Pirates of the Caribbean

Cursed pirates, a salty hero, a feisty damsel in distress, her handsome rescuer, sea battles, exciting sword duels, breathtaking scenery, what more could you want from a swashbuckling adventure? You get all of that and more in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl,” a rollicking E-Ticket cinema ride that, along with “Finding Nemo,” is one of the best films of the summer to date.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black PearlFilled with the same sense of wonder and exhilaration that came with riding the Disneyland attraction as a child, “Pirates of the Caribbean” incorporates the best of two worlds, old-fashioned pirates movies of yore, combined with state of the art, modern-day sensibilities, to create a wonderfully engaging hybrid that’s guaranteed to please kids of all ages.

Johnny Depp, with his gold-capped teeth, dark-circled eyes and a mange of black hair, is outstanding as Captain Jack Sparrow, the scourge of the Caribbean, so vilified (by both men and women alike) that even his own men shanghaied his ship the Black Pearl and left him to die on a small, deserted islet. Now led by the equally vilified Captain Barbarosa (Geoffrey Rush), the men of the Black Pearl lead a cursed life, sailing the high seas in search of a gold coin that will free them from their wretched existence.

Trouble brews when the coin falls into the hands of Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), the sprite and pretty daughter of seaport Governor Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce). The coin really belongs to handsome blacksmith assistant Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), plucked from the sea as a young boy by Swann after a pirate attack. When Barbarosa learns of the coins existence, he and his crew storm the port, kidnap Elizabeth, and set into motion a daring rescue by Sparrow and Turner that reveals the pirates for what they really are.

Written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, “Pirates of the Caribbean” fuses together broad strokes of heroism and comedy that make the two-hour-and-twenty-minute film breeze by like a ship’s sail in a high wind. The writers waste no time tossing us into the story, creating vivid, likeable heroes, delightfully evil villains, and story arcs that keep us glued to our seats. There’s hidden treasure in every scene, including amazing visual and physical special effects that enchant and frighten us at the same time.

Behind the camera is Gore Verbinski, a director capable of taking the ordinary (“The Mexican,” “Mousetrap”) and making it extraordinary. With the masterful Dariusz Wolski (“Dark City”) as his cinematographer, Verbinski puts us right in the middle of the action. He allows the actors to embody and embellish their characters without going overboard.

Depp constantly amazes me with his range, and he’s absolute as the scalawag Sparrow, whose reputation always precedes him. Bloom steps up to leading man status as the daring and dashing Turner, while the lovely Knightley (“Bend It Like Beckham”) is both funny and appealing. Rush has a pirate’s ball as the damned Barbarosa, delighting in every despicable aspect of his character.

“Pirates of the Caribbean” benefits from authentic, almost larger-than-life production design, sword sharp editing, and a rousing musical score that’s as buoyant as Turner’s indomitable spirit. The writers also pay homage to the amusement park attraction on which the film is based, incorporating several set pieces that will amuse anyone who has taken the plunge. There are also numerous running gags, Sparrow’s past conquests, a wooden eye that won’t stay put, that never wear out their welcome.

The film is rated PG-13 (a first under the Walt Disney banner) for adventure-violence and ghostly images, but they are more fun than frightening. I couldn’t imagine a better way to beat the heat than setting sail with the “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Rated PG-13. 144 Minutes.

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