‘Pirates’ holds you captive for awhile

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 18, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Are you a fan of pirates? Do the names Blackbeard, Long John Silver, and Captain Hook show up on your list of heroes? Have you made &uot;Avast, ye mateys, hard astern!&uot; part of your everyday vocabulary? After checking out the latest swashbuckling venture &uot;Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,&uot; you very well may.

Johnny Depp is undoubtedly one of the most vibrant actors of the past few decades. He made us sad in &uot;Edward Scissorhands,&uot; made us wonder what the deuce we were seeing in &uot;Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,&uot; and even creeped us out a bit in &uot;The Astronaut’s Wife.&uot; But 1999’s &uot;Sleepy Hollow&uot; – his first real attempt to carry an action-horror-comedy – didn’t seem to work. That may be why he chose to grow an unkempt beard and an Oil Can Harry mustache and give it another shot with &uot;Pirates.&uot;

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Luckily, this one’s much more effective, partially because it doesn’t take itself seriously.

The film is based on the Disneyland ride, &uot;Pirates of the Caribbean,&uot; and it manages to stay true to its roots. Like the attraction, the film manages to straddle the line between excitement and fear just enough to be suitable for all viewers. There’s little actual gore, and most of the violence is just cartoon-like enough so that children won’t be covering their eyes.

The storyline revolves around three characters; Depp’s Jack Sparrow (make sure to put a ‘Captain’ in front of his name, or there will be hell to pay); William Turner (Orlando Bloom of &uot;Lord of the Rings&uot; fame), a blacksmith with a past so secret even he doesn’t know about it; and Elizabeth Swan (newcomer Keira Knightley, who seems to have taken her rich-girl-in-watery-distress look straight from Kate Winslet in &uot;Titanic&uot;), an upper-class girl who just wants to be normal.

Across the land, whispers start to rumble about the mysterious ship &uot;The Black Pearl,&uot; and its band of bloodthirsty pirates (literally so, which actually becomes a major plot point), which are ready to sack and pillage any village unlucky enough to sit close to the sea. Sparrow might know a bit about the ship, but he manages to get locked up early on, and the townspeople, except for William, refuse to take advantage of their villainous ally.

Unfortunately (but fortunately for Sparrow), the pirates, led by Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush, who totally steals every scene he’s in) steal Elizabeth and take her hostages, forcing the lovestruck William and seemingly helpful Sparrow to hijack a ship and hit the waves after her.

But what they (and we) don’t realize yet, is that these are no ordinary buccaneers. No sword, no ax, no cannonball can send them to Davey Jones’ locker. These sea dogs are victims of the curse of the black pearl, one that has made them invincible, yet still unable to taste, feel, or enjoy any of the humanistic qualities. Of course, Elizabeth unknowingly holds the key to unlocking the doors back to emotion and fulfillment for these evil beings, which kicks the film into overdrive.

There’s action from starboard to port on this one, with bar brawls, gun battles and, of course, loads and loads of swordfighting.

But again, the skirmishes are strictly PG, occasionally bordering on PG-13, with an obvious and probably intentional lack of blood and guts. It maintains the cheesiness that we felt while making our way through the waters of the Disney thrill ride, and brings us just a little closer to the action (in particular, the moonlit swordfights between ghosts and humans are absolutely breathtaking in their &uot;realism&uot;).

Indeed, &uot;Pirates&uot; does a fine job of bringing the enjoyment of a thrill ride to seekers. Now let’s just sit back and wait for &uot;Alpengeist: The Dead of Winter,&uot; produced of course by Busch Gardens.