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Case Number 14517

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Pirates Of The Caribbean Trilogy (Blu-Ray)

Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
2003 // 143 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
2006 // 150 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End
2007 // 169 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Released by Disney
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 15th, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Clark Douglas is disinclined to acquiesce to your request.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (published January 5th, 2004), Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (Blu-Ray) (published May 21st, 2007), Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: Two-Disc Collector's Edition (published December 19th, 2006), Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End (Blu-Ray) (published December 6th, 2007), and Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End: Two-Disc Limited Edition (published December 4th, 2007) are also available.

The Charge

Three times the swash! Three times the buckle! Three times the taglines!

Opening Statement

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.
We pillage, we plunder, we rifle, and loot,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.
We kidnap and ravage and don't give a hoot,
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.
We extort, we pilfer, we filch, and sack,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.
Maraud and embezzle, and even high-jack,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.
We kindle and char, inflame and ignite,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.
We burn up the city, we're really a fright,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.

We're rascals, scoundrels, villans, and knaves,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.
We're devils and black sheep, really bad eggs,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.
We're beggars and blighters, ne'er-do-well cads,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.
Aye, but we're loved by our mommies and dads,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.

Facts of the Case

To give a plot description for all three Pirates of the Caribbean films is a tricky thing. First of all, it's difficult to talk about the second or third film without digging into serious spoiler territory. I will try to avoid ruining anything for those three or four viewers out there who actually haven't seen the films yet. Second, the plotting here is so busy and complex that it would take far more explanation than anyone actually wants to hear. Either you already know the tale that unfolds over the course of these three films, you don't want to know, or you don't want to find out in a review. So, let's simplify things a little bit.

A group of villainous pirates, led by the salty Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, Munich), have been cursed. A long time ago, these pirates made the mistake of stealing some Aztec gold. Guess they didn't read the fine print about the gold being cursed and all. Barbossa's entire crew has now been condemned to suffer until the end of time (or until they return the gold, whichever comes first). Barbossa and his crew travel the world in their trusty ghost ship, The Black Pearl, seeking to find all of the gold and end their misery.

One piece of the gold has fallen into the hands of a young Englishwoman named Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly, Atonement), the daughter of a wealthy and powerful man (Jonathan Pryce, Brazil). She is engaged to be married to Col. Norrington (Jack Davenport, The Libertine), a respectable military man. He may be respectable, and Elizabeth seems to respect him, but she doesn't really love him. Her heart secretly pines for Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, Elizabethtown), a skillful blacksmith that she has known since childhood. Will feels the same way, but is quietly frustrated by the fact that Elizabeth is out of his league.

When the pirates come to town and kidnap Elizabeth, Will jumps into action. He strikes a bargain with Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, Sleepy Hollow), a loopy and rather untrustworthy pirate. Together, this unlikely pair sets out to save the woman of Will's dreams. Jack seems to have his own secret motivations, too. Will can't figure out what Jack is up to, but he doesn't like it. Will is an upstanding guy and isn't too enthusiastic about the thought of teaming up with a bloody pirate. What Will doesn't know is that he's got pirate blood running through his veins, too.

That's just the introduction to the first film. Over the course of this trilogy, these characters will be tossed and turned through a series of increasingly stormy and chaotic screenplays. Along the way, we'll also be joined by such colorful characters as the mysterious Davy Jones (Bill Nighy, Notes on a Scandal), the legendary pirate Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgård, Mamma Mia!), the goofy scoundrels Ragetti (Mackenize Crook, The Office) and Pintel (Lee Arenberg, Dungeons and Dragons), the villainous Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander, Pride and Prejudice), the mystical Tia Dalma (Naomi Harris, Miami Vice), the powerful Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat, Bulletproof Monk), an undead monkey, and Keith Richards!

The Evidence

It's easy to forget that Pirates of the Caribbean is actually based on a popular theme park ride. I would have thought that a film based on a ride would be more or less like a film based on a video game: a thin wisp of an idea padded with enough star power and formulaic plotting to string together a movie designed to make a quick buck. Somehow, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise managed to defy all expectations and create a series of memorable, entertaining popcorn movies. All three of these films represent a grand old time at the movies, and I had fun revisiting them.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl is perhaps the only film that everybody can agree on. It started the franchise on a pleasant and entertaining note, and I have only spoken to one person who didn't particularly care for it. It's crowd-pleasing fun. Though it may be tempting to think of the film as a formulaic blockbuster at the moment, it was actually quite a gamble when it was released. Pirate movies haven't exactly had a great track record at the box office in recent years (Cutthroat Island, anyone?), much less a pirate movie based on a ride. Additionally, Johnny Depp was something of a risky choice for a summer blockbuster. Though he adorns the covers of oh-so-many magazines these days, he was not exactly your standard movie star when he first took on the role of Captain Jack Sparrow.

Every risk taken paid off. Depp's performance was nothing short of a revelation, and Captain Jack quickly became one of the most memorable and iconic recent cinematic characters. Watching Depp is pure pleasure, as he tosses the attributes of Keith Richards, Captain Ron, and a drunken prostitute into this saucy fellow. His off-kilter performance is complemented quite nicely by Geoffrey Rush's excellent turn as Barbossa. Rush plays up the traditional "Argh, matey!" pirate stereotype to the hilt, and he does a terrific job of it. Our young stars, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly, would both improve greatly over the course of the series. However, both seem a little bland and unsure of themselves in this first outing.

Though everyone (myself included) liked Curse of the Black Pearl, fans were split on Dead Man's Chest. The movie is a bit larger in scale than its predecessor, and certainly a bit more adventurous in terms of tone. On one hand, the movie is darker than the first, but it also has an increased appetite for cheerfully entertaining slapstick humor. Personally, I find the film to be tremendous fun. The dramatic portions are even more compelling than those in the first film, the comic portions even funnier, and the special effects even better-executed.

Davy Jones is a particularly strong addition to the cast of characters and is played superbly by actor Bill Nighy (with a solid assist from the make-up and VFX artists). Nighy is simultaneously scary and sympathetic. The movie doesn't go overboard in trying to make a villain with touching motivations (think of Sandman in Spider-Man 3), but there's something in Nighy's eyes that suggests deep pain. It takes a lot of skill to silently convey as much as Nighy does here. The Davy Jones scenes are among the best in the film. A side note: does anyone else absolutely love that super-cool Captain Nemo-inspired shot of Davy Jones playing the organ with his beard tentacles?

For me, there are two scenes in the film that stand out as joyful highlights. Both are Keaton-esque comic set pieces that are executed with great skill by director Gore Verbinski, surpassing the director's better moments in Mouse Hunt. The first scene cuts back and forth between a group of prisoners attempting to escape from a circular cage and a very inconvenienced Jack Sparrow attempting to escape from a group of angry cannibals. The second involves a three-way swordfight which takes place on, in, and around a large rolling wheel. These superbly-staged action scenes trump the usual car chases and explosions any day of the week, as far as I'm concerned.

Those two scenes would be reason enough to check out the film, but there are plenty of noteworthy attributes here. There's some interesting political elements brought into play courtesy of Lord Cutler Beckett and the East India Trading Company. This could have easily slipped into bland Star War Episode II: Attack of the Clones territory, but it's interesting and well-presented here. Additionally, I found the romantic complexities brought into this film to be lots of fun. Elizabeth's sudden crush on Captain Jack irritated a few romantics out there, but you have to admit that Depp and Knightly create a whole lot more sparks together than Knightly does with Bloom.

At World's End is the final film of the trilogy, and my own personal favorite. It's the biggest and the best of the bunch, a truly epic film that's surprisingly inventive and experimental. Director Gore Verbinski permits himself the chance to go crazy and take some wild chances here, probably just because he could. The first two films were so successful that the third one couldn't fail at the box office no matter what Verbinski, Bruckheimer, Rossio, and Elliot served up. What we get is a sequel that serves very well as the conclusion to the story set up in the previous two installments, yet also manages to set its own unique tone.

I know I mentioned that the second film was darker than the first. Well, the third film is darker than the second. How many mainstream PG-13 blockbusters have you seen that opened with the hanging of hundreds of men, women, and children? The humor here frequently leans toward the grotesque, too. For instance, a man suffering in freezing cold weather reaches down to grab his foot and accidentally snaps his toe off. Sure, all of the movies have indulged in this sort of thing, but it seems a little more sinister and wicked this time around.

I'm not a big fan of special effects for the sake of special effects, but special effects in service of a strong story can be quite exciting. Quite honestly, At World's End contains some of the strongest CGI effects I have ever seen in a motion picture. The raging sea battle presented during the final act is nothing short of thrilling. We've seen effects nearly as good before in spectacle-driven affairs like The Perfect Storm and The Day After Tomorrow, but rarely have they been attached to a popcorn movie as good as this one.

At World's End takes a little while to get cooking, but once the ball starts rolling it never stops. Perhaps predictably, the film really starts to come to life once Jack Sparrow is re-introduced (a few minutes after the half-hour mark). Verbinski's whacked-out "Multiple Jacks" sequence is just tremendous, a visual marriage of Terry Gilliam and Werner Herzog. This film permits Jack Sparrow to get as weird and strange as his physical mannerisms, which is a rather positive thing. The strange aftertaste of the "Multiple Jacks" scene lingers through the entire movie, giving everything an air of strange unpredictability. Consider the scene about fifty minutes in where the ghost of a certain character turns up to inform us that he is dead. That scene would have felt startling and out of place in one of the other two films, but here it just blends right in.

There are a lot of treats here: The scene in which Jack and his crew rock the boat. Verbinski's visual tribute to Sergio Leone (with a great nod to Ennio Morricone courtesy of Hans Zimmer on the musical end). The increasingly complicated character motivations and alliances that make most David Mamet characters seem relatively straightforward. The particularly chaotic marriage ceremony. The weather-beaten Keith Richards turning in a spot-on cameo. Elizabeth's completion of her transformation from eye candy side item to full-blown action hero. The film's willingness to dispense of major characters without blinking. Yeah, this is a good one, kids. I can understand why some dislike the film, claiming that it lacks the good-natured fun of the first outing. There's nothing wrong with good-natured fun, but I feel that what we get in At World's End is even better.

In terms of transfers and extras, don't expect anything new here. If you're a diehard Pirates fan who has already bought the films in hi-def, you don't need to worry about picking up this box set. All the contents are exactly the same; the original releases have simply been placed in a modest cardboard box. I'm actually not too crazy about the design on the box. Personally, I'd love some kind of epic artwork stuffed with all the major characters. Instead, we get an endless supply of Jack Sparrow worship. Three different pictures of Johnny Depp are on the front of the box. No Keira Knightly, no Orlando Bloom. Guess they're on the back. Oh, wait…three are three more pictures of Johnny Depp on the back of the back. Each case also includes a picture of Depp on the spine. I understand that Depp is far and away the most popular thing about these films (and justly so), but these movies are ensemble pieces, and I wish the art reflected that.

All that said, these releases score pretty well in terms of transfers, sound, and supplements. The movies look terrific in hi-def, with Dead Man's Chest probably being the highlight of the bunch. The first two films are a little more colorful visually than the final effort, and as such seem to stand out a little more from a visual standpoint. In terms of audio, all three knock it out of the park, with At World's End being particularly jaw-dropping. If you're an audiophile, I think you'll be very pleased with the work done here. Sound is complex, immersive, aggressive, and engaging in all three films. There's a terrific balance between the dialogue, the busy sound design, and Hans Zimmer's rousing music.

The features have been discussed in depth in other reviews on the site, so I won't address all of them here. However, I will say that all of these films are given a pretty generous batch of supplements. The best mix of quantity and quality can probably be found accompanying Dead Man's Chest, which has a terrific commentary track and a superb in-depth documentary among its highlights. Curse of the Black Pearl provides just as much in terms of quantity, and a lot of the stuff is good, but the Dead Man's Chest supplements are typically more informative and engaging. At World's End is the lightest on special features, and occasionally tends to slip into EPK territory, but it still fares better than average.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Though Curse of the Black Pearl is the shortest film of the series (a scant 143 minutes), I think it's the only film that runs a little bit longer than it needs to. The film starts to lose a bit of steam as it heads into the third act, and could have been a generally more thrilling experience if some of the fat had been trimmed a little bit. Keep in mind, the first film has the least complex plot of the three films, and as such doesn't need quite as much time to explain and develop everything.

Though I greatly enjoy Hans Zimmer's two outings on Dead Man's Chest and At World's End (particularly the latter), I'm disappointed by large chunks of Klaus Badelt's effort on the first film. Actually, it's not fair to blame Badelt. Zimmer wrote most of the themes for the score himself, but couldn't take credit for legal reasons (see the link to an interview with Zimmer for more details). The themes aren't really the problem, it's the orchestration. The music here far too often relies on cheap synthesizers, and sounds surprisingly low-budget at times for a huge blockbuster like this. In addition, the score rips liberally from previous Zimmer efforts such as The Rock and Crimson Tide. It's a poorly executed effort. I imagine that the fact that the score was a rush job is largely responsible (Zimmer and friends had to replace a score by Alan Silvestri, which was thrown out by Bruckheimer), but it's still disappointing.

Dead Man's Chest suffers occasionally from the unfortunate "sequelitis" disease, in which many lines and moments from the first film are reprised in cutesy ways. It gets kind of annoying after a while. Fortunately, the plot and characters chart a brand new course the second time around, but screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio should avoided the temptation to try and recreate old jokes. It's a wearisome attempt at making viewers feel like they're in familiar territory. My only other problem with Dead Man's Chest is that the Kraken attacks aren't really that interesting. Sure, the creature is an intimidating threat, but it shows up a little too often, and doesn't seem so threatening anymore by the final act.

As much as I enjoy At World's End, I will say that it short-changes a few characters. Davy Jones, such a fascinating character in this film and the previous one, disappears rather unceremoniously. Tia Dalma's exit is just plain embarrassing. In a film loaded with top-flight visual effects, her final scene features CGI so bad it made me cringe. Oh, and that little cookie that appears after the credits doesn't really work for me.

Closing Statement

The Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy is a great ride. The films look and sound terrific in Blu-ray, so if you haven't picked up the films in hi-def yet, this slightly discounted box set (you can find it for about $60 at Amazon and elsewhere) is probably the way to go.

The Verdict

Not guilty. Mmmm, I'm in the mood for an apple.

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Scales of Justice, Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl

Video: 99
Audio: 100
Extras: 90
Acting: 90
Story: 90
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile, Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl

Studio: Disney
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
• PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
• English (SDH)
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 143 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks, Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl

• Commentary w/Johnny Depp & Gore Verbinski
• Commentary w/Keira Knightly & Jack Davenport
• Commentary w/Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie & Jay Wolpert
• Scoundrels of the Sea interactive feature
• "An Epic at Sea: The Making of Pirates"
• "Bloopers of the Caribbean"
• Below Deck: An Interactive History of Pirates
• Deleted and Alternate Scenes

Scales of Justice, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Video: 100
Audio: 100
Extras: 100
Acting: 95
Story: 90
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Studio: Disney
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
• PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
• English (SDH)
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 150 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

• Commentary w/Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio
• Liar's Dice game
• "Bloopers of the Caribbean"
• "Charting the Return"
• "According to Plan: The Harrowing and True Story of Dead Man's Chest"
• "Captain Jack: From Head to Toe"
• "Mastering the Blade"
• "Meet Davy Jones: Anatomy of a Legend"
• "Creating the Kraken"
• "Dead Men Tell No Tale: Re-Imagining the Kraken"
• "Fly on the Set: The Bone Cage"
• "Pirates on Main Street: The Dead Man's Chest Premiere"
• Jerry Bruckheimer: A Producer's Photo Diary

Scales of Justice, Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End

Video: 90
Audio: 100
Extras: 85
Acting: 98
Story: 96
Judgment: 97

Perp Profile, Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End

Studio: Disney
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
• PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
• English (SDH)
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 169 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks, Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End

• Enter the Maelstrom interactive feature
• "Bloopers of the Caribbean"
• "Keith & the Captain: On the Set with Johnny and the Rock Legend"
• "Anatomy of a Scene: The Maelstrom"
• "The Tale of Many Jacks"
• "Hoist the Colors"
• "Masters of Design"
• "Inside the Brethren Court"
• "The World of Chow Yun-Fat"
• "The Pirate Maestro: The Music of Hans Zimmer"

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