artistic impressions of pirate life, though I’m not entirely sold on the way the interactivity works. A picture-in-picture option would certainly have made them easier and more enticing to take the time out to view, but there is at least an option to simply view all the vignettes available (approx 45-minutes total) and edit them together how you see fit (without the hassle of banking coins as you watch the film). Instructions for the feature are included as in insert found inside the Blu-ray Disc case, while the talking skull and crossbones which hosts the main menu is also on hand to take you through how everything works, so in that regards Disney have done a great job in keeping viewers informed.
The other exclusive is the Movie Showcase extra, a common feature on Buena Vista Blu-ray Disc releases which takes you straight to the most visually impressive moments of the film.
On to the second disc, the language select screen you’re initially prompted with covers a wide variety of dialects (15 in total) of which all but English are available as subtitle options on the disc (sorry English hard of hearing readers, BVHE have snubbed you yet again). These are detailed in the side panel to the right. The disc features the usual warnings, both copyright and disclaimers before presenting a simple but clean menu screen that details the many features included here.
Sadly, despite a full 25GB to play with, all extras are presented in standard definition.
”Epic at Sea” – The Making of Pirates (38:09mins) – This eight-part making-of documentary features the usual combination of behind-the-scenes footage and on-set interviews with the director, crew and actors as we are given brief but relatively in-depth looks at various aspects of the production from locations, design, stunts, special effects and even a brief look at the premiere. For the most part these are mildly interesting, but there is a promotional spin throughout complete with the required back-slapping from those involved which becomes a little tiresome.
”Fly on the Set” Features (35:17mins) – Eight brief vignettes, these are all compiled out of raw footage from the set allowing us to watch different scenes being shot along with direction from the various senior crew members. The majority are for the large-scale action set-pieces, so it’s certainly quite interesting to watch these in their original form prior to any post production.
Becoming Captain Jack (7:19mins) – Interviews from Johnny Depp, Gore Verbinski and Geoffrey Rush are cut together to discuss the character of Captain Jack Sparrow, the inspiration behind the character and the way in which Depp masterfully brings him to life.
Becoming Barbossa (5:31mins) – This time the same trio look at the character of Barbossa, portrayed by Rush who has a lot to say about the man who is more than a match for Sparrow in the film.
Thar She Blows! (6:17mins) – Here we see how two of the impressive sequences involving the various ships in the film were created, the first depicting a stormy night of sailing and the second breaking down how one of the ships was blown to pieces for the film. Plenty of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage as usual, these are condensed down into a bite size chunk that is both educational and interesting to watch.
The Monkey’s Name is Jack (4:35mins) – A whole featurette on the little monkey featured in the film, we hear most prominently from the animal trainer and Geoffrey Rush along with a few idle comments from the other actors involved.
”Sneak Attack” Animatic (4:16mins) – This basic computer rendering acts as a pre-visualisation of the film’s signature special effects moment, showcasing the cursed pirates as they sneak up on their prey in a most unique fashion at the end of the film. Anyone with an interest in shot choice, lens selection etc. should find this particularly interesting as the pre-vis sequence includes this type of information in the frame.
Pirates Around The World (4:11mins) – Watch the scene where Barbossa and Miss Swan first meet in the numerous languages the film was dubbed into.
Spirit of the Ride (7:11mins) – Selected cast and crew members discuss their first memories of the original Pirates of the Caribbean theme park ride complete with archive footage. As the title suggests those interviewed also discuss the spirit of the ride, and how these elements were captured and brought over to the film.
”Dead Men Tell No Tales” The History of the Attraction (13:55mins) – Following on from the previous featurette this piece focuses squarely on the history and development of the ride over time, and is certainly (coupled with Spirit of the Ride) one of the more interesting featurettes as I really had never heard of the ride prior to the film’s success so to learn about it here is appreciated.
Deleted and Alternate Scenes (19:03mins) – A slew of unused scenes make for interesting viewing with the majority offering a variation on content seen elsewhere in the film.
Diary of a Ship (11:05mins) – A video diary of the Lady Washington and its crew, this is the ship which doubles for “The Interceptor” in the film and undertook an eventful 40-day voyage in order to do so.
Diary of a Pirate (9:39mins) – Lee Arenberg – who portrays Pintel, one of Barbossa’s crew members – kept a video journal of his experiences on the film which is edited together into this more personal piece, but one that maintains quite a promotional and favourable point of view towards the production.
Producer’s Photo Diary with Jerry Bruckheimer (4:18mins) – A common extra on Bruckheimer productions, the film’s producer offers a selection of his photographs from the set along with commentary on the production and images you’re seeing.
Blooper Reel (3:10mins) – Line readings gone wrong, physical blunders on set, you know the drill by now…
”Below Deck” An Interactive History of Pirates - David Cordingly, a Maritime Historian takes you through the history of pirates via a series of vignettes which look at everything from pirate symbols to famous women pirates. These can be accessed either through a graphical interface whereby you navigate round a pirate ship, highlighting points of interest to watch a vignette that relates to them (pirate sail gets you the piece on pirate symbols for example) or you can just access the scene index which gives you quick and easy access to all 24 parts. By far one of the best extras on the disc, I personally skipped the graphical interface and went straight to the scene index, but the presentation is generally good and the bite size chunks of the vignettes appreciated and easy to digest. There is however some crossover with the new Scoundrels of the Sea extra, though for the most part the presentation is quite different.
”Moonlight Serenade” Scene Progression (6:33mins) – The point at which the nature of the curse fallen upon Barbossa’s crew is revealed to the audience is broken down here with the various elements which make up the shot split up and shown in sequence (or sometimes picture in picture) along with commentary to explain the process and specific problems that needed to be overcome. Nicely presented I found this one particularly interesting.
Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Colour (18:19mins) – Originally broadcast in 1968 this is a portion of “Disneyland from The Pirates of the Caribbean to The World of Tomorrow” and is essentially and original making-of piece exploring the theme park ride.
Image Galleries - Extensive stills galleries covering Inspiration, Concept Art, Storyboards, Costumes, Production and Publicity.
Easter Eggs - From a hidden sub-menu you can then hunt around for a short interview with Keith Richards (48seconds), a pre-visualisation 3D animatic for the major ship to ship battle scene in the film (6:50mins), a Japanese teaser (37seconds), a Pirates Cave Construction time-lapse video (2:41mins) and an original radio advert for the Pirates of the Caribbean Disneyland attraction (1:04mins). These require a lot of work to find without help and in my opinion aren’t really worth the trouble, but they’re here so do what I did and look up a guide if you really want to see them. If you’re a fan of the Easter Egg hunt, then to get you started choose “More” on the main menu, then from the “Good Luck” deleted scene push right, then up and up on your remote. The skull’s eyes will light up, hit enter and from there you must navigate around pushing the right sequences to find each extra (it’s all grid based, every time you hit the wrong direction you are reset to the “Back” option so with patience it’s easy enough to work out the right sequence of button pushes).
A thoroughly entertaining summer blockbuster which strikes the balance between action and characterisation with great ease is given a spectacular transfer with equally stunning audio here on Blu-ray Disc. In terms of extras everything but the commentaries from the DVD releases are present, though without any real structure the majority fall into that promotional EPK flavour we could all do without. The Blu-ray Disc exclusive feature, Scoundrels of the Sea is certainly a step in the right direction in terms of new content on these high definition releases, though I doubt many will do much more than dip into it. Regardless of the lacklustre extras and providing the commentaries aren’t important to you (if they are you can always import) this is an excellent release that comes highly recommended.