Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is a 2003
adventure film, based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney theme
parks. The story follows pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and
blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) as they rescue the kidnapped Elizabeth
Swann (Keira Knightley) from the cursed crew of the Black Pearl, captained by
Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). The film was directed by Gore Verbinski and
produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, and became the first Walt Disney Pictures release
to earn a PG-13 rating by the MPAA (all previous WDP releases were rated G or
The world premiere was held at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, on June
28, 2003. The Curse of the Black Pearl was an unexpected success, with
positive reviews and grossing over $654 million worldwide. The film became the
first in a series, with two back-to-back sequels,
Dead Man's Chest and
At World's End, released. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards,
including Best Actor for Depp.
As Governor Weatherby Swann and his
twelve-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, sail to Port Royal, Jamaica, their vessel,
HMS Dauntless encounters a shipwreck with a sole survivor, the young Will
Turner, floating among the wreckage. Elizabeth finds and hides a gold medallion
she found around the unconscious Will's neck, fearing he would be accused of
piracy. She then glimpses a ghostly pirate ship (the Black Pearl), disappearing
into the mist.
Eight years later, Captain James Norrington of the British Royal Navy is
promoted to Commodore. At his ceremony, he proposes to Elizabeth. Before she is
able to answer, her corset causes her to faint and fall off the rampart,
tumbling into the bay. The medallion she is wearing emits a mysterious pulse
through the water.
Meanwhile, pirate Captain Jack Sparrow has arrived in Port Royal to commandeer a
ship. Seeing Elizabeth fall, he rescues her, but is promptly arrested for
piracy. He escapes and ducks into a blacksmith shop where he encounters Will
Turner, now a blacksmith's apprentice and self-taught expert swordsman.
Following a swordfight with Turner, Sparrow is knocked unconscious and jailed,
set to be hanged the next day. That night, Port Royal is besieged by the Pearl,
answering the medallion's mysterious call. Elizabeth is captured and invokes
parley— an agreement ensuring one's safety until meeting and negotiating with
the opposing side. Not wishing to reveal that she's the Governor's daughter,
Elizabeth tells Captain Barbossa her surname is Turner. She negotiates for the
pirates to cease the attack on Port Royal in exchange for the medallion.
Barbossa agrees but, employing a loophole in their agreement, keeps Elizabeth
prisoner, believing she is the key to breaking an ancient curse they are under.
When Commodore Norrington refuses to take immediate action, Will, who loves
Elizabeth, persuades Captain Jack Sparrow to help him rescue her in exchange for
freeing him from jail. Jack agrees only after learning Will's last name is
Turner. After commandeering the HMS Interceptor Jack and Will recruit a crew in
Tortuga with help from Jack's old friend, Gibbs, a former boatswain in the Royal
Navy. They set sail for Isla de Muerta, a mysterious island Jack knows the
pirates will go to in order to break the curse.
While en route, Will learns about Jack's past. He was once the captain of the
Pearl, but when he shared the bearings to a hidden chest of Aztec gold coins,
First Mate Barbossa instigated a mutiny and marooned Jack on an island. Jack
escaped three days later. The pirates found and spent the treasure, but soon
learned it was cursed—turning them into near-immortal skeletal beings whose true
forms are only revealed in moonlight (a way to kill them is found later, when a
cursed crewmember has a bomb shoved into their chest and is pushed out of the
moonlight). The curse can only be lifted when every coin and each pirate's blood
is returned to the chest. William "Bootstrap Bill" Turner, Jack's only
supporter, sent a coin to his son, Will, believing the crew should remain cursed
for what they did to Jack. Barbossa had Bootstrap tied to a cannon and thrown
overboard, only to realize later that his blood is also needed to break the
curse; a Turner relative must now take his place.
In a cave full of treasure on Isla de Muerta, Barbossa, believing Elizabeth is
Bootstrap's child, anoints the last coin with her blood and drops it into the
chest—unsurprisingly, the curse remains unbroken.
Reaching the island, Will suspects Sparrow may betray him and knocks him out. He
rescues Elizabeth, and they escape to the Interceptor. Jack barters with
Barbossa—he will reveal Bootstrap's real child in exchange for the Pearl. Jack's
negotiations come to naught, however, when the Pearl pursues the Interceptor,
sinking her and taking the crew captive. Will reveals that he is Bootstrap
Bill's son and demands that Elizabeth and the crew be freed, or he will shoot
himself and fall overboard, lost forever. Barbossa agrees but craftily applies
another loophole and maroons Elizabeth and Jack on a deserted island (the same
island Jack was on ten years before) and throws Jack's crew into the brig. Will
is taken to Isla de Muerta for the ritual. On the island, Elizabeth discovers
the truth behind how Jack really got off the island. The island that Jack was
imprisoned on was used as a cache by rum runners, who are long since out of
Elizabeth burns an abandoned cache of rum to create a signal fire that is
spotted by Norrington. She convinces Norrington to rescue Will by accepting his
earlier marriage proposal. Returning to Isla de Muerta, Norrington sets an
ambush outside the cave while Jack goes inside and persuades Barbossa to form an
alliance. He tells him to delay breaking the curse until after they have taken
the Dauntless and killed the crew. Jack then removes a coin from the chest,
rendering himself immortal. But whatever Jack's actual intent is, his plan goes
awry when Barbossa orders his crew to infiltrate the Dauntless from underwater.
Jack tosses his bloodied coin to Will, who returns the last two medallions to
the chest, breaking the curse. Jack's true allegiance is revealed when he
attacks and then shoots Barbossa. No longer immortal, the wounded Barbossa falls
dead. Realizing they are no longer cursed, the now-mortal pirates surrender to
Back in Port Royal, Jack is about to be executed. Believing Jack deserves to
live, Will rescues him. Both are quickly captured, but Elizabeth lends her
support and declares her love for Will. Norrington releases her from their
engagement, and Will is pardoned. Jack escapes by inadvertently falling from the
fort and into the bay. His crew, who escaped with the Pearl, rescues him.
Norrington is impressed enough to allow him one day's head start before giving
After the credits, Jack the monkey swims back to the treasure chest, near
Barbossa's dead body, and steals a gold coin. The camera shows his skeleton
body, and Jack jumps at the screen, which blacks out.
- Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow:
An eccentric pirate noted for a slightly drunken swagger, accompanied by
slurred speech and awkwardly flailing hand gestures. His obsession for rum is
only matched by his obsession with regaining the Black Pearl, which he
captained ten years before. Jack uses his wits rather than weapons, and has
gained a reputation with made up stories of how he escaped from the deserted
island he was put on. The actor found the script quirky: rather than trying to
find treasure, the crew of the Black Pearl were trying to return it in order
to lift their curse; also, the traditional mutiny had already taken place.
Initially Sparrow was, according to Bruckheimer, "a young Burt Lancaster, just
the cocky pirate." At the first read-through, Depp surprised the rest of the
cast and crew by portraying the character in an off-kilter manner. After
researching 18th century pirates, Depp compared them to modern rock stars and
decided to base his performance on Keith Richards. Although Verbinski and
Bruckheimer had confidence in Depp, partly because it would be Bloom who was
playing the traditional Errol Flynn-type, Disney executives were confused,
asking Depp whether the character was drunk or gay, and Michael Eisner even
proclaimed while watching rushes, "He's ruining the film!" Depp answered back,
"Look, these are the choices I made. You know my work. So either trust me or
give me the boot."
- Orlando Bloom as Will Turner: A
blacksmith's apprentice working in Port Royal, he is in love with Elizabeth
Swann. Will struggles with the fact his father, "Bootstrap" Bill, was a
pirate, unable to reconcile that he was a good man too. Bloom read the script
after Geoffrey Rush, whom he was working with on Ned Kelly, suggested it to
- Keira Knightley as Elizabeth
Swann: The daughter of Governor Weatherby Swann, Elizabeth has been fascinated
with pirates since childhood. During the Black Pearl's attack on Port Royal,
she gives her name as Turner and is mistaken for "Bootstrap" Bill's child. She
also is in love with Will Turner. Elizabeth abandons the "damsel in distress"
image and in time her personality changes to that of a noble pirate. Knightley
came as a surprise to Verbinski: he had not seen her performance in Bend It
Like Beckham and was impressed by her audition.
- Geoffrey Rush as Captain
Barbossa: The captain of the Black Pearl, he was Captain Jack Sparrow's first
mate before he led a mutiny ten years before. He and his crew stole cursed
Aztec gold, for which they walk the Earth forever. He has a love of green
apples and his monkey Jack, which never leaves his side. Verbinski approached
Rush for the role of Barbossa, as he knew he would not play it with attempts
at complexity, but with a simple villainy that would suit the story's tone.
- Jack Davenport as Commodore
Norrington: An officer in the Royal Navy who is in love with Elizabeth, and
also has a deep-seated dislike for pirates. He considers Jack Sparrow to be,
"the worst pirate I have ever heard of".
- Jonathan Pryce as Governor Weatherby
Swann: Governor of Port Royal, Jamaica and father of Elizabeth Swann. Tom
Wilkinson was negotiated with to play the part, but the role went to Pryce,
whom Depp idolized.
- Lee Arenberg as Pintel: A pirate
aboard the Black Pearl. He and Ragetti dress up as women to provide the
distraction that allows the cursed pirates to board the Dauntless near the end
of the movie. He and Ragetti provide the majority of the comic relief for the
pirate side of the story.
- Mackenzie Crook as Ragetti: A pirate
aboard the Black Pearl, Pintel's buddy, with a wooden eye that never seems to
stay in place.
- Kevin McNally as Joshamee Gibbs: Jack
Sparrow's friend and first mate, he was once a sailor for the Royal Navy. He
is usually the one who tells the legends of Jack Sparrow.
- Zoe Saldana as Anamaria: A female
pirate furious with Jack Sparrow for stealing her boat. He promises her the
Interceptor in an attempt to assuage her anger.
During the early 1990s, screenwriters Ted
Elliott and Terry Rossio began to think of a supernatural spin on the pirate
genre. Disney had Jay Wolpert write a script based on the ride in 2001, which
was based on a story created by the executives Brigham Taylor, Michael Haynes
and Josh Harmon. This story featured Will Turner as a prison guard who releases
Sparrow to rescue Elizabeth, who is being held for ransom money by Captain
Blackheart. The studio was unsure whether to release the film in theaters or
direct to video. The studio was interested in Matthew McConaughey as Sparrow
because of his resemblance to Burt Lancaster, who had inspired that script's
interpretation of the character. If they chose to release it direct to video,
Christopher Walken or Cary Elwes would have been their first choices. Stuart
Beattie was brought in to rewrite the script in March 2002, because of his
knowledge of piracy.
When Dick Cook managed to convince producer Jerry Bruckheimer to join the
project, he rejected the script because it was "a straight pirate movie". Later
in March 2002, he brought Elliott and Rossio, who suggested making a
supernatural curse – as described in the opening narration of the ride – the
film's plot. In May 2002 Gore Verbinski signed on to direct Pirates of the
Caribbean. He was attracted to the idea of using modern technology to resurrect
a genre that had disappeared after the Golden Age of Hollywood, and recalled his
childhood memories of the ride, feeling the film was an opportunity to pay
tribute to the "scary and funny" tone of it.
Although Cook had been a strong proponent of adapting Disney's rides into films,
the box office failure of The Country Bears made Michael Eisner attempt to shut
down production of Pirates of the Caribbean. However, Verbinski told his concept
artists to keep working on the picture and when Eisner came to visit, the
executive was astonished by what had been created. As recalled in the book
DisneyWar, Eisner pondered "Why does it have to cost so much?" Bruckheimer
replied, "Your competition is spending $150 million," noting franchises like
The Lord of the Rings and
Matrix. Eisner concurred, but with the stigma attached to theme park
adaptations, Eisner requested Verbinski and Bruckheimer remove some of the more
overt references to the ride in the script, such as a scene where Sparrow and
Turner enter the cave via a waterfall.
Verbinski did not want an entirely romanticized
feel to the film: he wanted a sense of historical fantasy. Most of the actors
wore prosthetics and contact lenses. Depp had contacts that acted as sunglasses,
while Rush and Lee Arenberg wore dulled contacts that gave a sinister feel to
the characters. Mackenzie Crook wore two contacts to represent his character's
wooden eye: a soft version, and a harder version for when it protrudes. In
addition, their rotten teeth and scurvy skin were dyed on, although Depp did
have gold teeth added, which he forgot to remove after filming. Depp also used a
genuine pistol which was made in 1760 in London, which the crew bought from a
dealer in Connecticut. The crew spent five months creating the cavern in which
Barbossa and the Black Pearl crew attempt to reverse their curse, filling it
with five feet of water, eight hundred and eighty-two Aztec coins and some gold
paint on the styrofoam rocks for more impressions of treasure. The crew also
built the fortress at Port Royal in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, and
Governor Swann's palace was built at Manhattan Beach. A fire broke in September
2002, causing $525,000 worth of damage, though no one was injured.
The filmmakers chose St. Vincent as their primary shooting location, as it was
the quietest beach they could find, and built three piers and a backlot for Port
Royal and Tortuga. Of most importance to the film were the three ships: the
Black Pearl, the Dauntless and the Interceptor. For budget reasons, the ships
were built on docks, with only six days spent in the open sea for the battle
between the Black Pearl and the Interceptor. The Dauntless and the Black Pearl
were built on barges, with computer-generated imagery finishing the structures.
The Black Pearl was also built on the Spruce Goose stage, in order to control
fog and lighting. The Interceptor was a re-dressed Lady Washington, a functional
sailing ship from Seattle, fully repainted before going on a 40-day voyage
beginning December 2, 2002, arriving on location on January 12, 2003. A
miniature was also built for the storm sequence.
Shooting began on October 9, 2002 and wrapped
by March 2003. The quick shoot was only marred by two accidents: as Jack Sparrow
steals the Interceptor, three of the ropes attaching it to the Dauntless did not
break at first, and when they did snap debris hit Depp's knee, though he was not
injured, and the way the incident played out on film made it look like Sparrow
merely ducks. A more humorous accident was when the boat Sparrow was supposed to
arrive in at Port Royal sank. In October the crew was shooting scenes at Rancho
Palos Verdes, by December they were shooting at Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
and in January they were at the cavern set at Los Angeles. The script often
changed with Elliott and Rossio on set, with additions such as Gibbs (Kevin
McNally) telling Will how Sparrow escaped from an island, strapping two turtles
together with rope made of his back hair, and Pryce was written into the
climactic battle to keep some empathy for the audience.
Because of the quick schedule of the shoot, Industrial Light & Magic immediately
began visual effects work. While the skeletal forms of the pirates revealed by
moonlight take up relatively little screentime, the crew knew their
computer-generated forms had to convince in terms of replicating performances
and characteristics of the actors, or else the transition would not work. Each
scene featuring them was shot twice: a reference plate with the actors, and then
without them to add in the skeletons, an aesthetic complicated by Verbinski's
decision to shoot the battles with handheld cameras. The actors also had to
perform their scenes again on the motion capture stage. With the shoot only
wrapping up four months before release, Verbinski spent eighteen-hour days on
the edit, while at the same time spending time on 600 effects shots, 250 of
which were merely removing modern sailboats from shots. He also had to quickly
manage the score with Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer, who headed 15 composers to
finish the score quickly. Alan Silvestri, who had collaborated with Verbinski on
Mouse Hunt and The Mexican, was set to compose the score, but Bruckheimer
decided to go with Zimmer's team as he felt more comfortable with them, and
Silvestri respectfully left the production before he recorded anything.
Before its release, many journalists had expected Pirates of the Caribbean
to be a flop. The pirate genre had not been successful for years, with
Cutthroat Island (1995) a notable flop. The film was also based on a theme
park ride, and Johnny Depp, known mostly for starring in cult films, had little
track record as a box office leading man. Walt Disney Pictures also took a big
risk in allowing it to be the first PG-13 rated film by the studio, with one
executive noting that she found the film too intense for her five-year old
child. Nonetheless, the studio was confident enough to add The Curse of the
Black Pearl subtitle to the film in case sequels were made, and to attract
older children. Verbinski disliked the new title because it is the Aztec gold
rather than the ship that is cursed, so he requested the title to be unreadable
on the poster. Their confidence paid off: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse
of the Black Pearl opened at #1, grossing $46,630,690 in its opening weekend
and $70,625,971 since its Wednesday launch, and eventually made its way to
$654,264,015 worldwide ($305,413,918 domestically and $348,850,097 overseas)
becoming the fourth highest grossing film of 2003.
Critics favourably received the film, as indicated by a 79% "fresh" rating on
Rotten Tomatoes, with 153 positive reviews out of 193 listed. Alan Morrison of
Empire felt it was "the best blockbuster of the summer", acclaiming all the
comic performances despite his disappointment with the swashbuckling sequences.
Roger Ebert acclaimed Depp and Rush's performances, with "It can be said that [Depp's]
performance is original in its every atom. There has never been a pirate, or for
that matter a human being, like this in any other movie... his behavior shows a
lifetime of rehearsal." However, he felt the film went for too long, a criticism
shared by Kenneth Turan's highly negative review, feeling it "spends far too
much time on its huge supporting cast of pirates (nowhere near as entertaining
as everyone assumes) and on bloated adventure set pieces that redound to no
one's credit", despite having also enjoyed Depp's performance.
For his performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp won Best Actor at the
Screen Actors Guild Awards, the MTV Movie Awards and the Empire Awards, and was
also nominated but didn't win at the Golden Globes, the BAFTA Awards and the
76th Academy Awards, in which The Curse of the Black Pearl was also nominated
for Makeup, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. Awards won by
Curse of the Black Pearl include Best Make-Up/Hair at the BAFTA Awards, a
Saturn Award for Best Costumes, a Golden Reel Award for Sound Editing, two VES
Awards for visual effects, and the People's Choice Awards for Favorite Motion
The film has been mentioned in many TV shows and films (Epic Movie), as well as
video games, (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,
Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End, Pirates of the Caribbean: The
Legend of Jack Sparrow, Kingdom Hearts II).
The DVD and VHS editions of the film were released five months after the
theatrical release, December 2, 2003, with 11 million copies were sold in the
first week, a record for live action video. The DVD featured two discs,
featuring three commentary tracks — Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski; Jerry
Bruckheimer, Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport; and the screenwriter team,
various deleted scenes and documentaries, and a 1968 Disneyland episode about
the theme park ride. A special three-disc edition was released in November 2004.
A UMD release of the film followed on April 19, 2005. The high-definition Blu-ray
Disc version of the film was released on May 22, 2007. This movie was also among
the first to be sold at the iTunes music store.
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