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Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace

Does the original trilogy justice in terms of heart, action, and fun —Marty Mapes (review...)

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Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is a good old-fashioned crowd-pleaser that offers plenty of humor with its swash and buckle.

Like a Rolling Stone

Verbinski uses the special effects without flaunting them
Verbinski uses the special effects without flaunting them

 Pirates of the Caribbean DVD
Worthwhile supplemental materials fill out 2-disc set
Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands) is a mess of a pirate, a ship-less captain who fell victim to a mutiny, only to be rescued off a desert island by a band of rum-runners. Leave it to Depp to take that bit of back story and base the drunken swagger and slurred speech of Captain Jack on the walking, talking skeleton from the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards.

Depp is a one-of-a-kind actor who places interesting characters ahead of box office perks. In this case, he gets both in spades and, as a bonus, Captain Jack gets one of the best character introductions seen in years.

Jack stumbles from one situation to the next as he searches for one opportunity after another to get back to his ship, the Black Pearl. At the same time, there’s a straight-laced, Errol Flynn-type, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, Black Hawk Down), who makes it his mission to save the damsel in distress, the governor’s daughter, Elizabeth (Keira Knightley, Bend It Like Beckham).

A Motley Crew

Alas, the Black Pearl is under the menacing lead of Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, Frida) and his cursed crew is motley indeed. In an ironic twist of fate, they must return their plunder to its resting place in order to lift the curse.

That might sound easy, but with the dynamic trio of Jack, Will, and Elizabeth at various times holding the key to relieving the curse, things get a little complicated.

Just as Raiders of the Lost Ark breathed new life into the Saturday matinees of yore, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl takes a genre left to rot and, with the help of a game cast, a nifty story, gorgeous photography, and exceptional special effects, turns out a solid piece of popular entertainment.

At a time when Hollywood is quick to plunder its own treasures and turns out not only one but two sequels in a series in a matter of months (via The Matrix), it’s stunning that a decades old amusement park ride would provide the initial inspiration for one of the year’s best surprises. Thanks to snappy dialogue from a team of writers that includes some of the talent behind Shrek and a great score that keeps things in turns lively and menacing, Pirates of the Caribbean is a modern-day popcorn classic.

DVD Extras

The two-disc set offers an excellent and comprehensive look at the film’s production with some very worthwhile supplemental materials, along with almost too much coverage of the film’s inspiration, the theme park ride at Disneyland.

On board are four separate commentary tracks. While the running commentary with Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp is amazing, it is amazing only to the amazing extent the duo use the word “amazing.” At the other extreme, the running commentary from the film’s writers (Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, and Jay Wolpert) is among the best yet recorded. They offer insightful details into the creative process and logic used in developing the film’s story and they even spell out the Writer’s Guild process for determining the film’s final writing credits.

The other two commentaries are during selected scenes only, but their “play all” option conveniently jumps from scene to scene. Jerry Bruckheimer offers a cut-to-the-chase rundown of production facts during his commentary while Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport offer the set’s most entertaining, if not always informative, observations. For her part, Knightley in particular proves herself to be a deft comedienne.

Virtually every aspect of the film’s making is documented in the supplements, which in addition to the commentaries offer the following:

  • Three production diaries, with stories told from the point of view of Bruckheimer, one of the pirate actors, and the journey of one of the ships from California to St. Vincent. As a whole, they prove that even in this modern age filmmaking itself can still be an adventure.
  • “An Epic at Sea” is a solid 38-minute documentary on the film’s making, from start to premiere.
  • “Below Deck” is a very well-done interactive piece that offers an educational look at the history of pirates.
  • The “Moonlight Serenade” scene progression is an informative featurette on the making of the film’s eeriest sequence.
  • “Fly on the Set” is a collection of raw behind-the-scenes footage.
  • Uncle Walt himself makes an appearance in an excerpt from Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, showing Walt as both showman and salesman as he promotes his latest theme park attraction.
  • Also included is a trove of deleted and alternate scenes and a blooper reel, but they contain nothing of much significance, as well as an image gallery of production stills.
  • The set also carries a treasure chest of “Enhanced Computer Features,” Disney’s new, and somewhat redundant, term for DVD-ROM extras:
  • The ScriptScanner allows viewers to watch the film alongside the screenplay, and with the Storyboard Viewer, to analyze the movie alongside 229 storyboards.
  • The theme park ride gets more than its share of attention with a virtual reality tour via 360° spin-cam stills from the various vignettes, a detailed documentary on the ride’s history in “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” and an additional image gallery covering everything from the early sketches to the final puppets.
  • The “Moonlight Becomes Ye” Effects Studio offers users the opportunity to turn a personal portrait into a ghoulish rendition.

    Picture and Sound

    The film (in widescreen 2.35:1 enhanced for 16x9 televisions) is presented in THX-certified Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 Surround Sound. Over all, both the picture and sound are immaculate.

    Also available are a French language soundtrack and French subtitles as well as English captions.


    Just in time for Christmas, 2004, Disney is releasing a special-edition set which has a third disc packaged with the original two-disc set. Billed as “The Lost Disc,” it contains more special features, and smacks of overkill. Two featurettes cover the creation of the characters of Captain Jack and Barbossa by Depp and Rush. There’s even a four-minute short about the two monkeys who played Barbossa’s malevolent pet. “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” an enhanced computer feature on disc two, is also on the new disc, now viewable on a DVD player.

    This new disc adds very little to the material on the original set. Although the three-disc set is currently selling for the same price as the two-disc set, it’s not worth the lost shelf space.