They don't make them like this anymore. From the production values, witty script, to the booming soundtrack by Klaus Badelt, "Pirates of the Caribbean" is an incredible, wild ride worthy of the term "new classic." Regardless of its flaws, this is a movie that will sneak right into your memory and stay there for countless reasons, not the least of which is Johnny Depp's performance.
After the governor's daughter is kidnapped, it's up to one of her childhood friends, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), to rescue her. Going up against the kidnappers, headed up by the evil pirate Captain Barbossa, is impossible for just one man. Turner is forced to team up with rouge Jack Sparrow (Depp) to try and make the rescue.
On paper it doesn't sound like much. In reality, it isn't. It's a simply tale, a basic pirate story that covers the same basic plot that has been done thousands of times. Girl is kidnapped; incompatible heroes go to her rescue. It's the way everything is done, with such enthusiasm, flair, and style that make this movie what it is.
At the height of all of that is Johnny Depp. His character is such a blast to watch, you can't wait for the next sequence. The entire movie is better because of him. Most of the real humor comes from his character (and the script of course) and it keeps things rolling along during the slightly extended running time.
The action sequences (of which there are many) are done with incredible visual style. They become completely engrossing and give the movie an epic feel. Visual effects are strong, the CGI really is solid and it's obvious a lot of care went into it. They interact with the real cast pretty much flawlessly. Production values ooze out of every frame.
Giving everything a central theme is a marvelous soundtrack by the above-mentioned Badelt. His work here is stunning, gripping the viewer to draw them in each time it's used. It keeps you in your seat through the credits too, which is important (hint, hint).
To say the film is overdone is a bit ridiculous. That's its best aspect. Everything is flashy and over the top, giving it broad appeal with a sky-high fun factor. It has a little bit of everything tossed into it (they even have a midget!). You just don't see many movies in your lifetime that strive so hard simply to entertain you. That's what this business is all about. (***** out of *****)
While the movie may be something to look at, that really doesn't hold true for this transfer. Presented in its proper 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, Disney has done the right thing and only made the film available in that format. It's a rare choice for a company that seems vehemently opposed to doing this.
Anyway, it's not that the transfer is awful. A few years ago, it would have really stood out as something special. Now it just seems a little above average. There are serious aliasing issues and unnecessary edge enhancement seems to be constant. Darker scenes show trouble in the backgrounds and you can occasionally spot some problems during the daylight sequences as well. The overall transfer is sharp which retains detail on the actor's faces when up close. Color is slightly faded for that aged look and the disc preserves it like it should. It's hit or miss all the way through. (***)
Before popping this disc in, be sure there are no loose items hanging from your walls. DVD audio rarely gets better than this. DTS 5.1 and standard 5.1 lead the way. From the cannons to the splashing water, absolutely everything about this audio presentation rocks. Separation is nothing short of incredible. Dialogue is well mixed during the explosive action scenes, really important since some of the characters go through some development during a few of these. Oh, and it has cannons. You don't need to know much more than that. (*****)
Since the movie made enough to finance 300,000 small independent films, it's not surprising that this 2-disc set is packed. In a miracle of compression, there are three commentaries on disc one to start things off. Director Gore Verbinski and Depp reminisce about the shoot on the first one and the screenwriters square off in another about the challenges of actually bringing their ideas to the screen. The final one is interesting as it is scene specific and it could be Jerry Bruckheimer going solo or Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport together.
Disc 2 is where everything else is packed. "Epic at Sea" is the obligatory making-of feature, split into nine sections. You can watch them all or view each section individually. It covers pretty much everything, some topics more in-depth than others. There are three production diaries, the best one being the diary of a pirate. It shows the make-up process and a typical day on the set.
"Fly on the Set" is an underutilized feature on DVDs. It simply shows the set during a shoot, where you can listen in on the crew discussing how to shoot it, untouched dialogue, and more. There's no unnecessary commentary of music. It's like being there. You can peek in on five scenes. A blooper reel runs for three minutes and not surprisingly, it's entertaining.
"Below Deck" is one of those annoying features that require you to navigate some cheesy video menus to actually get to the features. Thankfully, you can view the content, which has historians discussing real pirates, with a separate menu selection. Nineteen deleted scenes are crammed on here, each obviously varying in length. It's odd that during the extended scenes, the new footage is indicated by a change of aspect ratio, from the usual 2:35:1 to 1:85:1. Wouldn't a subtitle that says "new" make more sense?
A scene progression for the reveal of what the enemy pirates really are is about as deep as you can go for a CGI featurette. It runs about six and half minutes. "Pirates in the Park" contains an entire episode of "The Wonderful World of Disney" describing how the thrill ride the movie is loosely based on came to be. That's a great extra and the stock is surprisingly good shape considering the age. Numerous still galleries finish things off in your DVD player while those with DVD-ROM drives can continue with a few more extra features. (*****)
There's another version of this DVD out there that includes a third disc. Seems like overkill, but it's worth it. Here's a rundown of those extras:
"Becoming Captain Jack" - Johnny Depp featurette.
"Becoming Barbossa" - Geoffrey Rush featurette.
"Thar She Blows!" - The film's ship Interceptor, from building it to blowing it up.
"The Monkey's Name Is Jack" - Meet Levi and Tara, the film's monkeys.
"Pirates Around The World" International release comparison.
"Fly On The Set" on-set featurette.
"Spirit of the Ride" - Johnny Depp, director Gore Verbinski and others reflect on their earliest memories of the attraction.
"Sneak Attack Animatic."
If you're a fan (and it's likely you are), you might as splurge for that set.