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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Pirates of the Caribbean - The Curse of the Black Pearl: 3-disc Special Edition
Pirates of the Caribbean - The Curse of the Black Pearl: 3-disc Special Edition
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // PG-13 // November 2, 2004
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted November 23, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

There is, indeed, something called "Too much of a good thing." And if ever a movie deserved that label, it's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

The "good thing" aspects come readily to mind. First of all, we have pirates. I don't know about you, but in my mind, any movie that features pirate adventures (especially involving swordfights) is a movie with lots of potential for entertaining mayhem. Then we've got an excellent cast: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Jonathan Pryce, Keira Knightley, and a handful of other solid supporting players. Add in a quite imaginative plot with an interesting twist on the "ghost ship" legend, and finish up with lavish and often quite spectacular special effects, and we're looking good.

And in fact, those good elements are what make Pirates of the Caribbean watchable. But the film as it stands is... well, too much of all those good things. It's like when you go to a buffet and are determined to get more than your money's worth: the first plateful (or two) of food tastes great and is satisfying, but after that third helping, you just feel bloated and can't bear the sight of another piece of pie... no matter how much you enjoyed it the first time.

That's how it goes with Pirates of the Caribbean. It would have made a solid, entertaining 90-minute film, with a nice brisk pace and no saggy parts. But that's not what we get, alas. No, what we get is a 90-minute movie with a full hour of unnecessary bloat tacked on. It's almost twice as long as it needs to be, and frankly it really shows. The film moves along at a reasonable pace with interesting development of the plot, up to about the hour mark, and at about an hour-and-a-half it feels like it has reached a reasonable stopping point in the story... but it's far from the end. I found myself checking the time and wondering "How on earth are they going to keep this going another whole hour?" Well, they keep it going by stringing together more of the same elements that made the first 90 minutes fun: more confrontations and escapes by Captain Jack Sparrow, more sea battles, more sword fights. Only this time, it all feels like it's stretched thin; it's all too clear that the material is being made to work overtime. On top of that, the last twenty minutes or so is completely pointless: instead of stopping at a high point in this action-adventure film, the filmmakers decide to let the action subside (giving me another reason to check my watch) and drag out the trappings of a sentimental ending.

Pirates of the Caribbean is the kind of movie that you have to turn off your critical faculties to enjoy in the first place: there are numerous examples of ridiculously implausible actions and occurrences, not to mention paper-thin characterizations. Some flaws clearly fall into the category of "This makes no sense, but it looks cool, so we'll do it anyway," and others are examples of the filmmakers not really bothering to pay attention to consistency or realism. And as long as the movie is doing its job of fully entertaining us and treating us to swashbuckling fun, it's not too hard to overlook the little flaws... but it gets harder to do that as the film drags on and the action wears thin.

Even leaving aside the fact that it's too long, Pirates of the Caribbean would probably have been a better film if it had focused more squarely on the adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow, rather than shoehorning in the clunky, conventional romance between Elizabeth and Will. The versatile Johnny Depp seems to be having a great time in his role as a pirate, and his performance as the slightly off-kilter captain puts a sparkle in just about every scene that he's in. There are also some hints that the film would have worked better as a more straightforward adventure, sans romantic quest to save the beloved (twice): the casually mentioned backstory of Sparrow and the Black Pearl is more interesting than the entire second half of the actual film, and even the comedic elements have a rather Shakespearian feel, with the two oddball pirates taking on the role of "clowns" in the story. All in all, it's a movie that seems to balance (rather uncomfortably) between being a conventional "Hollywood summer blockbuster" and being an interesting and original movie; the scale tips more toward the bland blockbuster side in the end, but there are enough memorable moments that it's probably worth watching.

The DVD

The three-disc special edition of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is a bit of an odd package. It consists of the already released 2-disc Collector's Edition, packaged along with a separate third DVD. This DVD, labeled "The Lost Disc," is packaged in its own ultra-slim cardboard case.

Video

Whatever flaws Pirates of the Caribbean may have as a film, it does look and sound great. The film appears on DVD in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and has been anamorphically enhanced. The image is colorful or dark and gloomy according to the dictates of the scene, and in either case both colors and shadows are handled very well. The print is clean and clear, with no flaws or noise appearing at all. The only real flaw in the otherwise outstanding transfer is the presence of a moderate amount of edge enhancement. In many scenes it's not particularly evident, but in others it's quite visible. All in all, though, this transfer looks great.

Audio

The sound design for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is outstanding, with a great DTS track as well as a solid Dolby 5.1 option. The DTS offers a superbly immersive audio environment, with excellent use of directional effects laid on top of a crisp, clear, and rich overall soundtrack. The musical score gives a solid musical background to the film as well, and is balanced nicely with the other elements of the track.

Extras

There are two parts to the special features for this release. The two-disc main DVD is exactly the same as the separate Collector's Edition release, while the third, separately packaged disc has new material for this release.

Disc 1

Apart from the film itself, Disc 1 also contains the audio commentary tracks. The first of two full-length commentaries is with director Gore Verbinski and actor Johnny Depp; we also get a full-length commentary with writers Stuart Beattie, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, and Jay Wolpert. Two scene-specific commentaries are included as well: a 17-scene commentary with Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport, and an 11-scene commentary with Jerry Bruckheimer. In both cases, you can select a specific scene or use the "play all" feature. For viewers who really loved the film, there's certainly a lot of interesting material here, but it's a bit much if you just thought the film was mildly entertaining.

Disc 2

The bulk of the special features appear on Disc 2. First on the menu is the best feature: a 38-minute "making of" featurette called "An Epic at Sea." It takes a look at the whole process of making the film and provides some very interesting looks behind the scenes. It's a shame that more of the smaller featurettes weren't woven into this piece to create a longer, more cohesive documentary.

Next is a 20-minute section of "Fly on the Wall" scenes, which are just (literally) peeks behind the scenes for five different scenes in the film. Since there's no commentary or narration, this section is really not very interesting. More behind-the-scenes material appears in the three "Diaries" in the next section. The four-minute photo diary of producer Jerry Bruckheimer isn't particularly interesting, but the 9-minute video diary kept by one of the supporting actors is more informative, as is the 11-minute "diary of a ship" that takes a look at the role of the real ship used as the full-sized Interceptor.

For viewers who are interested in learning more about pirates in general, the "Below Deck" section offers some solid material, though in a rather annoying user interface. The default option is to click around the picture of a ship to select little snippets of factual information about pirates, but a better choice is to select "Scene Index." This displays all the various segments in order and allows you to watch them without fooling around with silly clicking games. Unfortunately, there's no "play all" feature, though.

The 19-minute section of deleted/extended scenes will be of interest to some viewers (but not me! The movie was plenty long enough as is!), as will the "Moonlight Serenade scene progression," a 6-minute segment that shows how the special effects for that scene were done.

For miscellaneous features, we also get a 3-minute blooper reel, an image gallery, and an 18-minute segment of "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" focusing on the then-new "Pirates of the Caribbean" Disneyland ride.

Disc 3

The third disc (labeled "The Lost Disc") doesn't really add a whole lot to the special features. There are no major documentaries here, just an assortment of short featurettes on various aspects of the film. We start out with conversations with the actors. "Becoming Captain Jack" (8 min.) and "Becoming Barbossa" (5 minutes) are interviews with Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush in which they discuss their thoughts on their roles and the film; "The Monkey's Name Is Jack" (4 minutes) introduces us to the capuchin monkey who played Jack, as well as her trainer, who explains some of the challenges involved in working with a monkey actor.

The third disc also includes various short featurettes on other aspects of the making of the film. "Thar She Blows!" is a short (6-minute) look at the making of (and eventual destruction of) the 1/4 model of the Interceptor. "Pirates Around the World" (4 minutes) gives examples of a scene dubbed into several different languages, while three "Fly on the Wall" segments (totaling about 15 minutes) literally look behind the scenes during the "dock," "tavern," and "plank" scenes. This isn't actually all that interesting, since there's no narration to describe what's happening; we just get to see a glimpse of the filmmaking. An animatic sequence for the "Sneak Attack" is also included, running about four minutes.

Lastly, the third disc has two reasonably interesting segments that touch on the inspiration of the film: namely, the Disneyland ride "The Pirates of the Caribbean." First, a seven-minute piece called "The Spirit of the Ride" has the director and various other cast and crew discussing how they drew on the amusement park ride for ideas and general atmosphere for the film; the 14-minute mini-documentary "Dead Men Tell No Tales" (also available in the DVD-ROM content in the two-disc edition) gives a history of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride, complete with lots of behind-the-scenes looks at the animatronic pirates and nostalgia-inducing footage from the ride itself.

Final thoughts

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl seems like a worthwhile adventure story that got away from its creators. If you're willing to turn off your critical faculties and put up with a generous amount of story bloat, there's the skeleton of a fun story hidden underneath the fat. If you haven't seen it already, I'd consider this film to be a good choice as a rental: it lacks the rewatchability to make it worth a purchase, but it's worth seeking out at your local rental store if you're in the mood for a fluffy pirate adventure film.

If you loved the film in the theaters and know that you want to own it, the question is "which edition?" Considering that the 2-disc Collector's Edition and the 3-disc Special Edition retail for the same price, it makes sense to pick up the 3-disc edition, since it's exactly the same as the 2-disc CE plus the extra disc of special features. However, if you already own the 2-disc CE, I wouldn't recommend "upgrading" to the 3-disc set. The additional extras aren't bad, but they're minor stuff compared to what's already on the 2-disc set, and I certainly don't think they're worth a re-purchase.

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