Shiny Shelf

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

By Mark Clapham on 09 December 2003

There’s no real doubt that this is the live-action hit of the summer, a supernatural-historic-swashbuckler-action movie that already inspires such devotion that Shiny Shelf’s review of the movie was picked over by at least one fan for any potential hints of overt criticism. Fans of director Gore Verbinski’s fun romp needn’t worry – we enjoyed it as much as everyone else. It’s nonsensical, and about half-an-hour overlong, but this is well-made, well-played and highly entertaining silliness.

As is the way these days, a big hit movie means a big packed DVD. In this case, a packed two discs. The first has the usual clean transfer of the film, with crystal clear image and sound all present and correct. There are also a good few commentaries on the film. Jonny Depp and Verbinski give a good overview of the project as a whole, while the gaggle of writers on the movie take themselves a little too seriously, slapping each other on the back at their own cleverness (and the film isn’t that clever to start off with). Far more appropriate is a camp, actorly commentary by Jack Davenport and Keira Knightley, which is great fun. Davenport and Knightley tease each other mercilessly, and both point out the constant absurdities in the film and their own performances. Their commentary drops away when neither actor is on screen, and excerpts of an interview with Jerry Bruckheimer are dropped into those other scenes. It’s an effective tactic to avoid dead air, as the opinions of one of Hollywood’s biggest producers are always good value. Someone has clearly thought about these extras, right down to the sensitive fading in and out of the movie’s soundtrack at appropriate moments.

This care and attention extends to the second disc, which includes an absurd amount of stuff which I’m not even going to try to comprehensively review. ‘Epic at Sea’ is a making-of documentary, broken down into the now-traditional subject-specific featurettes. Cameras seemed to have been crawling over the set for most of the production, affording a high degree of access, but occasionally we drop back into stock-press-interview land – this is unfortunate, as it can break the spell a little to go from detailed behind-the-scenes material to glib anecdotes for TV reporters. Nevertheless, the coverage is comprehensive, with all major players on screen. There are a number of other production-related featurettes, including a trio of production diaries (one by Bruckheimer, incidentally), and a breakdown of a key special effects shot. With the wealth of material here, much of which is very similar, you’re likely to end up dropping in and out of most of these, rarely sitting through a whole one.

A massive chunk of deleted scenes are presented, surprising for a film that’s already overlong. Few are remarkable, and none are particularly missed in the finished movie. The ‘Blooper Reel’ is fun, and continues the mood from the Davenport/Knightley commentary. Even more ephemeral are the features relating to the theme park ride on which the film is based, including an excerpt from ‘Walt Disney’s World of Color’ (sic) from 1966. Presented in glorious glare-o-vision, this chronicles the excess of the Disney corp in full swing, with a glittering press launch, rictus-grinned zombie presenters (who seem to be on heavy sedatives, and have blanker, scarier eyes than a stuffed Mickey Mouse doll), and footage of the then-recently deceased Uncle Walt, leering in a cheap grey suit while showing off some pirate designs. Creepy, and far scarier than the film.

For those who manage to spot some history hiding in the film, and want to know more about this elusive phenomenon, there’s the ‘Below Deck’ features, which are a handy interactive guide to real life piracy. There are also some CD-Rom features to wade through, although if you’ve just finished all the extras you can access with your DVD player, you probably won’t have the energy to stand up and walk to the computer.

Now, we here at Shiny Shelf loved this movie, but we know that some of our readers loved it even more. For those with perseverance, there’s probably enough material in this set to spend a good fortnight wading through, at a measured pace, or a packed weekend (if you’re particularly robust). While it’s hard to see exactly who has the time or the inclination to actually take in every single feature there’s something of interest to most viewers in there somewhere, and nothing that actually looks like cheap filler material.

Great film, great disc. Hard to fault, and let’s face it, these days we wouldn’t dare try.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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