Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Review

Pirates of the Caribbean turned out to be the biggest surprise of summer 2003’s blockbuster season. Pirates is a swashbuckling adventure of epic proportions that left other big budget blockbusters trailing in its wake. It delivered a pure sense of adventure along with breathtaking special effects and just good old fashioned storytelling. Pirates was a Jerry Bruckheimer production so it was always going to be action packed but with a decent cast and a surprisingly sharp script from the writers of Shrek it became much better than your average action film.

One of the main reasons for that was Johnny Depp who gives an inspired turn as Captain Jack Sparrow (He based his performance on his rock star friend Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones) providing the most entertaining performance of the year.

The story starts on a British Royal Navy ship that is sailing to Port Royal from England. Onboard is a young girl called Elizabeth who sings a pirate song to herself whilst the men tell her to be quiet because they fear she will attract pirates to their ship. The two men in charge Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport) and Elizabeth’s father Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce) make it their mission to rid the Caribbean of piracy. When a young boy named Will is brought onboard the ship Elizabeth notices that he is wearing some sort of pirate medallion around his neck, fearing that her new friend maybe killed if her father found out he was a pirate she takes the medallion for herself.

We first meet up with Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) when he gets off his sinking ship onto the dock at Port Royal, a British trading post in the West Indies. Whilst looking for a new ship he saves the governor’s beautiful daughter Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) from drowning, but despite this the British arrest him for piracy and sentence him to hang. As he sits in his cell awaiting death the port is attacked by the Black Pearl, a sinister looking vessel that was commandeered by Jack’s former first mate the evil Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). The crew of the Black Pearl are the victims of a terrible curse placed upon them by the Aztec gold that they plundered. The curse is that they are doomed to an existence of a zombie like state until they can find every last piece of treasure. Unfortunately that last piece of treasure belongs to Elizabeth who soon finds herself a reluctant passenger of the Black Pearl. The only two people that can help Elizabeth are her old childhood friend Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Captain Jack Sparrow who is currently in jail.

Will loves Elizabeth and he is tired of waiting for the British Navy to find her so he seeks out Jack Sparrow to ask for his help. Jack promises to help Will as long as he can keep the Black Pearl, so they break out of the jail, steal a ship and sail off together to find Elizabeth.

The partnering of Depp and Bloom is inspired and along with some excellent performances from the very gorgeous Keira Knightley and Geoffrey Rush as an excellent villain the film plays out in style. If there are any faults with Pirates of the Caribbean then it could be that it is slightly overlong and perhaps crams in too many swordfights before we get to the climax. But despite these minor criticisms this is a film that is never dull and with good comic support from people in minor roles like Mackenzie Crook (Gareth from the Office), high production values, superb special effects, thrilling swordfights and glorious sea battles making Pirates of the Caribbean the most entertaining film of the year.

After the credits roll there is an extra scene but I won’t spoil that for you here.


This is a THX certified 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and the quality throughout is excellent. It is certainly a very colourful and detailed print especially with the daylight scenes that are wonderfully vibrant and pin sharp. With a lot of the scenes taking in place in moonlight you might expect some loss of detail but even in the gloom the levels of detail are high.


The disc houses both Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS-ES 6.1 soundtracks. These are very lively with good clean dialogue and ample opportunities for the LFE channel (subwoofer) to show what it is capable of doing. Whilst the soundtrack is mostly confined to the front soundstage, the rear speakers are used throughout to create a nice ambience with some good positional audio and lots of orchestrated theme music that is in most scenes of the film. Overall both soundtracks are very good, if you have DTS you will probably want to go for that but if not the Dolby 5.1 is an excellent backup.


One unfortunate thing to note is that subtitles for both normal and the hearing impaired are only available for the film itself and are not available on any of the special features. This is poor really as it means not everyone will be able to enjoy the special features on these discs.

The Menus

The menus on both discs are animated all of which have a pirate theme to them with music from the film playing in the background.

Easter Eggs

There don’t appear to be any hidden features on Disc 1, but if you insert Disc 2 into your player you will find 4 hidden features. To find the first one select the feature called 'Fly on the Set', and then highlight the tooth on the zombie pirate and you will be treated to a feature called Pirates Cave Construction. This shows you the construction of the cave where the final battle in the film takes place.

Secondly click on the 'Below Deck' feature and highlight the skull medallion from the film and you will get to see some early unfinished CG work from the sea battle between one of the British Royal Navy’s ships and the Black Pearl.

Thirdly on the same feature select 'Scene Index' and from there go to the second page of chapter stops. Highlight the entry 'Pirate Ships' and then press the 'Left' arrow key on your remote control. This will highlight the ring on the skeleton’s hand and give you the chance to see the Japanese trailer for the movie.

Finally select the 'Moonlight Serenade scene progression' feature then highlight the tooth on the skeleton and you will be treated to an interview with Keith Richards who Depp used as inspiration for his character Captain Jack Sparrow in the film.

DVD ROM – Enhanced Features for your PC

Both Discs contain extras that you can play on your PC. Both Disc 1 and Disc 2 have a link to the Official Website. On Disc 1 you have a Script Scanner and a Storyboard viewer. With the Script Scanner feature you can watch the film whilst following it with the script version at the same time. The Storyboard viewer allows you to follow the film and watch the storyboard drawings for each scene alongside it.

Disc 2 contains features on the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride that was partly the inspiration for the film and also a feature on the effects used in the film. The first feature is called Dead Men Tell No Tales and it is a history of the Disneyland attraction. It looks at the building of the ride along with interviews with the original imaginers who helped to build it.

The second feature on the ride is the Pirates of the Caribbean Attraction - Image Gallery. There a loads of images in this gallery from the ride including many original sketches and concept drawings many of which have never been seen before by the public. You can view these images on their own or as a slide show, and the whole thing is backed up by the original version of the Pirates Song that pops up throughout the film.

The third and final feature on the ride is the Disneyland Pirates Virtual Reality Viewer. For those of you who want to experience the ride but can’t get to Anaheim or Orlando you can with this feature. It uses QuickTime VR technology to present full 360 degree sequences that allow you to control the camera in any direction to view the entire ride. Pictures and sound are included for each section of the ride to give it that authentic feel.

The final feature is called Moonlight Becomes Ye Effects Studio. If you have a picture of yourself or someone you know you can make them look like the cursed pirates in the film. The photo needs to be a head and shoulders shot and once you have that you can import it into the effects studio. You will then need to put the mask they give you over your face so that the mouth and eyes are positioned correctly. Then select where you would like the moonlight to strike on your face either on the left or the right side of your face or on the eyes. Then use the slider to adjust the amount of decay and move on to the final section. You now have the option to print or e-mail your creation.

Disc 1

Audio Commentaries featuring Director Gore Verbinski and Actor Johnny Depp, Actors Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport, Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Screenwriters Stuart Beattie, Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio and Jay Wolpert

First up are Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp, they appear to be having fun together and are especially enthused about the cast and crew and the audiences reactions to the film. The Director is particularly pleased that the audience not only enjoyed the excellent action scenes but also the more subtle elements of the film aswell. Johnny is on great form again and has many stories to tell.

Secondly is Producer Jerry Bruckheimer whose commentary has been put together from various interviews he gave about the film. This is not a full commentary as it just runs alongside selected scenes from the film. In it he discusses the films homage’s to the ride that inspired it as well as praising the stars and director.

Thirdly we have Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport’s commentary. Like the Jerry Bruckheimer commentary they just talk about selected scenes from the film. The Jack and Keira double act work very well together creating a lively banter that is highly entertaining. Their comments about the filming of the movie are really interesting with Keira being particularly good as she really gets into the story and the characters.

Finally we have the screenwriter’s commentary from Stuart Beattie, Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio and Jay Wolpert. It is a very insightful commentary where they discuss research, early drafts of the story, the actors and the balance of the film. They are also very self depreciating and just enjoy seeing the words they wrote being spoken by the actors onscreen. Another thing they mention is that a lot of the pirate folklore that we know like walking the plank didn’t really happen but as it’s what the audience know and expect they have to cover it in the script. One final mention is that when the credits roll the writers give you the back-story from 10 years before the film began. Overall this is a very catchy commentary to listen to and worth checking out if you are at all interested in getting into screenwriting.

Disc 2

An Epic at Sea: The Making of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

An excellent documentary looking at all the different aspects of making the film including the actors, locations, production design and ships to costumes and makeup, stunts and swords, visual effects and the premiere. All the cast and crew turn up to offer their own views about the film and there is plenty of behind the scenes footage as well. From watching this documentary you realise just how epic the production of the film is and what a wonderful job everyone involved did to bring the production to life. (38 mins)

Fly on the Set

If you every wanted to see what happens on a film set and how shots are setup you will enjoy this excellent behind the scenes documentary. It covers five scenes from the film, Town Attack, Tortuga, Blacksmith Shop, the Cave and Jack’s hanging. (21 mins)


There are three production diaries and they give an inside view of what it was like to work on Pirates of the Caribbean.

Producer’s Photo Diary – Jerry Bruckheimer likes taking photos and he took a lot of onset pictures. He says that because the cast and crew were so great there wasn’t much for him to do so he just took pictures and then talks about them in this diary. (4 mins)

Diary of a Pirate – Actor Lee Arenberg who plays the pirate Pintel in the film was asked by Disney to keep a video diary whilst filming the movie. In it he talks about what it was like fulfilling a boyhood dream of being in a pirate film. He also talks with a lot of the people he worked with in the film and recounts all his experiences from making the film. (10 mins)

Diary of a Ship – This looks at the ships used in the film, for which they sailed with a real crew from Los Angeles to the Caribbean Island of St Vincent. It takes you through the different stages of the journey and the problems they encountered along the way, the problems were mainly storms which damaged the ship so it had to be repaired several times. The journey took 40 days and covered 4400 nautical miles. (11 mins)

Below Deck – An Interactive History of Pirates

This is an excellent and extensive history lesson from a maritime historian who knows a lot about pirates. He uses all his expert knowledge to guide you through the myths, legends and truths about pirates. There is a tour section where you can look through four different areas of a pirate ship using your remote control to learn about life as a pirate.

If you don’t want to watch it as part of a tour you can click on the feature called A Prisoner’s Last Tale which will take you through everything covered by the documentary. Alternatively there is the option of watching the different sections individually using the scene index option.

Blooper Reel

A fun set of outtakes of the cast messing up their lines or generally fooling about on set. (3 mins)

Deleted Scenes

There are 19 Deleted Scenes. You can either watch them all or choose to watch them individually. There are some decent scenes in here including more brilliant banter between Jack and Elizabeth. (19 mins)

Moonlight Serenade Scene Progression

If you want to see how they put together the excellent Black Pearl sequence where Elizabeth discovers the true identity of the pirates then watch this Featurette. You will see the scene being created from concept right up to the completed version. (7 mins)

Image Gallery

There are hundreds of images from the film spread across six galleries. They are all presented in a slide show format and if you wish to take a longer look at the pictures you will need to press the pause key on your remote. The galleries are as follows: Inspiration; Concept Art; Storyboards; Costumes; Production and Publicity.

Pirates in the Parks - Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Colour

This is an old Featurette from the Disney archives that was first broadcast in 1968 when the Pirates of the Caribbean ride opened at Disneyland. It features Walt Disney talking about the ride, showing us drawings and models from the attraction and also what will happen on the ride once it’s built. It also goes behind the scenes to show you the creation of the ride as well as some of the first customers riding around the completed attraction. (18 mins)

Also located within this section is a preview for the DVD Rom material which you can play if your computer is equipped with a DVD drive.


Pirates of the Caribbean is a film that is superb fun, and one that has done an excellent job of reviving the pirate movie genre. It includes excellent performances from the four main leads, awesome special effects and a decent story. There is also a treasure trove of extra features that will keep you occupied for hours after the film has finished. The biggest hit of the summer has produced a DVD that will be as big a hit for Christmas as it was back then, Yo ho ho me hearties.

9 out of 10
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