30 Movies in 30 Days: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Had I seen it before: Yes. Multiple times. Occasionally with commentary.

What IMDb says: Blacksmith Will Turner teams up with eccentric pirate “Captain” Jack Sparrow to save his love, the governor’s daughter, from Jack’s former pirate allies, who are now undead.

Requirements fulfilled: 

– Must watch at least one series of movies (part 1 of 5 complete)

Why I picked it: Now that we’re two thirds of the way through this project, it was time for me to get serious about the series-of-movies requirement. I’ve always loved The Curse of the Black Pearl but felt that the franchise went downhill after that. Maybe this was just because I was too young to appreciate some of the sequels that are a bit darker, maybe it was because I never watched them in order in a short timespan. I also never even saw parts 4 or 5. This seemed like a fun series to examine since it includes some movies I’ve never seen as well as one of my all-time favorites.

What I liked about it: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl stole my heart when I first saw it. It’s hard to overstate how much I love this movie. I’ve always considered it a perfect blend of pretty much every genre that people like. Yes, it’s predominantly an action/adventure movie, but there’s also a lot of good comedic moments, elements of fantasy and horror, and a solid romance subplot. There’s something for everyone. Yet at the same time there’s something seamless and effortless about The Curse of the Black Pearl. The movie still has a clear vision of what it wants to be.

One of the main things that makes this movie work is the three central characters: Elizabeth, Will, and Jack. Elizabeth is the governor’s daughter. Will is an upstanding gentleman but lacks the money and the pedigree that Elizabeth has. Jack is a disgraced pirate. These are three very different characters that would never haven chosen to go on an adventure together yet extenuating circumstances forced them to. This is one of my personal favorite tips for screenwriting though I forget where I first heard it: take characters who have no logical reason to associate with one another and force them to associate with one another.

I also love how the power dynamics between these three shifts back and forth throughout the story. Sometimes Will and Jack are trying to save Elizabeth. Later Elizabeth and Jack have to convince the Royal Navy to try to save Will. Next thing you know it’s Will and Elizabeth trying to save Jack. They each have moments where they’re forced to rely on the other characters to be rescued and other moments where they’re doing the rescuing. That’s why at the end of the movie, when they have this inseparable bond, we believe it.

Furthermore, I thought ACT 1 of this movie did a really great job of teasing the curse. It’s not until roughly an hour into the movie that we get an explicit explanation of what the curse is, what caused it, and what must be done to break it. Yet there are several moments beforehand that hinted at it: first we see the mysterious pirate medallion. We know from the way the movie is shot and edited that this prop is important, but we don’t know why. Later we learn that at least some of the pirates are immortal when they are pillaging Port Royal. “So there is a curse,” Jack Sparrow mutters when he sees one of the pirates’ exposed skeleton in the moonlight. Then we see how the crew of the Black Pearl loses their shit when they think Elizabeth is going to drop the medallion in the sea. We also know that she lies about her identity and calls herself a Turner, and we see how Jack refuses to help Will until he learns Will is in fact a Turner. We understand that Will’s identity is important.

All of this serves to make us curious about what’s going to happen next without necessarily confusing us. There’s a certain confidence about the storytelling here. The film never feels like it has to over explain too early. It takes us by the hand and says “look, we’re going on a ride*, it’s going to be great, just trust us.” And then it delivers. It does give us that explanation of the curse but only when we’ve reached the point where the story can’t really progress without it.

This is another genius aspect of the writing: not only do our villains have a clearly defined motivation, they cannot die until they get it. That means that both our heroes and our villains have a vested interest in breaking the curse, but for entirely different reasons. It’s an interesting way to structure the plot and it makes those moments late in the film so much more exciting.

What I didn’t like about it: This is one of the first movies all month where I’m drawing a blank in terms of what I didn’t like. I genuinely can’t think of any flaws for this one.

Will I watch it again: Yes. Many more times. Occasionally with commentary.

*It’s funny because this movie is literally based on an amusement park ride.

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