Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
I adore this movie; love the storyline, the action, the soundtrack. It came out when I started high school; it premiered in Disneyland, home of the original Pirates of the Caribbean ride and was the first movie to premier in Disneyland. Major cast list includes Johnny Depp (the go-to actor for Tim Burton…I don’t watch Tim Burton films) as Captain Jack Sparrow, Orlando Bloom (Legolas in Lord of the Rings) as Will Turner, Keira Knightley (she had been in Princess of Thieves and as the handmaiden in Phantom Menace before this, but I think she got really popular after) as Elizabeth Swann, Geoffrey Rush (Shakespeare in Love) as Barbossa, Jonathan Pryce (Bond villain in Tomorrow Never Dies and the antagonist in What a Girl Wants) as Governor Weatherby Swann, Kevin McNally (appears as Frank Devereaux, the paranoid guy in Supernatural…I did not put those two together) as Mr. Gibbs, and Lee Arenberg (who later appears as Leroy/Grumpy in Once Upon a Time) is Pintel-one half of one of the comedic duos. Zoe Saldana (later stars as Nyota Uhura in the nuStarTrek movies and Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy) features as Anamaria.
Fun fact I discovered, the ship that was used for the Interceptor, Lady Washington was used in Once Upon a Time as Killian Jones/Captain Hook’s ship The Jolly Roger. Cool! The figurehead on the ship that brings the Swanns to the Caribbean bears the coat of arms of the United Kingdom and is the real figurehead of the H.M.S. Victory, which was commanded by Lord Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar and now serves as a museum and is the oldest commissioned warship in the world. Speaking of sailing vessels, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (based on the Aubrey Maturin series of novels by Patrick O’Brien) came out the same year…and the same year as Return of the King (my brother was not pleased that Return of the King beat out Master and Commander at the Oscars…I was pleased).
I appreciate that the prologue to the film was not narrated or an exposition scene; we start right in with young Elizabeth Swann singing A Pirate’s Life For Me. Gibbs tells her off, warning that it will bring about pirates. Elizabeth is excited to meet one, claiming it would be “fascinating.” Governor Swann does not approve of his daughter’s interest and Lieutenant Norrington doesn’t help matters when he informs young Elizabeth that he plans to put an end to piracy by giving any man who sails under that banner what they deserve: a short drop and a sudden stop (as Gibbs mimes, hanging). Out of the fog floats a boy on wreckage. He’s recued and Governor Swann puts Elizabeth in charge of him. The ship discovers the rest of the wreck, sinking and in flames. Gibbs says what everyone is thinking: pirates. Elizabeth takes in her charge and discovers he’s wearing a gold coin with a stylized skull, a pirate medallion. She tucks it away as her charge comes to for a moment, long enough to say his name is Will Turner. As they sail past the smoldering wreck, Elizabeth glimpses a dark skip with torn sails, and a skull and crossbones flag.
Eight years later, Elizabeth wakes from her dream. She pulls to coin out of its hiding place and tucks it away as her father enters bearing a gift, a new dress and corset to wear to the promotion ceremony. Norrington is now a Commodore. While servants lace Elizabeth into the new fashion (“women in London must have learned not to breathe”: as someone who has worn a corset, yes, there is a fine line between holding you and being too tight, and they do making breathing and sitting more difficult) Will Turner, apprentice blacksmith waits downstairs. He presents Governor Swann with his order of a new sword for the promoted Commodore. Governor Swann is pleased and passes along his compliments; looking at Will’s face, we know that it was Will who made the sword, not his master, “a craftsman is always pleased to hear his work is appreciated.” Elizabeth arrives downstairs and is very familiar with Will; they’re friends. Will is aware of the status difference between the governor’s daughter and an apprentice blacksmith. But once she leaves for the ceremony it is also plain that Will is in love with Elizabeth Swann.
We cut to Jack “sailing” into Port Royal; his little dingy is sinking, so not much actual “sailing.” While there is a big to-do going on up at the fort [in case anyone is interested, the fifes and drums are playing Rule Britannia at the start of the ceremony], he sneaks aboard the Dauntless, throwing the guards into a tizzy. When they ask his purpose in Port Royal and demand no lies, he informs them “it is my intention to commandeer one of these ships, pick up a crew in Tortuga, and raid, pillage, plunder, and otherwise pilfer my weaseley black guts out.” In the meantime, at the ceremony, Norrington speaks to Elizabeth. With this promotion, it throws light to the matter that he is not yet married to a fine woman. He views Miss Swann as a fine woman and wishes to marry her. The heat and confining nature of the corset take a toll on Elizabeth; she can’t breathe and passes out, falling over the edge and into the ocean. Norrington is cautioned to wait; it’s a miracle she missed the rocks. Jack and the guards see Elizabeth fall as well; the guards can’t swim so it’s up to Jack to rescue the damsel in distress. Underwater, the coin pulses and the wind changes. Jack must leave the gown behind to get Elizabeth to safety; once on the dock, he cuts away the corset when Elizabeth isn’t breathing…good thing he’s been to Singapore. Jack recognizes Elizabeth’s coin.
Norrington and his men have arrived and Governor Swann, seeing the nature of undress his daughter is in, wants to hang Jack. Elizabeth protests, he’s the man who saved her. Norrington offers congratulations, but reveals that Jack has been branded a pirate by the East India Trading Company and the tattoo marks him a Jack Sparrow. His effects include a pistol with a single shot and a compass that doesn’t point north. He is by far the worst pirate Norrington has ever heard of; “but you have heard of me.” When Elizabeth protests further, Norrington insists that “one good deed does not redeems a lifetime of wickedness.” With Elizabeth close to him, Jack holds her hostage and manages an escape.
He eventually finds himself in the blacksmith shop; the master is asleep. Jack sets about trying to break his manacles apart. A hammer doesn’t work, so he gets the wheel running and that does the trick. But Will has returned from his errands. He notices the hammer out of place and notices a strange hat. Before he can touch it, Jack slaps his hand away with a sword. The boy seems familiar, has he threatened him before? Will grabs his own sword and the duel plays out. At times it’s almost like a test; Jack compliments Will’s form and footwork. (The sword strikes seem to be timed perfectly to the soundtrack, or vice versa, anyway…it’s brilliant!) The pirate goes to leave, but Will throws his sword, hitting right under the lock so Jack can’t leave. He retrieves another sword and they’re back at it, around the wheel, onto a cart, and into the rafters.
It’s brilliant fight choreography: they got Errol Flynn’s sword master (in case it’s a genre you don’t watch, Errol Flynn is a famous swashbuckling actor from the Golden Age of Hollywood, most recognized for his portrayal of Robin Hood – I will be getting to that film not far in the future) Bob Anderson, who has also worked on The Lord of the Rings trilogy [he was working on the Hobbit trilogy when he died], several James Bond films, the original Star Wars films, and The Princess Bride. It’s creative, engaging, and shows off a lot of hard work. I love a good sword fight!
In the end, Jack cheats, pulling his pistol in an effort to get Will to let him leave. Will’s master sneaks up and knock Jack out as the soldiers arrive. Of course, he gets all the credit. That night, a dark ship sails into port and opens fire on the fort. The crew comes ashore and begins terrorizing the town. Will arms himself and joins the fray, fighting the pirates. Elizabeth’s maid urges her mistress to hide, while Elizabeth instructs her to run to the fort for help when she gets the chance. A band of pirates break into the governor’s mansion and two seek out Elizabeth; the gold calls to them. She’s got fire in her; she holds them off at one point with her bed warming pan and tries to pull out a ceremonial sword. She eventually invokes the right of “parlay,” which the Pirate Code allows her to speak to the captain.
Two of the other pirates find Jack in the dungeon. They remember him, but he’s supposed to be dead, they left him marooned. His comeback is that “the deepest circles of Hell are reserved for betrayers and mutineers.” One pirate’s hand turns to skeleton in the moonlight when he grabs Jack; “so there is a curse.”
Aboard the Black Pearl Elizabeth negotiates a cessation of hostilities with Captain Barbossa; “I want you to leave and never come back.” Barbossa is “disinclined to acquiesce to your request….means ‘no’.” Very well, she’ll drop the pirate medallion overboard. No! When Barbossa asks her name, Elizabeth gives them the surname ‘Turner.’ Barbossa agrees. But he doesn’t return Elizabeth. When she protests on basis of the Code, he responds that her return was not part of their bargain, she would need to be a pirate for the Code to apply, and ultimately, the Code is more of guidelines rather than rules.
The men of Port Royal discover that Elizabeth has been taken come morning. Will wants to rush right out, willing to even ask Jack Sparrow for help. On his own, he visits the pirate in jail. He offers to free the other man in exchange for help rescuing Elizabeth. Jack agrees only once he knows Will’s surname of ‘Turner.’ The pair sneaks aboard the Dauntless and when the Interceptor (the faster of the two ships) comes alongside so the British can board, they sneak over to that ship and sail away. Norrington pursues, willing to sink his own ship rather than have it in the hands of a pirate. Once safely away, Will asks Jack about his father; Jack had known that he was named for him. Aye, Jack knew William Turner, one of the few who knew him by that name, “everyone else just called him ‘Bootstrap’ or ‘Bootstrap Bill’.” Will’s father was a pirate, not the merchant sailor Will was meant to believe. Jack lets Will “hang around” with that information for a minute. The lad can either sail with a pirate or not, it’s his choice. Will agrees and they head for Tortuga.
The island draws inspiration from the original Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Jack is greeted by two women, both of whom slap him. He may have not deserved the first, but he probably deserved the second. They wake Mr. Gibbs and Jack buys the man a drink while he listens to a proposition. Jack is going after the Pearl; he has leverage now to convince Barbossa; Bootstrap Bill’s only child.
Aboard the Pearl, Barbossa hosts Elizabeth for dinner (it was either she dine with him in a dress he had onboard, or she dined with the crew, naked). When the captain encourages her to eat, Elizabeth fears the food may be poisoned. Barbossa admits they have no need to be killing her, yet. He tells her the tale of the gold coin she was wearing, cursed Aztec gold presented to Cortez to stop the bloodshed. Anyone who possesses one of the 882 pieces will be punished for eternity. The crew didn’t believe the curse and found the chest and spent it. Afterwards they came to realize that they are not living, so they cannot die, but neither are they dead. Moonlight reveals them for what they truly are, skeletal figures. Elizabeth is once again daring and brave and stabs Barbossa. Only it doesn’t affect him. They must reclaim all 882 pieces of gold, the last of which is the pendant, and repay the blood sacrifice. “You best start believing in ghost stories, Miss Turner. You’re in one.”
Jack is gleeful during a storm, they’re catching up to the Pearl. Will receives a few answers about Jack from Mr. Gibbs. He had originally been the captain of the Black Pearl, Barbossa had been his second mate. They’d gone after Cortez’s gold and Barbossa weaseled the location out of Jack. He led a mutiny and marooned Jack. The man apparently got off the island by wrangling a couple of sea turtles. The story ends there; it’s time for Will and Jack to go ashore. If the worst should happen, Gibbs and the crew are to hold to the Code: those who fall behind, get left behind. When Will comments there’s no honor amongst thieves, Jack points out, that although Will has a poor opinion on pirates, he’s well on his way to becoming one: he stole a ship from the Navy, sailed with a pirate crew, and is completely obsessed with treasure. “Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate.” They’ve found Barbossa and his crew, Elizabeth standing behind a chest. Jack instructs Will to stay put and don’t do anything stupid; they’re to wait for the opportune moment. Will does not trust Jack, so he knocks the pirate out and swims around.
Barbossa throws the coin into the chest and slices Elizabeth’s hand, letting droplets of blood fall on the pile. The crew doesn’t feel any different, so Barbossa shoots one. He’s not dead. The blood didn’t work. Barbossa turns on Elizabeth, demanding who is her father, was he William Turner. No. Barbossa backhands her and she falls down the pile of treasure. Will finds her and they escape, grabbing the medallion back. The crew starts turning on Barbossa, but he keeps order and sends them back after Elizabeth. They run into Jack, who mutters “parlay.” The two captains confer; Jack knows why Elizabeth’s blood didn’t work, and he knows whose blood Barbossa needs. He tries to wrangle a deal with Barbossa to get the Pearl back, but they’ve come up on the Interceptor.
Will wants to know why Elizabeth used his surname with the pirates; she doesn’t give an answer. In regards to why she took the medallion eight years ago, she didn’t want Will to be a pirate. Will continues to struggle with the knowledge that pirate blood runs in him. He’s above deck with the Pearl comes in sight. He suggests lightening the load so it gives them more speed. It works, for a little while, but the Pearl runs out the sweeps on the cannons for added speed. Elizabeth suggests the idea to drop the anchor on one side, demonstrating her knowledge of sailing as well; they’ll swing around and be able to broadside the Pearl. Barbossa also turns his ship, so both now have canons facing each other; the Interceptor loads theirs with whatever they can find. Explosions abound, pirates swinging on ropes, boarding the Interceptor; it’s all rather exciting! Will and Elizabeth realize the other crew is still after the medallion; Will goes for it. But a shot from the Pearl brings down the Interceptor’s mast and damages the hold below. The ship is taking on water. Jack escapes the cell on the Pearl and swings over to the Interceptor, helping Elizabeth against a pirate. But she’s taken, as is the medallion by Barbossa’s monkey (named Jack). The Interceptor‘s crew is taken hostage and the ship is left to explode. Elizabeth fears (and we do for a moment) that Will was killed in the explosion, but he managed to swim out in time.
He boards the Pearl and demands Elizabeth’s release. He is William Turner, son of ‘Bootstrap’ Bill Turner (the spittin’ image of ol’ Bootstrap, sent back to haunt them) and if Elizabeth does not go free, he’ll use Jack’s one shot pistol and be lost to the depths. Barbossa agrees, but Will failed to mention how Elizabeth was to be set free. She and Jack are forced on a gangplank and will be marooned on the same island Jack was on last time. When Elizabeth asks Jack if they can escape the same way he did last, he reveals that contrary to the popular myth of sea turtles, he actually had spent three days waiting for the rum runners who used the island as a cache and was able to barter passage. Elizabeth has the start of an idea. First, they light a bonfire and sing A Pirate’s Life for Me, getting Jack nice and drunk. When he wakes in the morning, it’s to the smell of smoke.
“You’ve burnt all the food, the shade, the rum.”
“Yes, the rum is gone.”
“Why is the rum gone?”
“One, because it is a vile drink that turns even the most respectable men into complete scoundrels. Two, that signal is over a thousand feet high; the entire royal navy is out looking for me. Do you really think there is even the slightest chance that they won’t see it?”
“But why is the rum gone?”
(There is a hilarious remix video that was made featuring this bit)
The Dauntless indeed finds Elizabeth. She pleads with her father and Norrington to go back and rescue Will; he turned to piracy to rescue her. Her final plea to Norrington is for him to do it as a wedding present. She’ll accept his proposal if he rescues Will. On board the Pearl, Will asks that crew for more information regarding his father. Old Bootstrap never agreed with how they turned on Jack; he sent his coin off to Will, saying the crew deserved to be cursed. So Barbossa tied a canon to his bootstraps and threw him in the ocean. Ironically, it was after that incident that they realized they needed his blood to lift the curse. Now it’s Will’s turn to spill blood; but he’s only half Turner, they plan to spill it all.
Jack’s plan is to go in, convince the pirates to come out, so the Dauntless crew can capture (or kill) them, rescue Will, and Norrington will be a hero. The flip side, when he sneaks in and talks to Barbossa, is for the pirates to attack, overtake the British and now Barbossa will have two ships, the start of his own fleet. Jack will take the Pearl, sail under Barbossa’s command and give the other captain a percentage of his plunder. And in exchange, Barbossa presumes, Jack wants him to not kill the whelp, Will. “No, by all means,” Jack scoops up a handful of coins, “kill the whelp,” but wait until every last of Norrington’s men are dead. Will sees Jack palm one of the coins and realizes that this was Jack’s plan all along. Barbossa agrees, but sends his men on a walk…underwater. They sneak aboard the Dauntless and start slaughtering [reminder, it is rated PG-13].
In the meantime, Elizabeth has snuck off the Dauntless and back to the Pearl to rescue that crew with the hopes that they’ll help her rescue Will. They’d rather stick to the Code and retreat, so she heads into the cave alone. Jack has managed to get a sword to Will, because “honestly, it’s the honest ones you want to watch out for, because you can never predict when they’re going to do something incredibly stupid.” Jack goes after Barbossa, and Will gets free and goes after the other pirates. Elizabeth arrives to snark “if you like pain, try wearing a corset” and help Will. At one point (in the completely epic fight sequence that again matches the rhythm of the soundtrack) Jack stabs Barbossa. Tsk, tsk, Barbossa can’t die, remember. So he stabs Jack. The other captain chokes for a moment, then backs up into the moonlight and reveals he too is a skeleton. By holding on to one of the coins, he now can’t die either. The old rivals are back at it. Will reads when the opportune moment is and heads for the chest; Jack throws his coin, with a bit of his blood on it. When Barbossa pulls a pistol on Elizabeth, a shot rings out. From Jack’s gun. Barbossa thinks he’s lucky for a second, then Will drops the gold into the chest. The wound is now mortal. He falls down, dead.
Norrington has made it back to the Dauntless and with the curse lifted, Barbossa’s crew is no longer immune. The ship is back in the hands of the British (I have no idea why Governor Swann tries to be cool and mimics punching a pirate). Inside the cave, Will and Elizabeth almost share a tender moment, but they’re interrupted by Jack’s noise. They must be getting back to the Dauntless, and Elizabeth’s fiancé. Will missed his opportune moment.
Back at Port Royal, Norrington prepares to hang Jack. Elizabeth feels it is wrong, but her father states that Norrington is bound by law. Will, in some fancy new clothes, realizes what he must do, as a good man (and some urging from seeing Cotton’s parrot). He announces to Elizabeth, Governor Swann, and Norrington, that he has always loved Elizabeth. Then he makes his way to the scaffold. Elizabeth faints again as a distraction and Will manages to throw his sword to relieve Jack’s hanging. The two fight alongside each other for a minute (there is an awesome flip from Orlando, or his stunt double), but are soon surrounded. He’d rather throw his lot in with Jack and be a good man; his place is between Norrington and Jack. Elizabeth joins him. Jack uses the distraction to say his farewells: he was always rooting for Norrington, things would have never worked out between him and Elizabeth and Will…nice hat. This is the day they almost caught…and he trips over the edge. The Pearl is waiting for him (they decided the Code was more of a guideline). Governor Swann philosophically states that “on the rare occasion, pursuing the right course demands an act of piracy. Piracy, itself, can be the right course.” Norrington decides to let Jack go; they can afford to give him one day’s head start. To Will, “I would expect the man who made (such a beautiful sword) to show the same care and devotion in every aspect of his life.” Essentially giving the new couple his blessing, and a warning; you hurt Elizabeth, I’ll kill you. Governor Swann is still a bit surprised at his daughter’s choice; after all, Will Turner is a blacksmith. “No, he’s a pirate.” She removes his hat and they share one of the best kisses ever! Music swelling, and I am swooning.
(There is an scene at the end of the credits, of the monkey sneaking back into the cave, stealing a coin, and turning back into a skeleton. He’s creepy.)
As I mentioned previously, this movie came out when I was in high school; it was a summer blockbuster that was fun and exciting. At that point, I wasn’t into Lord of the Rings quite yet, so I preferred Orlando Bloom in this role; the young, handsome hero who has a good soul and gets the girl. A story of how piracy could be cool; there’s two sides, Barbossa who wants to kill the innocent protagonists and Jack and his crew who want to keep people safe. And I already like swashbuckling films, so I was captivated by the sword fights. The soundtrack soon became a favorite of mine, with its driving rhythm. I’ve actually played selections from it twice, once in concert band and once at District Orchestra. It has also become a great running playlist for me (I ran Cross Country for six years in school), setting a good pace with some breathing spots.
Will Turner is my favorite character (yes, partly influenced by Orlando Bloom’s attractiveness). But he’s the hard working, respectful man that many women, including me want. The knight who was hasten to rescue the fair maiden, braving any dangers. Though Elizabeth earns points by taking matters into her own hands as well; she doesn’t sit idly by, she actively tries to escape more than once. She is the one to talk to the pirates to get them to leave. She manages to persuade everyone to do the right thing. Jack – he’s got too many plans going on for me to fully trust him, but by the end, we can see his heart is in the right place.
We’ll continue to dive into some of the other themes and plot points in the following two movies. I will save fanfic and music recommendations for the end of the original trilogy; I’ve seen the fourth and fifth installments and I don’t like them, so, I will instead put my focus into other series.
Questions? Comments? Your opinion on swashbuckling films?
Next Time: Dead Man’s Chest