Saturday, September 25, 2010
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl: A Retrospective Critique
I can say with nostalgic affection that I was at my movie-watching peak during my high-school years. From 2001-2005, practically my entire existence was spent at the local multiplex. As was/is common with many adolescents, my parents’ residence didn’t necessarily feel like home… I sought refuge in unconventional sanctuaries. Apart from merely being exposed to more motion pictures, I developed a love for the movies by identifying my own paradigm for criticism. I was determined, from a young age, not to become a film snob. I was determined to rate/critique/comment on films from a ground-level, far away from the ivory towers which produced so many of the pompous critics I abhorred. This blog entry is an extension of that philosophy.
“How good can a movie based on a Disneyland ride be?” This was the question that raced through my mind as I sat in ambivalence for Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. As much as I had been developing a close connection with “Disney culture,” a big-budget, live-action Pirates film seemed bizarrely out-of-sorts. I not only underestimated Disney’s potential to operate on the action film front, I was downright dismissive. Boy oh boy, was I wrong.
I am inclined to think that many of you are quick to dismiss this film (and the proceeding franchise) based on the fanfare it has received since its opening. Truth be told, I know how that feels. Human beings seem to have impulsive tendencies to be contrarians, or at least try to be. Trust me when I say that I have myself had to fight the urge to be standoffish toward this film, and others like it. The fact of the matter is that I have been able to admire this movie for everything it tried to be – bombastic fun.
Let’s begin with the movie’s most notable contribution, Captain Jack Sparrow. Although more reminiscent of an inebriated Keith Richards, Jack Sparrow reconceptualized the pirate in a way suitable for the overall tone of the film that introduced him. As a protagonist, Jack Sparrow contributes a certain lightheartedness that makes the film re-watchable. I remember being present in a room of dismayed film buffs as Johnny Depp won the Screen Actors Guild award for this performance. The looks on their faces clued me into something… this role was not supposed to be respected in the same way that are other “award” winning ones. Nevertheless, Depp’s award that night affirmed in my mind that the film (and maybe more importantly, the character) struck a chord with viewers.
It is not just the introduction of the Jack Sparrow character that makes Pirates notable or memorable. It could be argued that the film’s score/soundtrack is even more memorable than the lead character. I dare anyone to hear a snippet from “He’s a Pirate” and not feel at least somewhat uplifted at the shear power and excitement the tune produces. The film’s music is just the kind of “pop orchestration” needed to compliment its exciting and enticing narrative. Factor in the production quality and compelling storyline, and you’ve got yourself a big-budget Hollywood film worthy of praise from film lovers across the board.
I have quite frequently proclaimed that Pirates is the “most fun movie of the last decade.” Some of my friends have, quite fairly, criticized such a statement. Their criticisms are valid (and noted), because it is difficult to operationalize a word like “fun.” It means so many different things to so many different people. Nevertheless, I feel completely comfortable and justified in my pronouncement. So, what do I mean by “fun?” Allow me to “tackle” this question with some questions of my own…
… have you ever left a movie with a smile on your face that would not seem to go away? Have you ever felt somber tears run down your face during times of joy? Have your initial perceptions ever been countered to the point that you feel you’ve made some evaluative mistake? I can unequivocally answer “yes” to these questions.
As strongly as I feel regarding the first Pirates film, I feel equally emphatic regarding the shortcomings of the second and third. My apologies to those who disagree with me, but I simply cannot stand behind the latter two films in the way I stand behind the first… or in any way, for that matter. Whether this is due to my “inflated” opinion of the first film is a discussion for another occasion. What is meant by this post is to convey an opinion for a “type” of film that I generally don’t hold in such high esteem. My track record of film recommendations should point to the notion that I am highly selective in the sorts of films I enthusiastically recommend. For all intents and purposes, a film like Pirates does not usually get “Brent’s thumb up.” This film must be special.
Truthfully, I do feel that this film is special. As a film “buff” and as a “Disneyac,” I regard Pirates with sincere admiration and adoration. I call it the most fun movie of the decade because of the way it made me feel when I saw it in theaters back in 2001, as well as for the way it makes me feel when I watch it today. I love this film in the same way I love a sudden cool breeze or the sound of a cork zipping out of a wine bottle. I’ll never experience it again without feeling that special something… for better or worse.