Movie Project #28 and #29: Pirates of the Caribbean [2003] & Master and Commander [2003]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl [2003, dir. Gore Verbinski]
It’s kind of amazing that I have managed to evade the Pirates of the Caribbean series over the years. It wasn’t until recently (say, in the last couple years) that I was even aware of the theme park ride that served as Curse of the Black Pearl‘s inspiration. Nowadays, it’s not inconceivable to make an enjoyable film based on something so shallow (i.e. The Lego Movie), but I imagine it was quite the surprise back then.

In a nutshell, Curse of the Black Pearl is a huge budget adventure flick that relies heavily on its uniquely strange — and charismatic — lead, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). There’s no denying Sparrow is a great character, and Depp delivers a performance so likable that it inspired him to basically play (mostly uninspired) variations of this for the next several years. Geoffrey Rush matches him step-for-step in the form of the villainous Barbossa, and the two of them make for quite the pairing. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley also play pivotal characters, but they are far less interesting. When neither Sparrow nor Barbossa are on screen, the film suffers slightly.

Curse of the Black Pearl overstays its welcome a bit, but it does manage to find the right mix of action and humor (with a dash of romance) throughout. It’s easy to see why this became a successful movie franchise, although it’s also surprising how dark it can be, given the Disney name attached to it. 7/10

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World [2003, dir. Peter Weir]
Whereas Pirates of the Caribbean is a fantastical adventure with skeleton pirates and an eccentric hero, Master and Commander comes across as authentic as it gets. While I don’t know a starboard from a poop deck, I was continually impressed with how this Peter Weir feature doesn’t dumb down its content for the audience. The very first scene throws us right into the middle of the Napoleonic Wars, with Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and his HMS Surprise being ambushed by a French privateer ship that is significantly larger in size. It isn’t until the battle scene is over that the film sheds some light on what we just saw, thanks to some dialogue between Aubrey and others on the ship. Even then, the conversation feels natural, and not forced to enlighten us as viewers.

It’s this sense of realism that really impressed me with the film. Crowe makes Aubrey out to be a great leader, but not one without flaws. He is kept partly in check via his friend and ship doctor, Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), a man who finds respite in the form of species observation and collecting. They provide a good balance for each other, with the doctor being the more levelheaded of the two.

Master and Commander makes for an excellent underdog story, as Aubrey leads the HMS Surprise across the high seas frantically in pursuit of the French ship that damn near destroyed them at the beginning of the film. Pursuing rather than retreating is a ballsy move, but this chase makes for an increasingly entertaining adventure. It’s a shame that Master and Commander has become a bit of a forgotten film, because this is a great piece of historical fiction. 8/10